10 September 2012

Ian Gawler Blog: The history and practise of meditation – Part 2

This week we conclude the guest blog from Ma Devi, board member of  The Australian Teachers of Meditation Association (ATMA), on the history and practise of meditation. Also details of the weekend workshop I will present in Sydney in October, next month. I will be fresh back from attending a wonderful meditation retreat myself, so it may well be useful! But first

Thought for the day:

The purpose of meditation is to awaken in us the sky-like nature of mind, and to introduce us to that which we really are, our unchanging pure awareness that underlies the whole of life and death.

In the stillness and silence of meditation, we glimpse and return to that deep inner nature, which we so long ago lost sight of, amid the busyness and distraction of our minds.

                                                                                                           Sogyal Rinpoche

Meditation For Enlightenment 

The significant aspect of Eastern philosophies is that they give a sadhana, a means for ending suffering and attaining peace.  Practices and techniques can be applied in every circumstance. Most importantly, there is a technique and practice for every type of person.

The Buddha was the first major Hindu Guru who influenced the rise of meditation in India. Traditionally Brahmin priests acted as intermediaries between the individual and the Absolute. The Buddha’s teaching broke with this tradition. The individual could now discover ‘illumined mind’ or higher Consciousness within.

The Buddha’s teachings pervaded Asia and now they have permeated Western culture as well. Teachers of Zen, Mahayana, Tibetan and Theraveda traditions, like Suzuki Roshi, the Karmapa, SN Goenka, Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche, the Dalai Lama, Kalu Rinpoche, Chogyam Trungpa, Sogyal Rinpoche and others have continued the Buddha’s teachings and established meditation centres in the West.

The idea of Enlightenment has been a natural part of Buddhist and Hindu society since it began. Gurus, meditation, and spiritual philosophy are a natural part of  life. There have been many Gurus, even before the Buddha, throughout history that have attained enlightenment, taught the path to others and transformed lives.

More recently in the 19th and 20th C Ramana Maharshi, Guru Maharaji, Swami Satyananda, Satya Sai Baba, Swami Satchitananda, Swami Muktananda, Swami Chinmayananda, Nisargadatta Maharaj, Osho, Anandamayi Ma, Bhagawan Nityananda and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, are all Hindu Gurus whose influence still resounds in the Western world.

The spiritual paths laid down by Gurus include achieving a higher state of consciousness or enlightenment, understanding and connecting to the inner Self, awakening to a higher power, developing and increasing compassion and loving-kindness, and receiving spiritual inspiration or guidance from Self, God or Guru.

Meditation and Self-development

Not only was there an influx of meditation during the 60s and 70s but psychology also took on new meaning as a transpersonal element entered the culture. Suddenly everyone wanted to ‘raise their consciousness.’ Innovators like Carl Rogers, Fritz Perls, Roberto Assagioli, Oscar Ichazo, Virginia Satir, Werner Erhard and others offered a simpler and practical understanding of the mind and the emotions compared to Freudian Analysis. Many were students of Jung who expanded his teaching. Therapists began to use art, the breath and psychodrama as a means of clearing emotional ‘baggage’.
Meditation As A Secular Practice.

Meditation, Physiology, Healing and Psychology

Although traditionally practiced as a spiritual discipline, meditation in the modern context, has gained valid attention because of the mental and physical health benefits associated with its practice. Today, certain forms of psychotherapy are also associated with meditation. Thus different meditative disciplines encompass a wide range of spiritual and non-spiritual goals.

In more secular, therapeutic or personal development contexts, the benefits of meditation include achieving greater focus and improved performance, enhancing creativity or self-awareness, cultivating a more relaxed and peaceful frame of mind, managing chronic pain, depression and anxiety, and providing a range of physiological and metabolic benefits for the cardiovascular, immune and neurological systems.

