I was raised in a pretty progressive/eccentric household. While other parents were taking their children to church on Sunday, mine were taking my siblings and I to communal events, sit-ins, ashrams, among other “spiritual” retreats.
Although I wasn’t given any formal religious practice, I was certainly exposed to various belief systems, rites, and traditions. So, when asked if I would like to try meditation, my immediate response was, “of course!”
It was my therapist who suggested meditation. She had been helping me explore different ways to relax and release stress. Everyone who meditates touts its benefits.
It’s got great word-of-mouth cred. But, of course, I wanted some scientific proof of its effectiveness. I didn’t have time to waste on something that might not work.
In 2011, a team from Harvard University Medical actually discovered changes in brain structure in those practicing Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR.) The results of brain scans showed increased connectivity between brain regions, improvement in the hippocampus (learning and memory), and a decrease in the amygdala (fear, anxiety, and stress).
MBSR is meditation with awareness and purpose (as opposed to meditating just to clear your mind of everything.) I remember my dad used to sit cross-legged in a darkly-lit room in silence for 20 minutes a day.
He explained that this practice “centered” him. He would use those quiet moments to observe his swift, chattering brain. He called it the noise in his head. Now that I’m an adult, I get it.
According to countless medical experts and healers, meditating regularly has been shown to assist with lowering anxiety, blood pressure, chronic pain, and even cholesterol. Why wouldn’t I want this? But, what’s the “right” way to do it?
Transcendental Meditation (TM) is a technique (not a religion or philosophy), by which you repeat a mantra in order to avoid distracting thoughts, and reach a state of relaxed awareness. Many who practice TM claim that only a master can teach the “correct” technique, one-on-one. Some others feel it can be learned via a friend or YouTube video.
When meditating, according to TM subscribers, the ordinary thinking process is “transcended”. According to Ann Purcell, author of The Transcendental Meditation Technique and the Journey of Enlightenment, TM is a direct means to fully unfold one’s innate potential.
Highly successful individuals such as: Ellen DeGeneres, Clint Eastwood, Jennifer Aniston, Hugh Jackman, Paul McCartney, Rupert Murdoch, Jerry Seinfeld, and a long list of others have committed to a daily TM practice. Clearly, MBSR benefits are not in question—just the way it’s learned is debatable.
Even so, when Ohmmm comes to Amen—to each his/her own. I liken it to prayer. Catholics genuflect and kneel with others at church. Greek orthodox find a closet at home, set up an icon stand, and light a candle.
My young daughter draws pictures of what she’s quietly reflecting upon. Everyone teaches and practices prayer in a different way, but each is as valuable as the other. I’ve decided that meditation must be quite similar. There’s no wrong way. The right way is just doing it.