Monday, June 19, 2006

Deepak Chopra on Meditation's Benefits

Deepak Chopra has taken a break from his fairly consistent political posts over at Intent Blog to write about the benefits of meditation.

Benefits of Meditation
Deepak Chopra - June 16, 2006

Physical impurities in cells have their equivalents in the mind: fear, anger, greed, compulsiveness, doubt, and other negative emotions.

Operating at the quantum level, they can be as damaging to us as any chemical toxin. The mind body connection turns negative attitudes into chemical toxins, the so-called “stress hormones” that have been linked to many different diseases. Ayurveda lumps all negative tendencies together as “mental ama” which needs to be cleansed from the mind.

It is not possible to purify the mind by thinking about it. An angry mind cannot conquer its own anger; fear cannot quench fear. Instead, a technique is required that goes beyond the domain where fear, anger, and all other forms of mental ama hold sway. This technique is meditation. If properly taught and used, meditation allows a person to become unstuck from the ama in his thoughts and emotions. In our Center we prescribe Primordial Sound Meditation, or PSM as a simple, natural way of accomplishing this goal.

As a young physician in the 1970’s, I was attracted to meditation for two reasons, one personal, the other professional. The personal reason was the promise of inner growth, of reaching an expanded state of mental and spiritual development. The professional reason was the large body of research on meditation that established that this meditation was “real”, that is, it produced tangible benefits.

Meditation is not forcing you mind to be quiet; it’s finding the quiet that is already there. In fact, when you examine the background static of worry, resentment, wishful thinking, fantasy, unfulfilled hopes, and vague dreams in your head, it becomes clear that the internal dialogue going on inside is literally controlling us. Each of us is the victim of memory. That’s how the Ayurvedic masters diagnosed it thousands of years ago.

Behind the screen of our internal dialogue, there is something entirely different: the silence of a mind that is not imprisoned by the past. That is the silence we want to bring into our awareness through meditation. Why is this important? Because silence is the birthplace of happiness. Silence is where we get out bursts of inspiration, our tender feelings of compassion and empathy, our sense of love. These are all delicate emotions and the chaotic roar of the internal dialogue easily drowns them out. But when you discover the silence in your mind, you no longer have to pay attention to all those random images that trigger worry, anger, and pain.

How to Meditate:

When you are ready to begin, sit quietly holding your hands lightly at your side or in your lap. Now, with your eyes closed, start to breathe lightly and easily. Let your attention easily follow your breathing. Feel your breath entering your nostrils and flowing down into your lungs. Don’t inhale deeply or hold your breath, just breathe normally. When you exhale, let your attention follow the air up out of the lungs and softly through the nostrils.

Nothing is forced here. The breath is moving easily and gently; your attention is following it softly as it leaves swaying in the treetops. As your breathing relaxes, make it a little lighter. Again, don’t force this, but when you feel that your breathing wants to get a bit shallower and lighter, just let it happen. If you start to feel short of breath, don’t worry. This means that you need a little more air and that deep stresses are coming out. Or you might also be forcing your breathing to be lighter than it wants to be. Return to whatever rate of breathing your body feels comfortable with.

When you are comfortable with this effortless process, you can add the mantra “so hum” to the procedure, silently thinking the word “so” on each inhalation and “hum” on each exhalation.

Continue this exercise for two or five minutes, just closing your eyes and focusing your mind on easy, natural breathing and silently repeating “so hum” with each cycle of your breath. What is happening with this exercise? You probably noticed that just by paying attention to your breathing you sank deeper and deeper into relaxation, and as you did so, your mind naturally became quieter. Did you sense that? If so, you probably experienced a few glimpses of complete silence, which you aren’t likely to have noticed, because I didn’t ask you to be on the lookout. If you had looked for silence it wouldn’t have appeared. Yet I imagine there were stretches where you lost track of time, which is a good indication that you were getting very near to the goal. Most people experience much fainter thoughts than usual, which is another good sign.

As you gain experience with meditation, you’ll begin to feel the reappearance of youthful energy and vitality that is being released form a deeper level of the nervous system. This is a very profound change and the real fountain of youth. Although mediation has been wrapped in an aura of mysticism for many centuries, at its heart lies this extremely practical and unmystical process of quieting the mind. It is the surreal way to open a channel of healing.
Meditating for physical health isn't the worst thing a person can do. And if people stick with it, they are bound to become curious about how to deepen the practice.

I tend to give Chopra a hard time every now and then, but he -- like Oprah and some others -- get people interested in personal growth who might not otherwise ever give it a chance. As shallow as it often seems, it's better than nothing. Everyone starts their path at the beginning, and everyone's beginning is a little different.

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