Thursday, January 3, 2013

Meditate? Me? Why?

Like many people of my generation, I first heard about meditation when I was quite young from the many well documented escapades of The Beatles. I think it was Beatle George Harrison who took so ardently to meditation and snaps of him with his white robes and flowing beard, lying on the ground, asleep, or so it seemed to me,  were in print everywhere.  At that time, it was considered to be an oddly mystical and strange concept, something most people simply did not do, least of all learn. It was not until much later when I was in my late twenties, and working in a career that left me longing for more calm, that I started to seriously consider meditation. It came to me at a time when there was a bit more information available about how to meditate but no places, close to where I lived,  to learn alongside others. Books were limited on the subject as well and hard to understand as many were interlaced with a lot of Eastern philosophy and terminology that was hard to pronounce, much less comprehend. Sadly, meditation, even years after the iconic images of the yogis and The Beatles, tended to be viewed by many as "new age drivel" and not worth a serious persons attention.

There were however some insightful innovators coming on the horizon. Dr. Herbert Benson, who at the time was at Harvard Medical School, pioneered a process and wrote a book about it called "The Relaxation Response. " Dr. Benson had studied the long term positive effects of meditation and recognized the value it inherently brought by providing people with a step by step process to cultivate calm. Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn,  at the University of Massachusetts Medical School,  was about to launch a groundbreaking  program for patients at the hospital, called the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program that would forever change the way people viewed meditation and mindfulness. His subsequent book was/is called "Full Catastrophe Living" which details a well studied and carefully presented 8 week program that has to this date, given rise to well over 700 programs world wide and helped thousands of people to manage their own lives in ways too numerous to expound on here. Two highly regarded men, among the many others that followed,  who were in the forefront of providing people in the west with a practical approach to meditation that most anyone could relate to and understand. (NOTE: I completed the professional MBSR practicum teacher training at the University of Massachusetts Medical School Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and Society.)

Today, there are literally thousands of books on the subject espousing the many benefits of meditation and mindfulness practices,  as well as a host of solid medical research studies that now prove what many eastern based philosophies and religions understood so well. Meditation works!

I meditate for a variety of reasons. One is to bring greater clarity to my thoughts and actions. As I age, my mind is not as adept at handling the stressors of daily life as it was when I was younger. I am literally more emotional as my hormones wane in my brain at this pre-menopausal time. The calming balance of estrogen and progesterone are becoming a thing of the past as my body seeks new ways to maintain equilibrium.  A period of time that can take years till it settles down. This entire process greatly affects my mood and my ability to find more calm moments.

Second, I do it for the increased ability to concentrate and focus. How many of us came up through the ranks of job seekers who were taught to use the words "ability to multi-task." I looked recently at an older copy of my resume and those words sat like a proud beacon to my super human powers to do multiple things at once. Who was I kidding? How can someone possibly focus on more then one thing at a time and master them all? Not many to be sure, in fact, in today's business world the ability to multi-task is not thought to be the asset that it was many years ago. Multi tasking could imply you are easily distracted or not able to hone in on what is most important or crucial.

Third, I meditate to bring about a greater sense of well being to my every day life. Like many of us, life does not get simpler as we grow older. I now have a host of medical doctors for the many age related issues that arise. While none of them are life threatening, they do present complications that can affect my ability to enjoy life as much as I did in my younger less doctor oriented days! Plus, I have an 8 year old son, who is my joy, but also being a parent presents its own set of challenges as my life ebbs and flows with his, and not always at the same time. Meditation and mindfulness opens me up more often to be fully present in this moment and not lost in the endless barrage of "what if" scenarios that can and do rear their head now and again!

The reasons why people meditate are varied. Not everyone decides to meditate because of pain, health concerns, stress, anxiety, depression or a need to relax more. Some people simply decide to meditate as a means to enhance further their already meaningful and full lives.

The beauty of meditation is that you don't have change your religious affiliation or alter your lifestyle by heading off to exotic locales to sit on a cushion, for weeks on end to find peace. That may sound great for some of you, but for most of us, we are looking for ways to bring about this greater sense of happiness and well-being, right here and right now, in the midst of life as we know it. Sounds good to me!

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