Meditation is ancient practice that creates more peace, compassion and spiritual connection in our lives. In 1920 Paramahansa Yogananda (1893–1952) moved from India to the United States and founded the Self-Realization Fellowship, which introduced meditation, yoga and the art of balancing one’s body, mind and soul to the West. Believing in the unity of all religions, Yogananda defined self-realization as follows: “the knowing—in body, mind, and soul—that we are one with the omnipresence of God; that we do not have to pray that it come to us, that we are not merely near it at all times, but that God’s omnipresence is our omnipresence; that we are just as much a part of Him now as we ever will be. All we have to do is improve our knowing.” From a Western perspective self-realization is the fulfillment of one’s own potential (talents and abilities), but the Eastern definition includes an incorruptible knowledge of our true self (our divinity) beyond delusions of paradox and duality. By cherishing ourselves in every circumstance and accepting our divinity, we can experience the enduring happiness related to self-realization.
Currently in the West, Focused Attention (FA) and Open Monitoring (OM) are the two basic ways to meditate. Focused Attention (FA) methods suggest we focus our concentration on an object or activity to change brainwave patterns to relax or experience the transcendent. Examples of focused awareness include: mantras, breath awareness and any method where our brain focuses it’s attention on an activity so we can hear the hummingbird voice associated with our heart and soul whispering within. Additional activities could include: walking meditations, imagery, yoga, Tai Chi, kirtan (singing sacred Sanskrit mantras) and/or prayer beads (Christian rosary, Hindu Japa mala or Buddhist mala beads) are a few more methods.
Open Monitoring (OM) is oftentimes referred to as mindfulness meditation and invites the practitioner to create an empty mind and more equanimity. Monitoring our mental landscape and fields of awareness without judgment or emotional reactivity are the hallmarks of an OM method preferred by Buddhist or Eastern practitioners. Equanimity naturally occurs by remaining present, which entails living each moment fully with non-judgment. Open monitoring suggests we place our internal awareness on our emotions, thoughts or sensations without mental analysis. External monitoring is the concentrated effort to notice environmental sounds, smells and annoying distractions in our surroundings similarly.
Mindfulness has become a very popular word in United States and is associated with many meditation techniques and self-help tools. In 1979 Jon Kabat-Zinn, who founded the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program, described mindfulness as “moment to moment non-judgment awareness.” Meditation techniques have been researched extensively and in 2017 a comprehensive review was conducted. They concluded that empathy, compassion and pro-social behaviors increase. Neuroimaging studies revealed that beneficial brainwave patterns shift during meditation. Depressive rumination decrease and peace of mind flourish. Some studies suggest our ability to self-regulate and create emotional balance improve when the anterior cingulate cortex of our brain is activated. Meditation helps us shift away from the right prefrontal cortex, which reduces depression and anxiety while increasing happiness and relaxation.
Scientists like Hubert Benson in the United States studied the stress reducing benefits of meditation fifty years ago. In 1975 he wrote a famous book called The Relaxation Response and claimed anyone could say the word peanut butter over and over or count to twelve forwards and backwards silently to reduce stress. His research proved that heart rates reduced and people felt more relaxed. As time went on more and more American authors like Hubert Benson eventually examined the benefits beyond relaxation and explored the transcendent like the rich Eastern traditions. Every serious meditator at some time experienced the transcendent and part two of this article will explore soul connection and the Eastern concept of self-realization that Paramahansa Yogananda introduced to America one hundred years ago.
I have noticed that most people, when they want to learn more about meditation and mindfulness techniques, explore Buddhist methods first, which suggest open monitoring methods. Creating an empty mind and witnessing without attachment is hard to do and many people give up prematurely. What isn’t taught enough or explained thoroughly is why our monkey mind jumps around so much. Racing thoughts cause sleepless nights for most of us due to the same reason. When we quiet our mind to meditate or fall asleep, we must surrender our focus and move to an open monitoring brain.
Meditation beginners have monkey mind problems due to procrastination. When we ignore our inner child, run away from problems, forget important daily tasks, procrastinate often and/or have unexamined unconscious material buried in our psyche, reminders will rush in as soon as our dissociated mind gets quiet. Monkey mind can be a healthy attempt to remind our personality to address the necessary aspects of our life we need to resolve. Once we clear our mental decks, stop procrastinating and solve the problems these monkey mind reminders are warning us about, then the open monitoring techniques work wonderfully. The benefit of focused attention techniques is that they allow people to meditate and experience the transcendent without having to have every one of their monkey mind issues resolved. I consider the open monitoring methods a more advanced meditation technique and recommend focused attention methods for beginners.
I read Hubert Benson’s book when it came out and used his technique with mild results. Later, I dove into numerous mindfulness methods that talked about emptying my mind. I failed miserably due to my very active monkey mind and privately concluded there was something inheritably wrong with me. At some point I listened to my internal voices with heartfelt compassion. It was only then I realized my mind and soul were reminding me about my unresolved issues. I stopped procrastinating and started addressing my abandoned inner children’s needs. When I decided my monkey mind was a dear friend, I addressed each issue the best I could for the next couple months. By learned to love all of myself flaws and all, including my monkey mind and the negative aspects of myself I ran away from, then my preferred focused attention (FA) visualization technique worked. As I began to transcend my illusions meditation’s true benefits were revealed, then the open monitoring (OM) method worked and eventually soul communication occurred. Part two of this article is entitled, Meditation…from Jackhammers to Hummingbirds and will talk about how we can experience soul communication and the transcendent no matter what technique one uses
Sept2019 Eric Ehrke LCSW, LMFT is a psychotherapist at Ommani. He sees clients on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Call our office at 262.695.5311 to schedule an appointment.