Meditation & Inner Peace Seeking
* for information on meditation in relation to specific religious practices, visit the full article linked above *
Inner peace (or peace of mind) refers to a deliberate state of psychological or spiritual calm despite the potential presence of stressors. Being "at peace" is considered by many to be healthy (homeostasis) and the opposite of being stressed or anxious, and is considered to be a state where our mind performs at an optimal level with a positive outcome. Peace of mind is thus generally associated with bliss, happiness and contentment.
Peace of mind, serenity, and calmness are descriptions of a disposition free from the effects of stress. In some cultures, inner peace is considered a state of consciousness or enlightenment that may be cultivated by various forms of training, such as prayer, meditation, tai chi or yoga, for example. Many spiritual practices refer to this peace as an experience of knowing oneself. Finding inner peace (Shanti, Santhi or Shanthi, from Sanskrit: शान्तिः, śāntiḥ, Sanskrit pronunciation: [ɕaːntih]; √ शम śam: ‘be calm’) means peace, rest, calmness, tranquility, or bliss is often associated with traditions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism.
People have difficulties embracing their inner spirituality because everyday stressors get the best of them; finding peace and happiness in the little joys of life can seem like a lot of work, and results do not seem all that gratifying. Achieving spirituality is a step-by-step process; there are ways through which one can become more spiritual every day.
Tenzin Gyatso, the current and 14th Dalai Lama, emphasizes the importance of inner peace in the world:
The question of real, lasting world peace concerns human beings, so basic human feelings are also at its roots. Through inner peace, genuine world peace can be achieved. In this the importance of individual responsibility is quite clear; an atmosphere of peace must first be created within ourselves, then gradually expanded to include our families, our communities, and ultimately the whole planet.
Meditation is a practice where an individual uses a technique – such as mindfulness, or focusing their mind on a particular object, thought or activity – to train attention and awareness, and achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm and stable state.
Meditation has been practiced since antiquity in numerous religious traditions and beliefs, often as part of the path towards enlightenment and self realization. Since the 19th century, it has spread from its origins to other cultures where it is commonly practiced in private and business life.
Meditation may be used with the aim of reducing stress, anxiety, depression, and pain, and increasing peace, perception, self-concept, and well-being. Meditation is under research to define its possible health (psychological, neurological, and cardiovascular) and other effects.
Separation of Technique from Tradition
Some of the difficulty in precisely defining meditation has been the difficulty in recognizing the particularities of the many various traditions. There may be differences between the theories of one tradition of meditation as to what it means to practice meditation. The differences between the various traditions themselves, which have grown up a great distance apart from each other, may be even starker. Taylor noted that to refer only to meditation from a particular faith (e.g., "Hindu" or "Buddhist")
...is not enough, since the cultural traditions from which a particular kind of meditation comes are quite different and even within a single tradition differ in complex ways. The specific name of a school of thought or a teacher or the title of a specific text is often quite important for identifying a particular type of meditation.
Ornstein noted that "Most techniques of meditation do not exist as solitary practices but are only artificially separable from an entire system of practice and belief." This means that, for instance, while monks engage in meditation as a part of their everyday lives, they also engage the codified rules and live together in monasteries in specific cultural settings that go along with their meditative practices. These meditative practices sometimes have similarities (often noticed by Westerners), for instance concentration on the breath is practiced in Zen, Tibetan and Theravadan contexts, and these similarities or "typologies" are noted here.
Forms of Meditation
Focused vs Open Monitoring Meditation
In the West, meditation techniques have sometimes been thought of in two broad categories: focused (or concentrative) meditation and open monitoring (or mindfulness) meditation.
One style, Focused Attention (FA) meditation, entails the voluntary focusing of attention on a chosen object, breathing, image, or words. The other style, Open Monitoring (OM) meditation, involves non-reactive monitoring of the content of experience from moment to moment.
Direction of mental attention... A practitioner can focus intensively on one particular object (so-called concentrative meditation), on all mental events that enter the field of awareness (so-called mindfulness meditation), or both specific focal points and the field of awareness.
Focused attention methods - These include paying attention to the breath, to an idea or feeling (such as mettā (loving-kindness)), to a kōan, or to a mantra (such as in transcendental meditation), and single point meditation.
Open monitoring methods - These include mindfulness, shikantaza and other awareness states.
