Why Meditate?

"The soul loves to meditate, for in contact with the Spirit lies its greatest joy."

— Paramhansa Yogananda

As a long term practitioner of meditation, I can personally confirm that even a few minutes of meditation daily can center the mind, calm the emotions and contribute to health. Most importantly, meditation enhances the quality of life by allowing the mind to rejuvenate through an inner bath of peace.

What is it that we all really want from life? Eventually, every person tires of chasing after things which promise happiness but fail to deliver. In the final analysis, we are all searching for peace and happiness. We all want freedom from sorrow, suffering and pain. We are forever disappointed by the world because peace and joy can never be found outside ourselves. They are not available for sale in any market. Peace is the natural condition of the soul. From birth, however, most of our attention is focused outward, through the senses, chasing after this pleasure and that diversion, until we lose the ability to find the joy within. We falsely believe that when we achieve our dream home, dream relationship, or dream job, that we will finally be happy. The restless mind, however, is never satisfied. As soon as one desire is fulfilled, another is born.

Meditation is a process of calming the mind and stilling the body so that the soul can experience peace. Most traditions teach breathing techniques which help calm the emotions as well as giving a mantra, or spiritual phrase, which is mentally repeated to keep the mind focused and alert. In meditation one trains the brain to master itself. Many traditions also teach practitioners to focus attention at the spiritual eye, or the point between the eyebrows. Brain research is now confirming that the prefrontal cortex, located in the forehead, is the most recently evolved part of the brain. It is the seat of volition or will power, creativity and long range planning. During meditation, this part of the brain is stimulated.

According to many studies, meditation decreases oxygen consumption, heart rate, respiratory rate and blood pressure. It increases the intensity of alpha, theta and delta brain waves; the opposite of the physiological changes that occur during stress. Significant benefits have been documented showing improvement in mental health, memory, concentration, immunity from disease and overall feelings of well-being among regular meditators. Benefits to individuals suffering from heart disease, chronic pain, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, insomnia and addictive behaviors have also been demonstrated. Since there is little cost and no adverse side affects, many doctors are now recommending that meditation be included in a balanced health regime.

Meditation is not passive. It is not "zoning out," day dreaming, visioning or sleeping. It is not prayer, which is generally defined as talking with God or a Higher Power, or asking for help. Rather it is listening within, or remaining attentive with focused awareness. It is a discipline which is not hard to learn, but takes practice and consistency to master. It is the attempt to raise one's consciousness through self effort.

When done with care, meditation can tune one in to universal states of heightened awareness including feelings of oneness with all creation, an expansive sense of the inner-connectedness of all beings, and appreciation and gratitude for the gift of life. Ideas and inspiration can spontaneously occur. One may feel an increased sense of well-being and a lessening of anxiety. One may be able to respond to others more tolerantly and with more patience. For these reasons, meditation has been extolled by wise beings as a way to achieve inner peace and joy. Meditation is a conscious attempt to further individual brain refinement, leading after much practice to a natural quickening of evolutionary growth.

Gwenne Penkert is a retired teacher, a graduate of the Ananda Meditation Teacher Training and a member of the Ananda Ashland Meditation Center, 300 East Hersey St. #10, www.anandaashland.org. Send a 650 word article on Inner Peace to: innerpeace@q.com.

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