If you had an amazingly useful tool or ability that you took for granted, wouldn’t you want to know more about it? Wouldn’t you want to intentionally use it and cultivate your ability? Most people would say “yes”! Well you do, and you can, and it’s called “awareness” or consciousness. You would neither exist nor know anything without it. We all use it every day, but it usually goes unnoticed by people because it’s transparent and works behind the scenes. It has no content. It is like an empty screen or space, where anything can appear, like a film. We live our lives preoccupied, fascinated, frustrated, happy, sad, and curious, etc. With what appears in our awareness and mind.
What if you temporarily stopped looking at what appears on the screen? What if you stopped thinking about all your interests, joys, troubles and responsibilities and quietly paid attention to only the feeling of being present and the space in which thoughts, images and objects appear? What if you just stopped doing everything for 10 to 15 minutes and paid attention to awareness itself? Or what if you just focused intently on one thing? Well something both amazing and, for some, frustrating would happen. You would start to relax, but you would also start noticing how much your mind was full of thoughts and images and how it runs on automatic. It’s like a machine that keeps on going and going without you really controlling it. Many would realize how stressed they were but never knew it. All those thoughts and mental activities have a real, tangible physiological impact on the body and mind. Nothing happens for free in this universe. Mental activity uses energy and stimulates the nervous system. It may get frustrating to see all that activity. You may get impatient and start thinking about all the stuff you have to do or prefer to be doing besides this exercise. Either way, if you decide to stay with the exercise, over time you will discover more and more the peaceful space in which you exist as the feeling of “I am”- the Presence of awareness or consciousness itself. You’ll discover how refreshing it is to be in that space and how it actually regenerates you. Amazingly your mind will get more clarity not less. It’s like waking up in a pristine environment from a good night’s sleep, but even better, because it didn’t take up 7-8 hours of your time.
The exercise or practice I described is traditionally called meditation or contemplation. Meditation is an act of focusing one’s attention, or awareness, but unlike thinking, one does not actively engage the mind. There are different forms of meditation, but they all have the essential form that I have described. People can meditate using various techniques, such as focusing on or counting one’s breath, or focusing on an object or silently repeating a mantra, (a word or series of words). The process produces an alternate state of consciousness and change in physiology in a way that is deeply relaxing and centering. All humans have a natural tendency toward contemplations. Some enjoy it with little effort, like watching a beautiful sunset, scenery or the ocean waves. Others don’t take the time for it because they are too distracted with their thoughts, and daily concerns.
Meditation is by no means new – it has been used for religious and spiritual purposes for thousands of years, especially in Asian countries such as India and China, but also in the West as a form of prayer. Over the past few decades, millions more have adopted the practice of meditation. People are not just using it to help with stress, but for emotional and mental health, and as a way of coping with physical pain and disease.
Meditation has penetrated into the popular culture, and people have started to realize its great benefits outside of its original religious intentions. More and more people are using it as organizations, educators, medical, and health professionals are now endorsing and recommending ir. Many large corporations are not only encouraging it, but are actively organizing it into their culture. Their motivation is perhaps obvious – it’s good for the bottom line. It promotes more effective performance, reduces stress, and maximizes productivity.
When you start to meditate, there is a shift in the relationship between body and mind. You start to feel the body more and become less preoccupied with the content of your mind. This produces a sense of deep relaxation as bodily functions like breathing, mind, and heart rate start to shift into slower rhythm. The result is that you feel better, more energized and relaxed. The “better feeling” is what we associate with an innate sense of happiness. In the next articles we will present some more good reasons to take up the practice of meditation and contemplation. What better way can you spend 20 minutes of your day? It can increase your productivity, energy, and happiness while decreasing your stress and your potential for dis-ease. And it’s free!