A first hand exploration of meditation practices
College life is stressful.
I sleep enough, relax enough, move around enough; eat enough. Stress still manages to stick around.
I have never meditated before, and to be completely honest I did not know much about it, but I decided to give it a shot. At worst it would be a few minutes wasted with my eyes closed, at best I would transcend into a higher understanding of life and self, and stop wearing jeans or something.
I searched “how to meditate” on Google. I skipped all the research and went with WikiHow’s step-by-step instructions. After a few minutes of reading, I turned everything off and meditated to the best of my limited knowledge.
Focusing on breathing is easy, and I found that just thinking about that made it difficult to think too deeply about anything else.
Lights off, legs crossed, focus on my breathing. That is really all there was to it. Did it work? I guess to know that one has to understand what meditation is.
What is meditation?
Meditation is whatever you want it to be.
“Generally, a person who is meditating uses certain techniques, such as a specific posture, focused attention, and an open attitude toward distractions,” stated the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
Michael Faber, a meditation lecturer at Ithaca College and meditator for 35 years, described meditation as “learning the art and science of training the mind.”
According to project-meditation.org, meditation can be dated back thousands of years to India, in a form known as Tantra. Tantra has migrated to the West and is based in Zen Buddhist beliefs. It only started to rise in popularity here in the last 50 years.
Different forms of meditation can be the basic breathing practice, walking meditation, guided meditation, yoga, prayer or exercise. It seems that there are no limits when it comes to how you want to meditate.
“Understood correctly, anything can be used for meditation,” Faber said.
At its core, meditation is focusing on an object or idea and letting all other thoughts and judgements fall away so that the only things in your consciousness are you and what you are focusing on. This is called absorption, the state in which you and your focus become one.
In the Zen practice, the practice is used to clear the mind and then reach a state of enlightenment.
Rachel Hogancamp is the managing partner at the Rasa Spa in Ithaca which holds meditation sessions that offer a quiet place to meditate with a little guidance from instructors. They do not push any specific form or religion.
“It’s different for everybody,” she said.
Uses of meditation
The practice of meditation in the West has split off into different categories, and its applications are found in religion, spirit, relaxation and even medicine.
The NCCAM said that meditation can be used to increase calmness and relaxation, improve mental balance, cope with illness or generally enhance your well-being. These are all very enticing effects for the typical college student.
“You can’t shut off your mind but you can turn down the volume,” Faber said.
In Zen Buddhist practices, meditation is a means to be mindful, accepting and appreciative, as well as reach enlightenment. This does not just mean looking at a sunset and thinking that it looks nice, it means experiencing and perceiving life at a deeper level.
“None of this is instantaneous,” Faber pointed out. “The progress is measured in decades.”
For many beginners, the fact progress takes years may be disheartening.
After years of dedication, one may reach non-duality.
“The everyday thinking mind is a duality — me and not me,” he said. This is the notion that people think in two categories — themselves and everything else around them — and to reach non-duality is to bring those two aspects together and be accepting.
As I have been meditating over the past few weeks, I feel like I have been more relaxed. If I am particularly stressed, having a quick med-sesh helps out.
Turning off all the noise in your head can be difficult, and in the beginning it is very easy to stray from whatever you are trying to focus on. Over time it becomes easier, and practicing mindfulness in everyday life can be a major benefit to reaching that peace.
Kellen Beck is a sophomore journalism major who Ohmmmmmm Ohmmmmmmmmmmm. Email him at kbeck1[at]ithaca.edu.