Practices using both methods - Some practices use both techniques, including vipassana (which uses anapanasati as a preparation), samatha/calm-abiding, and Headspace.
No thought - In these methods, "the practitioner is fully alert, aware, and in control of their faculties but does not experience any unwanted thought activity." This is in contrast to the common meditative approaches of being detached from, and non-judgmental of, thoughts, but not of aiming for thoughts to cease. In the meditation practice of the Sahaja yoga spiritual movement, the focus is on thoughts ceasing. Clear light yoga also aims at a state of no mental content, as does the no thought (wu nian) state taught by Huineng, and the teaching of Yaoshan Weiyan.
Automatic self-transcending - One proposal is that transcendental meditation and possibly other techniques be grouped as an 'automatic self-transcending' set of techniques.
Other typologies - Other typologies include dividing meditation into concentrative, generative, receptive and reflective practices.
Meditation methods used by some well-known meditators
* Multiple methods; Pema Chödrön (shambhala – uses multiple methods), Susan Piver (shambhala), S.N.Goenka (vipassana – uses multiple methods), Joseph Goldstein (vipassana), Judson Brewer (vipassana), Yuval Harari (vipassana), 14th Dalai Lama (various, including analytic meditation), Matthieu Ricard (loving-kindness, open awareness, analytic), Sharon Salzberg (loving-kindness, mindfulness, vipassana), Daniel Goleman (dzogchen, other), Thubten Chodron (stabilizing, analytical, loving-kindness), Martine and Stephen Batchelor (mindfulness breath, body, sounds, feeling tones (vedanas), Seon questioning, appreciative joy (mudita)).
* Open awareness; Jon Kabat-Zinn (mindfulness), Sam Harris (mindfulness).
* Chakra Meditation; Michal Levin
Common practice timings
The transcendental meditation technique recommends practice of 20 minutes twice per day. Some techniques suggest less time, especially when starting meditation, and Richie Davidson has quoted research saying benefits can be achieved with a practice of only 8 minutes per day. Some meditators practice for much longer, particularly when on a course or retreat. Some meditators find practice best in the hours before dawn.
Physical postures and techniques
Whilst asanas and positions such as the full-lotus, half-lotus, Burmese, Seiza, and kneeling positions are popular in Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism, other postures such as sitting, supine (lying), and standing are also used. Meditation is also sometimes done while walking, known as kinhin, or while doing a simple task mindfully, known as samu.
Use of prayer beads
Some ancient religions of the world have a tradition of using prayer beads as tools in devotional meditation. Most prayer beads and Christian rosaries consist of pearls or beads linked together by a thread. The Roman Catholic rosary is a string of beads containing five sets with ten small beads. The Hindu japa mala has 108 beads (the figure 108 in itself having spiritual significance, as well as those used in Jainism and Buddhist prayer beads. Each bead is counted once as a person recites a mantra until the person has gone all the way around the mala. The Muslim misbaha has 99 beads.
Possible benefits of supporting meditation practice with a narrative
Richie Davidson has expressed the view that having a narrative can help maintenance of daily practice. For instance he himself prostrates to the teachings, and meditates "not primarily for my benefit, but for the benefit of others."
Over the past 20 years, mindfulness and mindfulness-based programs have been used to assist people, whether they be clinically sick or healthy. Jon Kabat-Zinn, who founded the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program in 1979, has defined mindfulness as 'moment to moment non-judgmental awareness.' Several methods are used during time set aside specifically for mindfulness meditation, such as body scan techniques or letting thought arise and pass, and also during our daily lives, such as being aware of the taste and texture of the food that we eat. Some studies offer evidence that mindfulness practices are beneficial for the brain's self-regulation by increasing activity in the anterior cingulate cortex. A shift from using the right prefrontal cortex is claimed to be associated with a trend away from depression and anxiety, and towards happiness, relaxation, and emotional balance.
As stated by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a US government entity within the National Institutes of Health that advocates various forms of Alternative Medicine, "Meditation may be practiced for many reasons, such as to increase calmness and physical relaxation, to improve psychological balance, to cope with illness, or to enhance overall health and well-being."
Meditation techniques have also been used by Western theories of counseling and psychotherapy. Relaxation training works toward achieving mental and muscle relaxation to reduce daily stresses. Sahaja (mental silence) meditators scored above control group for emotional well-being and mental health measures on SF-36 ratings.
