Self Care: Meditation
by Kim Horkan, See Change Ambassador
“Once a man approached Buddha and asked him what he gained from meditation. His reply was this: Nothing, however let me tell you what I lost – anger, anxiety, depression, insecurity, fear of old age and death.”
In 2017 at the age of 21, I became ill with a long-term chronic health condition. I began to see an immunologist who introduced me to meditation. He would say to me time and time again that we as human beings must learn how to sit with and accept suffering as part of the human condition. This came as a surprise to me because my whole life, I had been conditioned to avoid suffering and to distract from negative feelings as best I could.
I began to meditate every day and I became fascinated with Buddhist philosophies and how better to deal with the inevitable suffering we all endure in life.
There are a few misconceptions that go with mindfulness meditation, such as, “I must clear my mind of all thoughts,” or the idea that after a few times of practice you will miraculously transform into a Buddhist monk! In saying that, there is a huge amount of scientific evidence to show the affect meditation has on our brains. Scientific American says: “MRI scans show that after an eight-week course of mindfulness practice, the brain’s “fight or flight” centre, the amygdala, appears to shrink. The connection between the amygdala and the rest of the brain gets weaker, while the connections between areas associated with attention and concentration get stronger.”
Quoted from the book: “Buddhism, the art of living a more mindful life.”
“The most important benefits of meditation are:
- Increase in concentration, ability to focus and alertness.
- Removal of stress, fatigue, anxiety, fear, and tension.
- Buddhist meditation techniques are used to eliminate issues through concentration and observation.
- Meditation allows the meditator to find answers and solutions to problems within
- Meditation allows the meditator to explore different levels of consciousness, thus bringing him closer to mindfulness.
At a physical level, meditation increases cerebral capacity and boosts the functioning of physical organs, and helps balance blood pressure and cholesterol levels.”
Meditation helps us to sit with feelings of discomfort. It helps us to become comfortable with being uncomfortable. It helps us to check in with ourselves and begin to accept how we are feeling on any given day. Through meditation we can learn to compartmentalise our inner dialogue and not to be caught up with the relentless narrative inside our modern-day busy minds.
Through meditation we can begin to tame our monkey minds. Buddha described the monkey mind as being filled with drunken monkeys, jumping around, screeching, chattering, carrying on endlessly. We all have monkey minds, Buddha says, with dozens of monkeys all clamouring for attention.
What type of Meditation is right for me?
- Mindfulness Meditation: This form of meditation encourages the meditator to pay attention to the present moment with their full awareness. Experiencing the everyday beauty of our world without dwelling on the past or worrying about the future.
- Loving- Kindness meditation: also known as Metta Meditation. Its goal is to teach the meditator to cultivate love and compassion towards everything, including failures, stress and even our enemies.
- Body- Scan or progressive muscular relaxation: This form of meditation allows the meditator to scan their bodies for points of pressure and allow themselves to release this pressure through deep breathing. This meditation can be helpful in practicing acceptance for people with chronic pain or other medical issues.
- Breath Awareness Meditation: This form of meditation is self-explanatory; it allows the meditator to focus on their breath and learn the art of mindful breathing.
- Zen Meditation: Part of Buddhist practice. Zen practitioners usually study under a teacher because this form of meditation is complex and involves specific postures.
- Transcendental Meditation: The goal of transcendental meditation is to transcend past the meditator’s current state of being.
When I first began to meditate, I was very sceptical. I was filled with doubt and having struggled with anxiety since a young age, I thought I would never be able to calm my hyper-active and hyper-vigilant mind. I began with a guided body- scan meditation that my doctor had recorded for his patients. I lay down on my bedroom carpet and began to focus on my breath. Truthfully, I did not feel any different after the 20 minutes were up. But I stuck at it and after some time and with a lot of discipline, I noticed the benefits of daily practice. This coming June I will be practicing meditation for four years. During those years I have lost my health, my livelihood, my father, and my long-term boyfriend. There is no exaggeration when I say I would not have survived these adversities and life altering events without meditation. Meditation has taught me to accept my pain and suffering as part of the human condition.
There are many Buddhist philosophies and eastern ideologies that can be incorporated into modern day western civilisation. Experts say “The influences of Eastern thought on Western practices have emerged in areas of social work, health, religion, spirituality, even pop culture.”
Six Buddhist teachings we can incorporate into the modern world, (buddhaimonia.com):
- Cultivating understanding and compassion within ourselves and others.
- We can transcend fear by discovering its source.
- You are not your inner dialogue.
- We are intrinsically interconnected in the most intimate way (so we do not have to feel lonely).
- We are the continuation of our loved ones (they are in us).
- Our mind is a monkey! And mindful meditation can help us catch it.
Since beginning my practice, I feel more capable of dealing with hardship and adversity. Any obstacle that comes my way, I know I can cope with because meditation has helped me to cultivate emotional resilience. It makes me feel as though I am in control. During meditation I visualise myself as a mountain, standing tall and strong, deeply rooted into the soil. I stand tall whatever the weather, storms will come and they will pass again, bringing sunshine and better days. This is a life changing metaphor that symbolises the inevitable ups and downs that life will bring, meditation has helped me to better navigate these storms. With daily practice, I know it can do the same for you too.
If you are having a tough time at the moment and need to reach out for support, please contact any of the following