The Telegraph reports divergent views on the effects of meditative practice
“Which is better for your body: meditation or exercise?” asks The Telegraph journalist Jonathan Wells on 23 March 2016. “On the surface, it seems like an obvious decision – physical exercise can strengthen our muscles, bones and heart, and has been proven to promote the production of oxytonin and other ‘feel-good’ chemicals. Whilst meditation is, well, a fad. Right? Wrong. Or, at least, possibly wrong.” Read more…
Focused or Nondirective Attention
By Øyvind Ellingsen
Shifting the mode of the mind is a common feature of various types of meditation used for stress management and personality development. In this article, Øyvind Ellingsen discusses similarities and differences in the ways mindfulness and Acem Meditation achieve such a shift.
In mindfulness, focused attention directed toward the breath and other body sensations is the basic training for reducing stress, mind wandering and negative thoughts. Acem Meditation is practiced with a nondirective mode of attention that allows spontaneously occurring thoughts, images, and sensations to emerge and pass freely. Using a meditation sound induces a marked relaxation response and facilitates emotional processing. Read more…
I recently read an interview with Jon Kabat-Zinn about mindfulness meditation. One of his main points was that we are too concerned with doing, instead of just “being”.
It all sounds very well, and quite poetic, and it’s easy to see that modern hectic life-styles have too strong a focus on what you do and achieve, and that something is lost along the way. A similar feeling has been conveyed by Buddhist teachers advocating seated meditation through the humorous twist on an old phrase: “Don’t just do something! Sit there!”
Beyond the clichés
This easily leaves the impression, however, that meditation is not about doing, just about “being”. This fits well with a view of meditation as a specific state, perhaps a state of “just being” where you’re “totally present in the here and now”, as some of the clichés go. For sure, meditation may lead to states of intense presence or contentedness, but it also includes phases of restlessness and boredom, or even pain and sadness.
I went to a lecture with one of the foremost spokesmen for mindfulness in the West, Jon Kabat-Zinn, in Oslo last week. There are many interesting parallels with Acem’s approach to meditation, and some interesting differences.
Like Acem, he points out that meditation can build on basic traits of the human mind that are not culture-specific: “Buddha wasn’t a Buddhist.” And: “Anything ‘ancient’ in this lies in our DNA.
He is also concerned with recent research on neuroplasticity and knows, of course, that meditation may change both the size of the brain’s cortex and the way the brain functions. He is interested in epigenetics, the science of how even our gene pool is directly affected by our environment and experiences. For instance, he points out how stress degrades the telemores (the end parts of our chromosomes) and thereby makes us age before time, while meditation may do the opposite. In other words, many of the things we used to think were set from birth have been shown to be much more flexible and adaptable, and meditation seems to have a positive influence.
Embrace your thoughts!
I started to meditate regularly four years ago, and since then, little by little I started to feel better. My outside world was the same (same work, same family, same house, and more or less the same friends – except that the number of Acem friends increased), so it was evident that the reason for this feeling of having more of the life I really want for myself was a change in the inside world.
People dedicated to study the parameters involved in happiness say that it is not a sum of happy moments; it is more related to a specific lifestyle, a way of looking at life in general. But, what does meditation change in the way the meditator behaves in life?
I have always been intrigued by being more “present”, I guess maybe one of the reasons I started to meditate was to try and bring a little more of myself into the present. I’ve never thought of myself as the most spontaneous person in the world so following a recent discussion with meditating friends I realised I really wanted to try something derent. Something that totally puts me in a position where I would have to be spontaneous. So I signed up for a Improvisation Acting Class. What’s this got to do with meditation? – all will (hopefully) become clear.
Eight weeks ago when I signed up, I was fine,iff totally fine, best thing I’ll ever do I thought. In fact right up until the day of the first class I was totally fine about it and then… Every excuse in the world came to me, I’m too busy at work, I really don’t want to meet lots of larger than life actors who will scare me to death, Its cold, I’m hungry, I really should meditate for an hour tonight and I won’t have the time to do both. So I sat there frozen with fear and tried to work through it. I had to go, I’d been talking about this for ages, but if I just sit here for 10 more minutes, my chance will be lost and I can go home and sleep. So I decided to practice some baby steps, breaking my fear into smaller manageable tasks. I just packed my bag slowly and left the building, I could still go home but I’ll leave so I still have two options. I then got to the station and decided to walk past to find the acting class, I didn’t have to go in, I could just see where the building was. Read more…
Early mindfulness training?
It was 1985 and I visited Mainland China for the first time in my life. I was at Yonghegong, the main Tibetan temple in Beijing, known for its close relations to Chinese authorities, and just reopened after the Cultural Revolution. It was widely rumoured and probably true that monks here were just government employees, and that as soon as the tourists went home, the monks would return to their wives and life outside the temple ground. In other words, this was not the place you would expect spiritual achievement.
In one room an elderly monk stood in the corner mumbling mantras or sutras (I couldn’t tell the difference) while his fingers went over the rosary. Then a group of noisy Chinese visitors entered, and I remember in particular a small and plump Chinese woman, who pointed to some device in the ceiling, turned to the monk and asked loudly “What’s that?” I was wondering whether the monk in his deep absorption would notice her at all, or maybe would be suddenly pulled out of his meditative state and lose his track. Instead, he just lifted his head slightly, told her softly what the device in the ceiling was, and returned to his recitation. Read more…