Mind, Body and Spirit
The Journey of Healing
Alex Penhaligon, Sunshine Coast, QLD
Attempting to write an article about meditation is like trying to describe a kaleidoscope. It depends on who is viewing, and on what one sees or values at that moment of one’s lifetime. Also what does one look through? All the history of one’s life experiences, attitudes and concepts, which tend to colour one’s world view.
My personal twenty-five year exploration into the experience of myself on less mundane levels, and supporting others in this venture, has been one of an increase in awareness and positive changes to my wellbeing. As I meditate, the kaleidoscope keeps changing. One can’t meditate without becoming more aware. I am not talking about guided visualizations here, which although equally valid, they have a different role altogether. One might have the view that meditation requires that we stop doing something. This may happen, however, I prefer to approach it from the angle that we just become a neutral observer.
If you see a small child clutching a razor blade, do you try to push or cajole him, or do you hold out a sweet and watch the blade fall as he reaches forward? So too we can actively focus on something else in preference to fighting the never ending distractions and intrusions of our thoughts.
Throughout many traditions over the centuries there have been prayers and meditative practices as man quests to know another part of himself, or to bring about a state of balance. Woman too, although this is never directly mentioned!! Freedom from intruding thoughts over what we experience, comes about through shifting our focus. Many use mantras or focus on the breath or other tools. As we meditate, the level of stress in our lives is reduced. We may also gain a glimpse of alternative ways of perceiving and experiencing, which may include anything from mild relaxation to the divine.
The support of a group of others focussed in the same direction can be useful and nourishing. A supportive teacher may assist the process significantly.Most of us want to make our lives less stressful, and more healthy or relaxed. It is in meditation where we might experience the above or another reality which may happen to be where the positive or healing energies are to be found. Placing focus for a short time on our soul/spirit/life force may change our life experience if given half a chance and the whole of our attention. As we meditate our mind body and emotions come back into a state of balance as personal control mechanisms dissolve, and that is where the healing can occur. It is true that we may not get around to opening the lid on all this until we get the news of a life threatening experience which compels us to look at the limitations of our lifestyle. Then push comes to shove, and meditation comes knocking on our door. Whatever the impetus in our life, it is never too late to start.
There have been studies on meditation as a therapeutic tool, showing that meditation can positively alter our brain chemistry, drop our blood pressure and stress hormones, and elevate our immune response to disease.
Australian research published in the Medical Observer in 1998 seems to explain why meditation can have a positive effect on slowing or even eliminating cancer. According to the Medical Observer, Dr Avni Sali from the University of Melbourne’s department of surgery, a hormone, melatonin, is released by the pineal gland. Dr Sali believes the amount of this hormone released can depend on the persons’ stress levels.
The Medical Observer quoted Dr Sali as saying the amount of melatonin released fluctuates depending on what time of the day it is and whether a person has had enough sleep. Melatonin levels have also been related to levels of clinical depression. “We decided to use melatonin levels to see whether they related to a persons’ ability to relax or meditate.” Dr Sali is reported to have found that melatonin levels increased when the person meditated, and that this explains why people who meditate are able to fight diseases like cancer.
Melatonin can limit the production of hormones such as cortisone and prolactin from the adrenal glands. Other research has shown that raised levels of cortisone can reduce the effectiveness of a persons’ immune system. Dr Sali said that stress is known to increase production of cortisone and prolactin. Raising melatonin levels, which happens during meditation, can balance out the effects of stress and enhance the body’s ability to fight disease. According to Dr Sali: “This is the first time anyone has found a physiological reason for how mediation may help a patients’ health.”
This is good news. Meditation offers an opportunity to lower stress levels. It gives an opportunity with the least amount of effort for personal healing to occur. It offers a break from the other 22 or 23 hours of the insanity in our world. Having said that, there is no need to have a problem to gain much from meditation. Your body and mind will thank you.
Just the act of sitting down to meditate changes things. The intent makes a space, a space in which something different can happen. The intent to do so and active asking, creates the space being where change in ourselves can begin to occur. Our everyday human default position is one of “I know”. This starts as a tiny baby and gets strongly reinforced by schooling and education of our minds. That default is a strong defence mechanism against the more subtle level of ourselves and the defences can get very sophisticated. There are some universities that even offer a Bachelor or Masters degree in Esoteric Science or Spirituality. I can state with personal certainty that any real learning will not happen in our academic minds! After meditating our minds just might get it later.
Yes we do “know”. On some level we know everything, however it’s a different knowing that gets a chance to be heard, when we by meditating we give ourselves a chance to let information in. The “I” gets out of the way of the knowing for a brief time. By meditating we can give that control mechanism a rest and the subtle or other knowing can get a chance to operate. We take up the opportunity of beginning to experience the wholeness which is always there, and that we have become extremely practiced at avoiding.
Reading this article cannot teach you to meditate. I am writing this not to educate your mind. In deciding to meditate your mind can get you to the chair and make a decision. That’s all. I write this to reach something in you that will get you to sit quietly long enough to get still enough to experience something outside of your everyday controls. Perhaps even to attempt to spark something within you enough to find a teacher or someone who knows sufficient to give you the support and enough space to keep on track.
To move beyond the limiting everyday controls of our minds requires a decision on our parts to participate. Not participation as more thoughts, ideas or feelings, but a decision to participate as an experience. First for half a second, half a minute, five minutes or half an hour, and later to participate in our whole lives. (The lives we decided to avoid before we could walk or talk). The decision will challenge everything that we think we know about ourselves.
The participation is worth taking a look at. Participation can be one of passive participation, one of going along with. The “she’ll be right mate” that we are all so good at and have practiced for such a long time. That is one of going to sleep, numbing the senses and controlling the mind, then going along for the ride or being rescued. Or it can be one of an active participation with all senses alive and operating. Meditation is not a process of separating from our humanity, more one of experiencing it. Meditation can transcend the earthly limits of our present experience and in doing so we can reach the spiritual wholeness that we seek.
We can prepare ourselves for this meditative state, working with our five senses, any or all of them at once. Choosing to simulate our sensory awareness does not involve an activity such as playing music or going to the art gallery, just a matter of focus. It can be focussing part of our awareness on hearing, touching, tasting, seeing, or smelling for a few minutes whilst doing our lives. We can feel the water of the shower on our skin, or really taste and hear the crunch of the toast. As we take up participating in our senses we start to participate with ourselves. This can be a lead-up to participating in meditation.
As we acknowledge the ordinary grounded realities of ourselves, our ordinary humanity, by going through our senses, it can open pathways to higher levels of consciousness and awareness and eventually health and wholeness.
Just as we prepare through stimulating, acknowledging and practicing our sensory awareness, so to can we use those same exercises, to bring us into the wholeness in our day to day life. Some call it” being there” or “being here” to be more precise.
This leads me to where I started with “meditation being more than relaxation?” Just maybe meditation is less about manipulation of myself and attempts to control my environment, and more about experiencing; the experiencing being a process of a renewed way of life. Along the way I can drop the judgements of myself, the make wrongs, the comparisons, and the remorse. This requires and supports me to forgive myself, and others too, as they are just reflections of my so called ugly bits.
For me it is the honouring of whom and what I really am, the remembering of the “I” that I have chosen to forget, and the re-claiming of the part the other I left behind. It is the experiencing of my entire self, this being the healing back to the wholeness of a healthy functioning awake life.
Alex Penhaligon is a Spiritual Healer and Transformer. For more information contact Cansurvive 07 5441 5730.