Meditation on a Blackout
A few days ago, the city of Adelaide was hit by a severe storm. My office and my home were blacked out for more than 8 hours.
The first hour or so I got on with jobs that didn’t require electricity but I soon found myself going into automatic mode where I would start to do something like – fill the kettle for a cuppa – only to realise I couldn’t heat the water.
After a while I got into the habit of checking if I needed electricity before doing a task. My consciousness had changed from the normal ‘stimulus-response’ mode to a ‘stimulus-thought-response’ pattern which made me much more self-aware for the rest of the day.
As the blackout wore on into the afternoon and evening, I had to work out how to provide light for my actions. As I started using alternative light sources like candles and flashlights, my awareness of my environment, and my place in it, increased dramatically.
In retrospect, the whole experience reminded me very much of the style of meditation that I do every day – Mindfulness Meditation, which, like most other forms of meditation, increases self-awareness of what is going on in my mind. The ultimate goal of this increased self-awareness is to change the way we think and feel about our lives – for the better. In short, to get more control over our own happiness on a minute-by-minute basis.
This self-awareness has many other spinoffs including, making us calmer, increasing concentration, relieving stress, just to name a few.
Meditation is NOT Magic or a Religion
While many religions encourage meditation, the act of meditating is not a religious experience.
There is nothing magic about meditation either – building self-awareness is a mental exercise that we use to develop and maintain our mental and emotional fitness – just like going to the gym can develop and maintain physical strength and endurance.
Mindfulness in Meditation
There is a misconception about meditation that the goal is to clear the mind of all thought. Most people who give up on meditation say they can’t do it because their mind stays active – but it is totally normal for our minds to remain active – so it is not something we should fight when meditating.
The real issue is our reaction to the intruding thoughts. If we try to suppress them they often seem to get stronger. A better approach is to accept the thoughts – even if they are negative thoughts – and watch them without judgement.
The process of watching a thought is very different from just experiencing that thought. This form of self-awareness is often called mindfulness. In a state of mindfulness, where you accept what is going on in your mind, it is much easier to gently re-connect your attention to where it needs to be when you choose to.
If you would like to find out more about Mindfulness Meditation you could visit ABC Radio National and listen to, or read a transcript of, an excellent interview with Craig Hassed, co-author of the book ‘Mindfulness for Life’. Go to interview with Craig Hassed.
Craig actually teaches you how to meditate during the interview.
Dealing with Emotional Problems and Physical Pain
Craig made some very useful comments about using meditation to deal with emotional and physical pain that I feel are worth sharing with you:
- If we just think of meditation as a relaxation exercise then we are actually missing the point.
- It’s an exercise in paying attention and noticing what’s going on.
So if a person experiences something that’s painful, now it could be physical pain – but it could also be emotional pain, like depression or anxiety or fear – that, as a person pays attention to it, then one pretty quickly notices a whole range of emotions, and reactions, and anticipation, arising around it:
- ‘I hate it.’
- ‘I wish it would go away.’
- ‘Is it going to get worse?’
- ‘What’s the rest of my life going to be like?’
- All of this mental and emotional reactivity, all of this anticipation actually accentuates enormously the suffering associated with the pain.
So as a person learns to be mindful with the pain, one learns to just observe it as a sensation, no more, no less than what it is, but less and less intruded upon by all of the thinking and the reacting around the pain effect.
Improve Learning By Meditating
Around the turn of the century I noticed that the Year 12 students we were tutoring were far more stressed than before – and things have not improved since then. As a result I prepared a 30 minute Guided Meditation CD to help these students learn how to meditate.
The results were fantastic – all the students reported being able to study much longer, and their study periods were far more productive. It also aided concentration and learning at school. More importantly, they were happier and enjoyed their studies much more.
Awareness of their mental state enabled them to manage their emotions much better during exams as well.
We encourage most of our students to take up meditation, as well as stress-management strategies such as reflexology. Today we have students as young as 4, and as old as 60, meditating on a regular basis and getting wonderful results.
High Performance Learning
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