There are now thousands of studies spanning five decades to validate the benefits of meditation. As widespread as this information is, the effect on everyday life has been limited. In my new book, Total Meditation, I wanted to correct the under-use of meditation and the large problem of non-compliance, as a doctor would call it. Too many people start meditating only to quickly give it up or use it only when they are in the mood.
If you meditate occasionally, the long-term benefits of the practice simply aren’t going to be achieved. But you can take advantage of the most common reason that people take the time to meditate, which is a desire to be calmer and less stressed. This impulse, once you expand it, becomes “total meditation,” a phrase I use to denote a new approach. Instead of taking 10 to 20 minutes out of a busy day to meditate, which many people don’t manage to do regularly, you can reach the meditative state rapidly anytime you want.
The technique is simplicity itself. Anytime during the day when you catch yourself being distracted, overwhelmed, worried, tired, or stressed, immediately deal with this imbalanced state.
- Find a quiet place to sit and close your eyes.
- Take a few deep breaths.
- Place your attention in the middle of your chest and breathe easily.
- Continue until you feel calm and centered.
The essence of total meditation is frequency and repetition. It’s a technique that improves your mind’s tendency to return to a restful, alert state the more you use it. A couple of minutes a dozen times a day (which would be typical for most of us) accustoms the nervous system to experience what restful alertness feels like. In turn, the tendency to return to a balanced state becomes more automatic.
Homeostasis: Rebalancing the Body and Mind
The mind’s natural tendency to return to a state of balance is something you may easily overlook. Every time a thought ends, there is a gap of silence as your mind prepares the way for the next thought. This isn’t a simple, passive act. Very complex neural activity must be rearranged constantly so that thoughts don’t overlap, become blurred, or lose the words that express them. Thoughts are intimately linked with feelings and physical sensations, and these too must be coordinated in the instant of rebalancing.
Medically, the necessity for the body to return to a resting state of balance, known as homeostasis, has long been recognized. If you decide to go for a run, or if you are exposed to a sudden stress, your body willingly goes out of balance temporarily. But such states as elevated blood pressure and rapid heartbeat that are part of vigorous exercise as well as the fight-or-flight response, cannot be continued beyond a certain point without causing damage. Once the body’s heightened state is no longer needed, it automatically returns to homeostasis.
What hasn’t been recognized and appreciated is the mind’s ability to do the same thing. You focus on the mental activity at the expense of awareness. Awareness is silent and inactive, yet it is the foundation for every sensation, image, feeling, and thought in the conscious mind as well as far more intricate operations in the autonomic nervous system, which takes care of everything that requires no conscious thought (e.g., blood pressure, hormones, the digestive and sleep cycles, immune response, and much more).
In total meditation, you support your mind’s rebalancing, which becomes more necessary in stressful situations and trying times. This makes meditation a special kind of healing. There are three silent components that come together in meditation:
- Dharana: Focused attention, the first stage of meditation.
- Dhyana: The continuous flow, where the mantra flows alone with hardly any interruptions.
- Samadhi: The absorption, the culmination of meditation or beyond meditation.
In Sanskrit, the name of these three components coming together is Samyama. The terminology isn’t important. What you need to know is that silence can be contacted with the touch of an intention, and once the state of restful alertness has been experienced, it begins to deepen with every repetition over time.
The Healing Possibilities of Total Meditation
In the spiritual traditions of the East, meditation became a lifelong endeavor for a small handful of ascetics or else was reserved for a late phase in life when a person was expected to renounce the world and go into isolated seclusion. As venerable as this tradition is, the normal everyday life of countless people was untouched by meditation. As the pendulum swung to the West, more people caught on, but the practice became objectified in medical terms.
This is well and good, but I propose in Total Meditation that you begin to see the immediate healing benefits of encouraging the active mind to return to its source in pure awareness. Too many people are in a state labeled “autonomic overdrive,” where their nervous systems are chronically working at the limit of wellness thanks to widespread stress, heavy work demands, anxiety, and depression. The accumulation of chronic overload is dangerous over the long term, which is reason enough to retrain the nervous system to be balanced all the time.
The book goes into much greater detail about these issues. Here I’ve given you a sketch of the technique and a vision of the healing possibilities. I hope this encourages you to see meditation in a new light and to rethink how you relate to it.
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