Jacobson's Progressive Muscle Relaxation was developed by American physician Edmund Jacobson in the early 1920s. In this practice one tenses and then relaxes muscle groups in a sequential pattern whilst concentrating on how they feel. The method has been seen to help people with many conditions, especially extreme anxiety. Jacobson is credited with developing the initial progressive relaxation procedure. These techniques are used in conjunction with other behavioral techniques. Originally used with systematic desensitization, relaxation techniques are now used with other clinical problems. Meditation, hypnosis and biofeedback-induced relaxation are a few of the techniques used with relaxation training.
One of the eight essential phases of EMDR (developed by Francine Shapiro), bringing adequate closure to the end of each session, also entails the use of relaxation techniques, including meditation. Multimodal therapy, a technically eclectic approach to behavioral therapy, also employs the use of meditation as a technique used in individual therapy.
From the point of view of psychology and physiology, meditation can induce an altered state of consciousness. Such altered states of consciousness may correspond to altered neuro-physiologic states.
Today, there are many different types of meditation practiced in western culture. Mindful breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and loving kindness meditations for instance have been found to provide cognitive benefits such as relaxation and decentering. With training in meditation, depressive rumination can be decreased and overall peace of mind can flourish. Different techniques have shown to work better for different people.
Herbert Benson of Harvard Medical School conducted a series of clinical tests on meditators from various disciplines, including the Transcendental Meditation technique and Tibetan Buddhism. In 1975, Benson published a book titled The Relaxation Response where he outlined his own version of meditation for relaxation. Also in the 1970s, the American psychologist Patricia Carrington developed a similar technique called Clinically Standardized Meditation (CSM). In Norway, another sound-based method called Acem Meditation developed a psychology of meditation and has been the subject of several scientific studies.
Biofeedback has been used by many researchers since the 1950s in an effort to enter deeper states of mind.
The history of meditation is intimately bound up with the religious context within which it was practiced. Some authors have even suggested the hypothesis that the emergence of the capacity for focused attention, an element of many methods of meditation, may have contributed to the latest phases of human biological evolution. Some of the earliest references to meditation are found in the Hindu Vedas of India. Wilson translates the most famous Vedic mantra "Gayatri" as: "We meditate on that desirable light of the divine Savitri, who influences our pious rites" (Rigveda : Mandala-3, Sukta-62, Rcha-10). Around the 6th to 5th centuries BCE, other forms of meditation developed via Confucianism and Taoism in China as well as Hinduism, Jainism, and early Buddhism in Nepal and India.
In the Roman Empire, by 20 BCE Philo of Alexandria had written on some form of "spiritual exercises" involving attention (prosoche) and concentration and by the 3rd century Plotinus had developed meditative techniques.
The Pāli Canon, which dates to 1st century BCE considers Buddhist meditation as a step towards liberation. By the time Buddhism was spreading in China, the Vimalakirti Sutra which dates to 100 CE included a number of passages on meditation, clearly pointing to Zen (known as Chan in China, Thiền in Vietnam, and Seon in Korea). The Silk Road transmission of Buddhism introduced meditation to other Asian countries, and in 653 the first meditation hall was opened in Singapore. Returning from China around 1227, Dōgen wrote the instructions for zazen.
The Islamic practice of Dhikr had involved the repetition of the 99 Names of God since the 8th or 9th century. By the 12th century, the practice of Sufism included specific meditative techniques, and its followers practiced breathing controls and the repetition of holy words. Interactions with Indians, Nepalese or the Sufis may have influenced the Eastern Christian meditation approach to hesychasm, but this can not be proved. Between the 10th and 14th centuries, hesychasm was developed, particularly on Mount Athos in Greece, and involves the repetition of the Jesus prayer.
Western Christian meditation contrasts with most other approaches in that it does not involve the repetition of any phrase or action and requires no specific posture. Western Christian meditation progressed from the 6th century practice of Bible reading among Benedictine monks called Lectio Divina, i.e. divine reading. Its four formal steps as a "ladder" were defined by the monk Guigo II in the 12th century with the Latin terms lectio, meditatio, oratio, and contemplatio (i.e. read, ponder, pray, contemplate). Western Christian meditation was further developed by saints such as Ignatius of Loyola and Teresa of Avila in the 16th century.