Meditation techniques have been incorporated into a range of counseling and psychotherapy approaches, such as mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT). Originally used with systematic desensitization, relaxation techniques are now used with other clinical problems. A range of other techniques and forms of psychotherapy such as hypnosis, biofeedback, Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT), Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT), EMDR, and multimodal therapy all employ the use of meditation as an individual therapy technique.

The side effects of meditation include the relaxation response that works toward achieving mental and physical relaxation to reduce daily stress. This reverses the increasingly common and deleterious effects of the chronic over-activation of the stress response (known as high ‘allostatic load’).

From the point of view of psychology and physiology, meditation can induce a heightened state of consciousness – i.e. it raises awareness. Relaxation, concentration, an altered state of awareness, a suspension of discursive thought, and the maintenance of a self-observing attitude are sometimes cited as the behavioral components of meditation. It is also accompanied by a host of biochemical and physical changes, such as altered metabolism, heart rate, respiration, blood pressure, immune function, genetic function and repair, and brain anatomy and function.

Meditation has been used in clinical settings, but its use in the mental health and emotional regulation settings have probably created more interest than any other single field. Other areas of application include the enhancement of performance in sporting, business and academic settings.

Interestingly,from a purist spiritual or philosophical perspective, the physical, behavioral and psychological benefits of meditation could be seen as ‘side-effects’ rather than the central aim of the practice.

The Future of Meditation 

Meditation continues to expand in every culture around the world. An American survey in 2007 showed that over 20,000,000 people had either tried meditation or were meditating.
Lawyers are turning to meditation to deal with the stress of the legal world.
In 1977, one Hindu yogi said that if 1% of a population of more than 10,000 people practiced meditation it would have an impact on the collective consciousness of a society. This impact, he posited, would result in a reduction of violence in the community and on armed conflict throughout the world.

When we commit to a meditation practice it not only alters the chemistry of our own thoughts and feelings but it can positively affect those around us. The energy of meditation builds within us as we practice and the happier and more peaceful we become, the more positive our life becomes.

Meditators understand the enormous benefits from a meditation practice and are eager to share this knowledge with as many people as possible. When we begin a meditation practice we join a worldwide community of people who are committed to peace, love, wisdom, compassion and joy. We encourage you to become a part of this global village.

Meditation in 4 easy steps

Mindbody Mastery

1. I encourage all teachers of meditation to join and support ATMA. Click here for ATMA’s excellent website. Good for teachers themselves, and if you are looking for a registered meditation teacher.

2. Ma Devi along with Sami Shankarananda (author of "Happy for No Good Reason" and other excellent books) also runs the Shiva School of Meditation and Yoga in Frankston Victoria, and is an ex President of the International Yoga Teachers Association.

3. Mindbody Mastery - downloadable meditation program

4. Meditation – an In-depth Guide - my most recent book on meditation



Saturday, 20 October, 2012

When: 9.30am (for 10am start) - 4pm 
Where: Veterinary Science Conference Centre, Webster Theatre, Sydney University

Sunday, 21 October, 2012

    Disease prevention, as well as the mind, meditation and nutrition. 
When: 9.30am (for 10am start) - 4pm 
Where: Veterinary Science Conference Centre, Webster Theatre, Sydney University
Bookings Essential: Call Sarah Tail 0418 22 0590 or Tina Rae (02) 4294 8361
Register on line: at www.rigpa.com.au 

On Saturday we begin by examining how the mind functions and how we can use this knowledge to best effect - how we can use the power of the mind in all areas of life. You will learn how to relax and experience a calm and clear mind, to use affirmations and imagery and to begin or to deepen meditation.
On Sunday, extend all this with more focus on healing and wellbeing. There will be heaps of practical information on what constitutes a sensible way of eating - both for good health generally and healing specifically. Then there will be more on the latest, fascinating and practical research showing how the mind can be used to generate healing and real happiness. 
Both days will be highly experiential with a good theoretical basis. There will be time for questions and relevant resources like books and CDs will be available.
While each day is intended to be useful in its own right, and so attendance for one day is possible, ideally come to both days as they build on each other and make for a complete package.