“Meditation” is so common now in our public dialogue that it can become easy to strip it of its sacredness. When we increasingly use a word or a thing it becomes commonplace, and along with that sense of normalcy it can lose its potent meaning. We can use examples in personal life to understand this.

Choose your favorite breakfast meal and imagine if you ate that meal as part of a special ritual. You woke up, stretched, showered, took time for yourself and then deliberately prepared your favorite meal. With that meal you used special utensils, maybe turned on special music. Sat at a particular seat in the kitchen. Then you prayed over your favorite meal. Truly cherished it, then ate. These acts create the meaning for you; the breakfast is sacred ritual.

Now, choose your favorite breakfast meal and imagine you ate it two or three times this way, and for the rest of the week you skipped all of the experiences prior to. Imagine you just woke up, washed up, prepared the meal, sat at the table and ate. Once done, you just leave.

In this experience, you’ve taken your meal from a sacred position to a commonplace one, stripped of the mindful attention invested in the past. It becomes just another task. When we overuse a word like “meditation,” taken out of its sacredness, this is what we do.

We say that doing some forms of work can be considered a meditation. Performing a sport experienced as meditation. Listening to music as a form of meditation. These modalities can indeed create some experiences meditation delivers, but the framing of these activities sometimes appear like substitutes for sitting the tail down, being still and tending to oneself. When they are treated as total substitutes I am reminded of our urban-metropolis challenges with attention and self-induced ADD. At all times we seem to need to be stimulated externally, constantly doing something in order to feel a sense of internal security.

In my martial practice I feel myself zone out and enter into a mode of just being as the body intuitively knows how and where to move. This non-beingness state is an element within meditation, but my body remains active, I’m sweating, my eyes are open receiving the stimuli and the sole focus is not on the universe within; it’s a blend of the in and out.

Meditative-like activities are enhancing but not substitutes for the original practice of being still and silent.

To further illustrate this, I share some of the research points from the The Immortality Edge, a book focused on longevity practices and understanding the telomere. These 50 points make it clear how this technology called meditation is a an asset-enhancer for whatever we aim to do or be. It’s “free” in the sense it costs nothing monetarily, yet the true “cost” is an investment in our time to do the work, being still, silent, breathing and intentional. For a meditation technique, refer to this Zazen method I outlined.

50 Ways the Practice of Meditation Prolongs Life

1.    Exercises the critical prefrontal cortex of the brain

2.    Increases blood flow by dilating the blood vessels

3.    Lowers blood pressure

4.    Increases the serotonin level

5.    Lowers the level of blood lactate, thus reducing anxiety

6.    Improves the efficiency of oxygen consumption

7.    Decreases the respiratory rate while increasing lung capacity

8.    Leads to deeper levels of relaxation and, consequently, deeper sleep

9.    Decreases muscle tension

10.  Reduces premenstrual syndrome symptoms

11.   Improves the brain’s executive function

12.  Increases working memory

13.  Reduces impulsive behavior

14.  Produces a state of restful alertness

15.  Reduces the activation of the sympathetic nervous system, thus counteracting stress

16.  Reduces the thickening of coronary arteries

17.  Slows or stops the progression of atherosclerosis

18.  Boosts the immune system

19.  Lowers the LDL (“bad”) cholesterol level

20. Increases perceptual ability

21. Creates detachment from emotional events

22.  Increases the ability to solve complex problems

23.  Increases brain wave coherence

24.  Reduces the time it takes to fall asleep

25.  Harmonizes the endocrine system

26.  Provides significant relief to asthma sufferers

27.  Stimulates the pituitary gland to produce higher levels of DHEA

28.  Controls pain

29.  Reduces free radicals

30.  Increases exercise tolerance

31.  Reduces societal stress, crime, and violence when practiced in groups

32.  Increases happiness

33.  Speeds up reaction time

34.  Increases social tolerance

35.  Lowers the risk of diabetes

36.  Reduces or eliminates negative thoughts

37.  Increases the melatonin level

38.  Lowers cortisol

39.  Boosts endorphins

40.  Shifts brain waves in the stress-prone right frontal cortex to the calmer left frontal cortex

41.  Minimizes brain activity in the amygdala, where the brain processes fear

42.  Decreases anxiety and depression

43.  Increases clarity while reducing confusion

44.  Resolves digestive problems

45.  Brings about a high level of self-acceptance

46.  Lowers stroke risk

47.  Increases self-reflection

48.  Heightens all senses

49.  Loosens the hold of addictions

50.  Balances the physical, mental, an emotional states

Fossel, MD, PHD, Blackburn, Woynarowski, MD, The Immortality Edge, (2011).

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[…] access the subconscious, we need a technique that puts us in a receptive state. There are many: meditation, hypnosis, repetitive sounds, binaural beats, […]

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