Meditation – Mental Health Essential

The Priceless Tool for Health and Happiness

Meditation, mindfulness, happiness - zen garden with massage stones and waterlilyMeditation, Mindfulness, or Introspective Practices

have well proven their value in holistic mental health work for mood, anxiety, addiction, and health issues. Meditation can be an essential tool for happiness and mental health. Enhancement of longevity and decrease in brain aging has also been demonstrated as an added benefit. In many other areas, there are proven benefits as in work, school, athletic performance, sleep, and creativity. The mere awareness in meditation – that thoughts and emotion are of a changing and transient nature – is enlightening for those felt imprisoned by harsh negative thoughts and emotions.

You may feel, that by taking the right steps and actions, mental health and happiness are guaranteed.

The belief is that happiness and improved mental health will follow, if some of the following are done: right thinking, positive actions, improving mental focus, resolving conflict, reducing stress, or gaining gratification from a desired activity.

Happiness, however, is always present but hidden by the mind’s restless activity.

Our clarity and personal experiencing come from our mind’s ability to focus and better define things: Allowing for the clearer perception of objects or thoughts – the mind focuses the wide-open infinite array of things into the finite and understandable experience. The focusing of mental activity often obscures the awareness of the larger origin of our narrowed perceptual experience. The larger nature of things, or the undefined source, can be called by many names: as the unknowable, all that is beyond the minds grasp, the spirit, the ground of all experience, the infinite timeless origin of all our experience or being, G-d, Brahman, Allah, and so on – depending on your concepts, culture, or education. Quantum physicists might name this as “infinite undefinable space” or use other scientific terms.

young man meditating on his living room floor sitting in the lotus position with his eyes closed and an expression of tranquility in a health and fitness conceptThe art of meditation may be viewed as the simple movement from rigidity, being constricted, and closed-minded; to being open, relaxed, accepting, and flexible in mind and feelings.

Another way of explaining meditation would be – the moving from a state of tightness, anxiety, fear, and vulnerability; to a place of relaxation, letting go, and openness – for the entry of peacefulness, wellbeing, and happiness.

Twenty-five-hundred, or more years, of practice and study of introspection and meditation practices

by yogis, Buddhists, mystics of all religions, philosophers; and now western academics, psychologists, and scientists – with thousands of research papers, seem to confirm the value of meditation. People have never found that by resolving conflict or problems, or by seeking pleasure or gratification has ever brought any degree of lasting happiness, contentment, or relief from suffering. Drug use experience or gambling – as an example, only brings brief relief or gratification with a return to the same (or a worse unhappy) state of craving or addiction. In the case of people prone to conflict, the resolution of an interpersonal problem, may lead to the temporary feeling of security, peacefulness, or happiness. However, this can pass quickly when new areas of conflict or insecurity arise, and results – again and again – in pain, suffering, and unhappiness. With the practice of introspection, meditation, or self-reflection; there is an uncovering, unveiling, or revelation of the always present and existent peacefulness, serenity, happiness, and harmony in the core of our natural being.

The tightness – finite focusing – of mind towards rigid ideas, concepts, belief, insecurities, and fears; begin to relax and lighten up with meditation.

There is a gradual awakening of our spirit, and the experiencing of the always present – already existing – happiness and peacefulness. In going from the waking state into dream sleep, we transcend into a less contracted focus of mind and mental activity. There is a looser array of objects, making up a dream story, that can be happy and peaceful, or fearful and anxious, if there is a carry-over of stressful, negative emotions from the awake state. The final falling into a deep sleep is usually restful and peaceful – some, however, remain on high alert mental activity and worry, never getting into much deep sleep, to rejuvenate, or recover, for the next day of wakefulness and focused mental activity.

Mindfulness, meditation - mature woman with outstretched arms in natureRegular practices are important to gain a training effect and positive brain change – neuroplasticity (see article).

