Why Meditation Is Important
The only thing we truly know is the existence of our own consciousness. Everything else may be a complete hallucination. In the simplest sense, consciousness is the ability to feel, perceive, or be aware of our internal or external experiences. The dynamic complexities of consciousness have been studied, observed, and debated for millennia by philosophers, contemplatives, artists, and scientists. Yet its true nature remains unsolved, continuing study and investigation from experts and amateurs alike.
What if there is one vast consciousness with many components happening at once? Could several different consciousnesses exist independently? How capable are machines of consciousness, and, if so, what are the ethical implications of that? How do we define sentience in other species, and what moral principles must we follow to ensure their protection and autonomy? Philosophers are currently exploring concepts of self-awareness, or “awareness of awareness.” New developments in the study of memory, thoughts, emotions, and perception present some exciting work in contemporary neuroscience. Artists explore consciousness in ways that science and philosophy cannot. Some contemplatives suspect the presence of a universe-wide consciousness. We might conclude that with such a broad continuum of study, research, and contemplation (with so many unanswered questions), we just aren’t asking the right ones.
Evolutionary psychology indicates that consciousness comes as a solution to one of the critical issues within our nervous system; a high volume of information is continually processing. The brain has developed ever more intricate mechanisms for the deep processing of a few selected signals and the eventual outcome of this was consciousness. By separating the mind into different realms of the conscious and unconscious, we have adapted to using essential parts of the intellect for survivability while storing more traumatic memories deeper within. The issue comes from our current model of civilization. We do not experience the same struggle for survival that our ancestors did. Our brains are not required to store traumatic memories for mental preservation in the same way they used to. Such deep traumas continue to manifest in ways that continue to cause our suffering, even years later. Our own suffering is transferred onto others, creating an endless cycle of perpetual misery. We have trapped ourselves in our own prison.
Suppose the scientist's role is to investigate the universe. In that case, the philosopher's role is to examine ideas, and the artist’s role is to explore the imagination; the contemplative’s role is to study oneself. Meditation offers us an instrument through which to take on this task. The process begins by observing our own perceptions. The brain is essentially a repository of information kept hostage by the knowledge created inside it. We know what we know. That is, we know only what we know. When we authentically understand how we perceive our surroundings, our interpretation of reality can begin to transform. This deep introspection can provide us with a glimpse into our own minds. Rather than attempting to alter unchangeable situations, we can significantly impact the environment around us by improving ourselves first. We can indeed find balance, and that equilibrium is yet another reason why meditation is so important.
There are two broad categories of meditation techniques: focused (concentrative) and open monitoring (mindfulness or insight).
Concentrative meditation involves the deliberate focusing of attention on a chosen object, concept, or mantra. Concentrative meditation aims to calm the mind and deepen its meditative condition. A concentrative technique is suggested to prepare mindfulness work and its potential use in moments of anxiety, stress, or loss of concentration.
Mindfulness meditation involves methodical, non-reactive observation across the spectrum of experience from moment to moment. Mindfulness meditation aims to understand the nature of reality authentically, the fundamental essence of suffering, and the causes of suffering. Mindfulness utilizes an in-depth analysis into three realms: impermanence, suffering, and non-self.
Many different meditation techniques, strategies, methodologies, and other forms and traditions do not fall neatly within this categorization within these two general definitions. These definitions are simply a way to explain meditation practices in general terms.
Meditation is said to be a path to wisdom, so what is wisdom? Wisdom does not inherently come from formal education. Having “street smarts” does not necessarily mean one possesses wisdom either. Is it age? Is it experience? Can wisdom be defined? Let us attempt to do just that.
Wisdom is the practical perception of certain qualities: qualities like sound thinking, compassion, knowledge, awareness, self-transcendence, and non-attachment. According to the Buddha, there are three specific types of wisdom: wisdom gained by listening to others, wisdom gained through theoretical understanding and scientific observation, and wisdom dependent on real direct experience. These are such wise words! By authentically listening to others, we have the opportunity to bear witness to another person's pain and authentically understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their own frame of reference. In philosophical thinking, we have the chance to expand our perspectives on culture, principles, and ethics, concepts, and many other areas of metaphysical ideas. A scientific mindset is a constant quest of scraping through the absurdities to reach an empirical understanding of reality. Exploring expression and emotion can create a deeper understanding of meaning. Direct experience aids our development of practical approaches to how we interact with the environment around us.
Mindfulness meditation involves four fields of observation: observing the body, observing physical sensations, observing the mind, and observing mental content. When we examine our perceptions, feelings, and impulses, two main insights emerge. One is the realization that all things are impermanent. Everything is continuously changing, arising, and passing away like a wave in the ocean splashing on a rocky shore. Whether it is something as simple as an uncomfortable numbness in your leg, or something more severe like grieving a loved one's death, these sensations continually shift and alter. Instead of unwittingly resurrecting them, we can develop healthier coping techniques by just observing them arising and passing away naturally. The other insight is the awareness that everything is interdependent, the nature of cause and effect. All concepts are bounded by space and time, formed and expressed according to their setting, form, and purpose. All physical experiences, created and embodied by their environment, configuration, and sense, are connected in space and time. When a phenomenon is detected, it may manifest several experiences rather than a function of its components only. As we understand this interconnectedness on an experiential level, we can begin to examine our relationships within communities and the wider society.
Meditation allows one to understand our unconscious choice of suffering. We often crave reality to be something that it only cannot be. Consider your relationship with your parents, your child, or a close friend. Have you ever experienced annoyance over a personality trait that one of these individuals possesses? And if so, how has this annoyance impacted your relationship with them? Has it ever grown into something more significant than a mere nuisance? Has this engagement ever caused a relationship to deteriorate ultimately? Was it worth it? This is not to suggest that we should accept disrespectful interactions, social injustices, or fail to attempt any constructive effect on societal progress. This indicates that we have a choice in how we engage with the world around us. Can we influence change in others? Yes. Can we alter their behaviors? No. Can we reconstruct our neural passageways of perception? Absolutely. By engaging in this concept, we stand for more nourishing opportunities for everyone and lead the growth transition.
The Self, or Ego, like many other cognitive experiences, is a continually evolving phenomenon. Consider who you were ten years ago. Have you changed, or are you exactly the same? If you have changed, do you recall the precise moment, or was it a more incremental transition? Is there anything left of your old self? Who will you be in 100 years? Will you even be alive? Imagine dipping your hand into a flowing river and gently lifting it out. If you were to place your hand back into the river in the same location, would it be the same water you feel? Expand this concept to a period of a year, or a century, or millennia. Eventually, the water will cease to exist altogether.
The ultimate goal of meditation practice is to get in tune with ourselves and our surroundings. We each carry our own qualia, something only the individual can understand, namely, in how we see the world from our own perspective. Through individuation, the process of bringing the unconscious into consciousness, we will ultimately enter a holistic state, an evolutionary path to being a whole human. Meditation is not a replacement for medical or psychiatric treatment. There are specific chemical imbalances and healthcare needs that we must utilize to ensure our health and wellbeing. Meditation can offer a type of mental fitness to expand our consciousness and understanding of our place within this universe. It can help us find comfort in those unanswerable questions and develop communication skills with our fellow humans.
May you be happy!
May you be peaceful!
May you be free from suffering!
May all beings be happy!