Busy life, the burden of responsibility, work, family demand energy. A lot of information needs processing; important decisions confront. Keeping the mind in constant focus takes energy. People are exhausted. Stress impacts the mind and the body. People yearn for relief, relaxation. It is hard to disengage. Information pours from all sides, processed by the mind. Not much more needs to be said because everybody knows it and feels it, and fears it.
Meditation is a natural antidote to compulsive thinking. It is the method used to achieve a calm awareness to the point of profound, deep peace while simultaneously maintaining an awake, alert mind that rests totally in the present moment.
The Buddhists call the wandering, restless mind ‘Monkey Mind’. Picture a monkey jumping from one branch to the next, looking around, never settled, never pausing, unconcentrated, readily distracted. Humans are addicted to thinking. Studies indicate the ruminating mind associates with stress and depression. It comes as no surprise. A negative thought rises and soon spreads into a network of self-generating streams of anxiety, anger or fear. Feeding on questions like ‘How did this happen?’ and ‘What will happen next?’. The present disappears. Past and future dominate. How can sound decisions be made in such a predicament? Everybody knows how true this is. Everybody knows the feeling.
Meditation and mindfulness outline an idea of relaxation. People take a lot of trouble to achieve feelings of relaxation. Often the effort put towards relaxation seems in itself a source of stress. The notion of forcing stress and anxiety out of mind by addition—a drink, for example, or thrill-seeking, is widespread. It is like overcoming noise with more noise.
One cannot stop compulsive thinking more thinking. The mind needs space. The mind needs quiet. The mind needs stillness. Only meditation brings these qulities.
Even perceived stress directly affects telomere length, suggesting that both environmental stress and perceived stress may induce premature ageing. The Nobel Price winning scientist Elizabeth Blackburne discovered that an enzyme called telomerase protects the telomere caps. Her studies revealed that protective telomerase activity in meditators was 30% higher than in non-meditators. In another study that focussed on daily 12-minute meditation, the percentage was a phenomenal 43% additional telomerase activity. There is no doubt that meditation is a powerful tool to mitigate stress.
International Journal of Neuroscience reports studies to show that a 30-year-old person after five years without meditation has a biological age of 30+6= 36 years. In contrast, a 30-year-old person after five years WITH meditation has a biological age of 30-7= 23 years. Studies indicate that short-term meditators have a biological age five years younger than similarly aged non-meditators. Long-term meditators have an average biological age reduction of 12 years compared to non-meditators.
Meditation is not just a spiritual experience. Neuroscience, psychology and neurobiology research into the effect of meditation on brain activity show lower frequency alpha waves and theta waves, indicating a state of deep relaxation with sharpness awareness maintained. Alpha waves (8-12 HZ) are characteristic of deep relaxation. In meditation, alpha waves are most abundant in the posterior part of the brain. Theta waves (4-8 Hz) are associated with daydreaming, creativity, sleep, improved memory and focus, and mindfulness. Long-term meditation practitioners have also been shown to have a higher pain tolerance.
Buddhism aims to cultivate the mind. Thoughts are like the waves of the ocean. It is like a boat on the ocean. When waves are running high, it is impossible to see the horizon. How can one find a position without the horizon as a reference? The mind entangled in thoughts loses the ability to reflect on itself. The mind needs calm and stillness to express itself. Only in such a state does the possibility of insight, awareness, and ultimately wisdom emerge. For a Buddhist, meditation is an indispensable tool. Without it, wisdom is unobtainable. What is wisdom? Wisdom is the ability to see things without a difference, without judgement, without prejudice, without polarity. Wisdom is non-duality.