Positive effects have been shown on reducing stress hormones and overactivity of the emotional regulating areas of the brain – the Amygdala. Practices are encouraged in an ethical context, as having an intention of practice – not only for your benefit and gain, but for the benefits of all in your community, family, or workplace. Attuning into happiness and peacefulness – can have personal benefits, which can carry over to relationships and more positive behavior towards others. Developing awareness of the larger context and environment, beyond the minds usual narrow focus, allows for more creativity, empathy with others, and greater insight into the making of choices and decisions. If mental health issues are a problem, consider cognitive mindfulness therapy, shown to be a positive help for anxiety, depression, and for the prevention of relapses.

What to do, where to start, or how to improve the practices I am already doing?

If you are a beginner, consider any of the resources recommended below, as doing some introductory reading or taking a class. Remember, that staying tuned into the bigger picture of things is what is important: with awareness and mindfulness – as you live, breath, and go about your daily living and activities.  Practice just being aware, being present, and being the subjective observer. All the sensory, mental images and objects constantly change and move through your awareness.

Try to be aware of awareness: A fundamental task in self-reflection, meditation, and mindfulness. One does not need to master fancy yoga postures, recite esoteric mantras, sit in any special way, be in a particular setting or class, or breath in any unique way. Many related practices and teachings may be helpful and can advance your learning and training – especially if any of the offerings catch your fancy. Bring meditation, self-reflection, and mindfulness into as much of your daily living as you can – when you remember and are able. Be mindful when you are moving or still, when you are breathing, when you are doing exercise, when you are interacting with another, talking, or listening – anytime, place, or situation. As an example, if you are walking, you can do walking mindfulness or meditation. Likewise, you can find great benefit from bringing these same principles into almost any activity. With doing more mindfulness activities, there is more of a training effect and sustained benefit with the positive brain change.

The often-busy mind will mask the greater awareness or context of experience. If you were looking at a piece of art and got lost in one object in the picture, you wouldn’t appreciate the picture in its entirety. If you’re driving a car and become distracted by looking for a street sign, you would be at risk of hitting the car in front of you. If you were watching a movie and got too focused on one character in the movie, you would lose the sense of what the entire movie was about (miss the context), and even forgot that it was just a constructed moving picture story on an initially empty screen. The more you are in the “grove with awareness,” the greater the lasting health and emotional benefits. You will be more into the greater presence of peacefulness, happiness, and well-being, or at least will be able to more easily access it – creating more balance, freedom, and flexibility in your life.

Read Thich Nhat Hanh on Walking Meditation: 1. Peace is Every Step. It Turns the Endless Path to Joy;  2. The Long Road Turns to Joy: A Guide to Walking Meditation  

There are many resources to get started with some meditation, mindfulness, introspective practices, or yoga.

Consider any meditation or mindfulness classes: yoga, chi gong, tai-chi, books, classes, online resource, or apps:

  1. See blog post and podcast by Dr. Hedberg – his article has excellent material and links for both new and experienced meditators. Dr. Hedberg Meditation Article & Podcast
  2. An app for your device: Calm by Calm – Meditate, Sleep, Relax on Google Play for Androids;  or Calm By on Itunes, for Apple Devices.
  3. If interested in the background and current scientific perspective behind meditation, listen to the podcast by Sam Harris. The Science of Meditation Podcast
  4. Read Sam Harris book – Waking up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion
  5. For those of you who want to read and explore some of the advances, modern ideas about meditation and “non-duality” – Read Rupa Spira book – The Nature of Consciousness.
  6. One of the most knowledgeable academics and advanced writers on meditation is Ken Wilbur. Read Ken Wilbur – Integral Meditation – Mindfulness as a Path to Grow up, Wake up, and Show Up in Your Life
  7. Explore Yoga as a meditation path with a class or read one of the many current popular Yoga books as The Yoga Bible Paperback by Christina Brown

mandala with Zen Stone and butterfly - hurricanes, depression, and recovery

By Ron Parks, MD & edited by Shan Parks


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