Secular forms of meditation were introduced in India in the 1950s as a modern form of Hindu meditative techniques and arrived in Australia in the late 1950s and, the United States and Europe in the 1960s. Rather than focusing on spiritual growth, secular meditation emphasizes stress reduction, relaxation and self-improvement. Both spiritual and secular forms of meditation have been subjects of scientific analyses. Research on meditation began in 1931, with scientific research increasing dramatically during the 1970s and 1980s. Since the beginning of the '70s more than a thousand studies of meditation in English have been reported. However, after 60 years of scientific study, the exact mechanism at work in meditation remains unclear.
Modern dissemination in the west
Methods of meditation have been cross-culturally disseminated at various times throughout history, such as Buddhism going to East Asia, and Sufi practices going to many Islamic societies. Of special relevance to the modern world is the dissemination of meditative practices since the late 19th century, accompanying increased travel and communication among cultures worldwide. Most prominent has been the transmission of numerous Asian-derived practices to the West. In addition, interest in some Western-based meditative practices has also been revived, and these have been disseminated to a limited extent to Asian countries. Also evident is some extent of influence over Enlightenment thinking through Denis Diderot's Encyclopédie, although he states, "I find that a meditation practitioner is often quite useless and that a contemplation practitioner is always insane".
Ideas about Eastern meditation had begun "seeping into American popular culture even before the American Revolution through the various sects of European occult Christianity", and such ideas "came pouring in [to America] during the era of the transcendentalists, especially between the 1840s and the 1880s." The following decades saw further spread of these ideas to America:
The World Parliament of Religions, held in Chicago in 1893, was the landmark event that increased Western awareness of meditation. This was the first time that Western audiences on American soil received Asian spiritual teachings from Asians themselves. Thereafter, Swami Vivekananda... [founded] various Vedanta ashrams... Anagarika Dharmapala lectured at Harvard on Theravada Buddhist meditation in 1904; Abdul Baha ... [toured] the US teaching the principles of Bahai, and Soyen Shaku toured in 1907 teaching Zen...
More recently, in the 1960s, another surge in Western interest in meditative practices began. Observers have suggested many types of explanations for this interest in Eastern meditation and revived Western contemplation. Thomas Keating, a founder of Contemplative Outreach, wrote that "the rush to the East is a symptom of what is lacking in the West. There is a deep spiritual hunger that is not being satisfied in the West." Daniel Goleman, a scholar of meditation, suggested that the shift in interest from "established religions" to meditative practices "is caused by the scarcity of the personal experience of these [meditation-derived] transcendental states – the living spirit at the common core of all religions."
Another suggested contributing factor is the rise of communist political power in Asia, which "set the stage for an influx of Asian spiritual teachers to the West", oftentimes as refugees.
Meditation, religion and drugs
Many major traditions in which meditation is practiced, such as Buddhism and Hinduism, advise members not to consume intoxicants, while others, such as the Rastafarian movements and Native American Church, view drugs as integral to their religious lifestyle.
The fifth of the five precepts of the Pancasila, the ethical code in the Theravada and Mahayana Buddhist traditions, states that adherents must: "abstain from fermented and distilled beverages that cause heedlessness."
On the other hand, the ingestion of psychoactives has been a central feature in the rituals of many religions, in order to produce altered states of consciousness. In several traditional shamanistic ceremonies, drugs are used as agents of ritual. In the Rastafari movement, cannabis is believed to be a gift from Jah and a sacred herb to be used regularly, while alcohol is considered to debase man. Native Americans use peyote, as part of religious ceremony, continuing today. In India, the soma drink has a long history of use alongside prayer and sacrifice, and is mentioned in the Vedas.
During the 1960s and 70s, both eastern meditation traditions and psychedelics, such as LSD, became popular in America, and it was suggested that LSD use and meditation were both means to the same spiritual/existential end. Many practitioners of eastern traditions rejected this idea, including many who had tried LSD themselves. In The Master Game, Robert S de Ropp writes that the "door to full consciousness" can be glimpsed with the aid of substances, but to "pass beyond the door" requires yoga and meditation. Other authors, such as Rick Strassman, believe that the relationship between religious experiences reached by way of meditation and through the use of psychedelic drugs deserves further exploration.
Mindfulness meditation, in its modern form, is regarded by psychologist Thomas Joiner to have been "corrupted" for commercial gain by self-help celebrities, and he suggests that it encourages narcissistic and self-obsessed mindsets which can be unhealthy.
There has been some reporting of cases where meditating correlated with negative experiences for the meditator.