Meditation is no longer a hippie, alternative practice for those who reject conventions and values. Meditation has now become a conventional practice with many people in the world meditating. It is estimated that 200 to 500 million people practice meditation. ‘Insight Timer’ one of the most popular meditation mobile app has 8 million registered users.
On the flip side, many people have also been warned against practising it. For the religious, there is fear that practising meditation may lead one away from their trusted deity to another deity.
For the non-religious, meditation may be a flaky exercise since there are other more important things in life to do. However, there is another group who identify themselves as spiritual but not religious. Before we go on, it might be a good idea to differentiate between the meaning of being religious and spiritual.
From Merriam Webster dictionary, the term ‘religious’ means a faithful devotion to an acknowledged ultimate reality or deity. A religious person is devoted to religious beliefs or observances. A person who is spiritual is a person who is concerned with matters of relating to or affecting the spirit.
The word ‘spirit’ comes from the Latin word ‘spiritus’, which is a translation of the Greek word ‘pneuma’ meaning ‘breath’. In the thirteenth century, the term ‘spirit’ became entangled with beliefs about immaterial souls, supernatural beings, ghosts and so on. The word ‘spirit’ as with ‘meditation’ has been contaminated by medieval superstition.
Role of Meditation in Religions
Meditation dates back to Hinduism although it existed before Hinduism became a religion. Hinduism is a complex religion to explain. Although there are many deities in Hinduism, they are but avatars of one ultimate reality. Unlike Semitic religions, the ultimate reality of Hinduism does not have traits we usually use to describe a human being. Hinduism in the form of yoga respects all religions and yoga is a practice that can be used to get one closer to his or her divine reality. However, the forms of yoga practised in gyms are not exactly spiritual or religious.
Meditation became a contemplative practice in Hinduism and various schools use different methods. The chanting of mantras is one method from Hinduism, aimed to bring the mind to a state of concentration for self-realisation. Self here is not identified with the ego, usually associated with pride.
Although many Christians have cautioned against contemplative exercises like meditation, meditation is also used as a form of prayer in the Christian faith. Christian meditative practices began as early as the 4th century. Christian contemplation includes reading and remembering bible passages to reflect on them. Reflecting on the word of God aids in penetrating the soul and spirit with the light of illumination. Passage meditation is a conscious, continuous engagement of the mind with God.
Jewish meditation began before the 4th century. Various methods used include visualisation, emotional insights to the contemplation of Divine names. These methods are used to understand the Divine by reflecting on oneself. Even Islam in the form of Sufism has utilised contemplation by breath control and the repetition of mantra to lead one to the knowledge of the divine.
Buddhist meditation, most popularly practiced in the West, encourages introspection into the illusion of the self. Instead of contemplation for the purpose of knowing a higher being, Buddhist contemplative practices are aimed at knowing the mind.
Meditation for Secular Means
Mindfulness-Based interventions (MBIs) such as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction to Mindfulness-Based Strategic Awareness have become popular secular meditation practices in both clinical and non-clinical settings in the US to Europe. MBIs have soared in popularity supported by evidence from several scientific findings on its effectiveness for the clinically depressed as well as workplace performance.
These MBI do not focus on any divine being or utilise a mantra. Using mindfulness techniques, participants learn to understand their body, emotion, thought and action impulses. These exercises reduce emotional reactions from the amygdala region of our brains. It also teaches us to change our relationship to our bodies and emotions with understanding through mindfulness.
Meditation Effects Based on Intentions
As we can see, meditation practices have been used for both religious and secular means. It can help bring one closer to one’s ultimate reality or the highest divine being, as well as improve workplace productivity and to reduce stress.
In fact, mantras such as ‘I am confident’ or ‘I am happy’ are used too in other spiritual meditation in order for these beliefs to be accepted into the subconscious mind. Once our subconscious minds have these beliefs, we begin to perform actions that manifest our confidence and happiness into reality.
Most mindfulness-based programs are focused on using the breath as the lifebuoy to bring our mind to our bodies to be in the present moment. The word spirit, which in its original meaning means the breath, implies that placing our attention on our breath is being attentive to the spirit. Thus, we can say that meditation is also a spiritual practice.
The reason behind meditation’s effectiveness both in the religious and secular worlds is because the practice reduces our reaction to thoughts and feelings. With a reduction of these reactions, we are able to rest our minds between thoughts. Having rested our minds, we are able to use the available energy to understand the origin of our reactions – whether these reactions are in line with reality or if our reactions are based on unreality, fear, and stress.
It allows us to contemplate and to change the way we react, bringing a positive outcome for both ourselves and for others. As a religious practice, a calm and quiet mind allows one to contemplate on the divine.
Therefore, meditation is but a means and not an end. The results and effects of meditation are based on our intentions. Thus, it is a suitable practice for everyone without infringing on anyone’s religious beliefs.
To begin a mindfulness practice and further understand the art of remembering ourselves in our daily living, you may want to check out our meditation classes.