Meditation, a scientifically approved method for increased happiness and well-being
The second post last in the series on happiness discussed happiness as a tool to measure wealth instead of money (GDP), furthermore, presented a few ways to improve our own and the well-being of others through different methods, especially meditation. Many, particularly westerners also professionals such as people working within the health sector have a hard time understanding the enormous potential of meditation techniques. However, now through scientific research and investigation, using various neurobiological methods such as brain scans Tibetan Buddhist tradition relegated to mindfulness techniques proven that their practice is capable of elevating a sufficient strong reward module in the brain that actually can be measured in a favourable way, regardless of the external environment. Infographic brain meditation.
The morphology or change in brain activity during meditation is elevating effects of mood and has been measured associated with positive feelings. In addition several other benefits was found such as increased and better attention, reduced stress level and those who meditate regularly improve mental health because of the changes in brain activity. Exercise the brain should be mandatory in any school or workplace, at least equally important as exercising the body.
“Gautama felt as though a prison which had confined him for thousands of lifetimes had broken open. Ignorance had been the jail-keeper. Because of ignorance, his mind had been obscured, just like the moon and stars hidden by the storm clouds. Clouded by endless waves of deluded thoughts, the mind had falsely divided reality into subject and object, self and others, existence and nonexistence, birth and death, and from these discriminations arose wrong views—the prisons of feelings, craving, grasping, and becoming. The suffering of birth, old age, sickness, and death only made the prison walls thicker. The only thing to do was to seize the jail-keeper and see his true face. The jail keeper was ignorance. . . . Once the jail-keeper was gone, the jail would disappear and never be rebuilt again”. Thich Nhat Hanh on Buddha’s enlightenment
Bringing the mind home
The main aim of Buddhist Meditation is to purify the mind of all negative tendencies—such as greed, anger and delusion, through mind control and secondly gain insight. Basically, there are only two forms of meditation according to Buddha: Shamata and Vipassana. Shamata (in Tibetan shi-né , shi means peace or peaceful and né means rest or stay peaceful, mostly known as mindfulness). These two words give the idea on how to perform this particular form of meditation. First, practice is to calm the mind clear from the turmoil, that consistently agitates it. Secondly, with different techniques such as concentrating on breathing or an object rest in the peaceful mind. Shamata or mindfulness meditation is the most important preparation, not a goal itself, however, exceptional valuable step towards insight.
What happens when we meditate?
What, in reality, happens when we meditate is a mental exercise to the brain, it’s almost like working out in a gym, when lifting weights or use machines, there are several things that must be prepared, every muscle has its own exercise that needs to be performed carefully and most often an instructor made a program to be followed. it’s important not to lift heavy weights because one can easily get injured, however, if they are too light, the exercise will be pointless. The same things apply in meditation practice. There are three key elements applying when exercising the mind that one should take notice of:
- Identify the module that requires training.
- Stimulate what trigger the module to activate.
- Bringing the mind in a state where it possible can absorb the mental work-out.
Bringing the mind to understanding
The second form of meditation is Vipassana (Sanskrit, means to understand deeply) or the meditation of profound vision. This is dealing with the first two point above to identify and stimulate the module in the brain to perform the exercise. Vipassana can only be done when some sort of stability is achieved throughout Shamata meditation (point three). Vipassana makes it possible to access deeper inside the subtle mind, approaching wisdom by getting insight into the true nature of things.
Vipassana allows us finally to cut the roots of emotional poisons, the disturbing emotions that hunt us down and clearly see who we are and how we react many times without knowing, for example, how angry we are or how we can deal with our biggest fears and daily ghost. The first stage during this process is to recognize which mental poison that affects us the most, is it anger, hatred or attachment that is our largest problem? If, in other words, possessiveness or attachment is the main or biggest problem, we should meditate on the ugly, least attractive aspects of what we are attached to. Those who are dominated by anger and hatred should meditate on loving-kindness and compassion. Pilot studies performed during the study of loving-kindness meditation, and compassionate mind training could lead to significant reductions in depression, anxiety, self-criticism, and shame (Gilbert and Procter, 2006). Even a few minutes of loving-kindness meditation could increase feelings of social connection and positivity toward novel individuals.
The second point concerns “how best” to activate the desired submodule, as mentioned earlier in the post on Vipassana an important issue is finding the mental poisons that worry us the most and meditate on an antidote. People dominated with hate, and anger should meditate on loving-kindness and compassion. In case of more disturbing situations as in case of depression and anxiety the safes and best is just trying to turn off mode as in shamata meditation practice. Meditation on the antidote or on pacify negative emotions can be performed in several ways, in fact, Buddha taught 84.000 ways. In the little, nevertheless, great book on meditation by Sogyal Rinpoche (published 1992 by the three suitable meditation techniques that are particularly effective in the modern world, and which anyone can use and benefit from. They are “watching” the breath, using an object, and reciting a mantra.
Three recommended meditation techniques for mindfulness
- Breathe is life, the basic and the most fundamental expression of life. Focus the attention on resting mindfully and light on the breath, this method is found in all schools of Buddhism since ancient times. The first method is very old and found in all schools of Buddhism. It is to rest your attention, lightly and mindfully, on the breath. Breath is life, the basic and the most fundamental expression of our life. The breath or Prana as in Sanskrit is said to be “the vehicle of the mind.”
