The physical and psychological benefits of regular meditation practice are now becoming well-known. Meditation is credited for lowering blood pressure, strengthening the immune system, improving concentration and promoting general health through stress reduction. Meditation is increasingly recommended as part of a balanced approach to well-being and healthy living.
Throughout human history though, meditation has been used as a tool for spiritual development. When practiced for this reason, the primary purpose of meditation is the attainment of a higher spiritual state. Such a state is unique to the individual. It may be oneness with nature, communion with a supreme deity, or the attainment of enlightenment.
Wise sages who have presumably glimpsed such a state have taught us that enlightenment cannot be described with mere words; rather, it must be experienced. Inklings of realization have been passed down to inform us that enlightenment is experiencing everything just “as it is” – beyond the layers of ignorance that we have accumulated throughout our collective and individual histories. To be enlightened, we are told, we must peer beyond the illusions by opening our minds. Opening our minds means living in the present moment.
Among the many distractions that keep us from focusing on the present moment, the three that are most commonly mentioned are: the repetitive dialogue within our minds, the obsession with things that we wish to have, and the fixation on things we wish to avoid. Such thoughts produce feelings and emotions, much of the time arising from events that have not happened. To focus on “what is,” we must spend the time we have in the here and now. Thus, we need to eliminate the desires and aversions that preoccupy us, and reduce the internal chatter and thinking that occurs when our minds idle. Meditation helps us accomplish this.
Meditation is not an end; it is a tool that we use to train our minds to focus on the present – wherever we happen to be, and whatever we happen to be doing. This is mindfulness. Maintaining mindfulness opens us to the reality of which we are a part. Meditation is a vehicle that helps to cultivate realization – realization that can be attained if we use the training of meditation to practice mindful awareness in the rest of our lives.
Useful Meditation Resources