- Another method preferable and in which many people find comfortable is resting the mind on an object. The object can be of natural beauty that inspires or invokes a special feeling such as flowers or something that embodies the truth an image or small statue of Buddha, Christ or even better your master.
- The third and last method taming the mind is very common in Buddhism (and also in Sufism, Orthodox Christianity and Hinduism), is uniting the mind with the sound of a mantra. A mantra means “that which protects the mind” from negativity. Mantra is mostly a sentence or few words repeated almost melodic. A mantra often recommended to students belongs to one of the greatest and most important bodhisattva in Buddhism history Avalokitesvara; OM MAN I PADME HUM.
Our biggest enemy that denies us happiness and sabotage mental work-out is the ego
Ego, is a master of illusions, and everything that threatens its integrity becomes an enemy, a source of disgust. The ego does not exist as our mind is fundamentally infinite. It is not limited by the constraints of an individual existence. However, we identify ourselves with the illusionary master, and it easily became the model of all our relationships, in fact. It dictates and guards possible rivals in jealousy. We become prisoners of mental dullness, attached to objects that confirm its existents. The clinching provoke the ego that wants to be better to others. We call it pride, and it’s the last of five negative conceptual emotions produced by ego clinging, the others are attachment, aversion, mental dullness and jealousy. These five are constantly creating worries, trouble, difficulties for ourselves and others as form irrevocable obstacles to inner peace. Ego cannot be defeated by material objects or weapons, the invisible enemy and it’s entourage. However, can be defeated by meditation and by following a spiritual path. Following a spiritual path is one leading to increased happiness and wellness.
Last post discussed social, environmental and economic wellness. I like to add spiritual wellness to the list, it provides a unifying power that keeps ego from being dominant and integrate beneficial all other dimensions of wellness. The basic characteristics of spiritual people involve a sense of direction and meaning in life and include some sort of relationship to something larger than one selves. Several studies have reported positive relationships among spiritual well-being, emotional well-being, and satisfaction with life. People who attend a religious place and regularly participate in religious organizations enjoy better health, have a lower incidence of chronic diseases, handle stress more effectively, and apparently live longer. A spiritual path includes not only meditations practice. It can include friendship, closeness to others, joy, inner peace, prayers and being in a positive environment.
The numerous benefits of meditation
Meditation holds a surprising number of health benefits, including improved attention, better memory stress reduction and further creativity just by doing simple exercises according to a scientist. The evidence comes from many different studies and is based on how the brain functions are working. For many years, Neuroscientists thought that the brain stopped developing after a certain ago, however, newer research shows that this is not right. Read 26 scientifically proven superhuman benefits of meditation
Recently, neuroscientists have been able to peer directly into the brain to see what’s going on. The use of MRIs and other scanning techniques have largely documented that stimulation such as mindfulness cause changes(even permanent) to the physical structure of their brains. Meditation lowers electrical motions and the blood flow in the part of the brain called the amygdala, which is connected with our primal intense emotions such as anxiety, fear while the increase heavily in other brain regions known as the centre for the analytical (planning, decision making, empathy, etc.). These effects, nevertheless, has been a part of Buddhist knowledge and wisdom for thousands of years and comes hardly as a surprise. Personally, I feel it’s such a pity that we have come to a point in our western societies that everything needs to be scientifically proven and stamped, cannot we trust a monk? We are not machines. We have the ability to sense and feel that things are working or not.
I don’t recommend meditation if
When it comes to meditation, I would not recommend any new to practice that has issues with depression or other related problems such as panic angst or anxiety to start exploring meditation single handed. Not without guidance from a professional teacher, doctor or skilled staff because meditation can sometimes cause overwhelming emotions and unpleasant thoughts, something that is well-known to Buddhist and often referred to as “purifications.” These side effects occur for many reasons. It’s not that strange if you think about it. Take, for example, a person that never let his stream of thoughts for 30 years suddenly loses his sense for a few seconds. It might cause a feeling of disappearing others might be fully charged of emotions that unexpectedly coming up, traumas, memories and wounds. This insight can be difficult to handle without having someone telling you what is happening. Such insight is of course great for personal development, however, facing your demons can be hard and unpleasant. Meditation was supposed to calm you down after all.
- The biology of happiness by Bjørn Grinde. Published by Springer Briefs in Well-Being and Quality of Life Research 2012
- The essence of Buddhism, an introduction to its philosophy and practice by Traleg Kyabgon. Published Shambhala 2001
- Meditation by Sogyal Rinpoche. Edited by Patrick Gaffney and Andrew Harvey. Published by Harper
- Encyclopedia of Buddhism edited by Robert E. Buswell, Jr. Published 2004 by the Gale Group, Inc.
- Happiness a guide to developing life’s most important skill by Matthieu Ricard. Published 2003 by little Brown and Company.
- Psychotherapy and the Quest for Happiness by Emmy van Deurzen. Published 2009 by Sage Publications Ltd
- Mindfulness integrated CBT. Principles and practice Bruno a. Cayoun, DPsych. Published 2011 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd
- Happiness comes when we manage to escape our desire
- Happiness comes from harmony, not money or fame
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