Why a President embraced meditation . Mindfulness the anchor and tonic of our soul.
“Every time you create a gap in the stream of mind, the light of your consciousness grows stronger. One day you may catch yourself smiling at the voice in your head. This means that you no longer take the content of your mind all that seriously, as your sense of self does not depend on it.” –– Eckhart Tolle
“Meditation does not answer the questions of the mind, but it dissolves the very mind which creates many questions and confusion in our life.”– Unknown
“Truth is not something that you can search outside, it is something that needs to be explored within. Truth descends when you are in the state of no-mind. Being meditative leads into the state of no-mind.”– Vishwas Chavan
“This article explores meditation and its profound importance to all of us. It first highlights the ills of distracted minds in present day society. The stress caused by information overload and ever demanding workloads and the side effects of this condition.
After it moves to the meaning, origin and importance of meditation. It finally ends with a summary and some quick techniques and reference material to get you started on the self enlightment path.”
Meditation is the holy grail of self development. If you can master one habit this is the habit to master. I had always perceived meditation as one of those strange and alien eastern religious practices that had no relevance in my life.
All I can say is that I was really wrong and should have incorporated this habit earlier in my life. The Chinese have a saying the best time to plant a tree was 20 years back and the next best time to plant the tree is now. It is never too late to learn any skill.
As I delve deeper in to the practice and read more about it I have realised this is the key that unlocks our mental power , inner toughness, critical thinking skills and resilience to overcome all odds.
During my research effort I came across an article that pointed out that Joachim Chissano – the former president of Mozambique embraced the practice and had his entire cabinet , army and other government officials learn how to meditate.
Mozambique had just ended a devastating civil war in 1992 with over a million causalities and a ruined economy. The President decided to embrace his opponents and integrated them in the national army and avoided retribution.
He enrolled for Transcendental meditation course in 1992 and realised it’s potency to bring calm and peace to the entire nation. He made it mandatory for the military and police to meditate twice a day for 20 minutes. Over 30,000 civilians were also enrolled for meditation classes.
The results were remarkable and there was reduced crime rate and an overall increase in prosperity in the nation within a period of 9 years. Chissano has won many accolades since then for bringing peace and reconciliation in his country.
I asked myself this question if a president was willing to learn the practice what was I waiting for to embrace the practice.
One of my great hobbies is taking long walks and contemplating all key activity that is going on in my life. I realised this was a form of meditation but I had never thought about deliberately controlling my thought process at all times.
Our subconscious mind runs over 95% of our mental activity in the background. The conscious mind only drives 5% of our activities as a rough estimate. Scientists have studied this phenomenon closely and here are some quotes below from some of them
”An enormous portion of cognitive activity is non-conscious, figuratively speaking, it could be 99 percent; we probably will never know precisely how much is outside awareness.” (Dr. Emmanuel Donchin, director of the Laboratory for Cognitive Psychophysiology at the University of Illinois).
“…some neuroscientists, such as Michael Gazzaniga, estimate that as much as 98 percent or more of all brain activity is completely unconscious.”
Once we learn a new skill or habit the subconscious mind takes over and we go on auto pilot.
The habit or new skill may be useful or not useful to us but the subconscious mind does not discriminate and will keep running any and all scripts endlessly. Meditation helps us take control of our subconscious and conscious minds which in turn controls what scripts run in us.
Self Worth and Self Criticism
One of the worst scripts I run and many of us have is endless self criticism where we judge ourselves harshly. Our internal voice constantly runs comparisons to our peers and other society metrics, standards and we always find ourselves lacking in some areas and not meeting the required ‘standards’.
We find ourselves comparing ourselves to our neighbours and want to ‘keep up with the Joneses’. This in turn creates the stress to always keep count and score. Who has a higher bank account balance, who has the most prestigious career, job, e.t.c
It can be useful tool to fuel ambition but comes at a cost to our internal mental state. We find ourselves constantly in a state of flux chasing many goals that keep on expanding with no end. This builds up internal stress in the long term and this is where meditation can help ground us on what is truly important to us as individuals.
One of the key side effects of self criticism is reduced self confidence and self worth which in turn affects our performance in many other areas. This is a pernicious and detrimental habit that we have to control.
The modern day scourge of Information overload
The total amount of information been pumped out every day is quite alarming. There is an information deluge across the globe. The technological devices we have at our disposal today have resulted in a society with sensory overload. Our senses are bombarded each and every day with information and marketing messages from various sources.
These sources vary from television, radio and the most pervasive of them all, the Internet. The invention of the internet and data communication flows has resulted in an information tsunami. We conduct more than half of our web searches from a mobile phone now.
More than 4 billion humans used the internet in 2018 (that’s a growth rate of 7 percent over 2017). Google processes more than 63,000 searches every second (5.4 billion searches per day). Social media users are now 3.196 billion and increasing. Over 5.135 billion mobile phones are in use. Active mobile social users is 2.19 billion users approximately.
Reports reveal that we have approximately 1.5 billion active Facebook users, More than 300 million photos get uploaded per day, every minute there are 510,000 comments posted and 293,000 statuses updated. For instagram there are approximately 1 billion users on instagram of this 400 million are active every day, 95 million photos and videos are shared on Instagram, 100 million people use the Instagram “stories” feature daily
Other social media statistics show snap chat users share 527,760 photos, more than 120 professionals join LinkedIn each day, users watch more than 4,146,600 YouTube videos per day, approximately 456,000 tweets are sent on twitter per day.
Communication statistics show we send 16 million text messages each day, there are 990,000, 156 million emails are sent; each day worldwide it is expected that there will be 2.9 billion email users by end of 2019, 15,000 GIFs are sent via Facebook messenger, every minute there are 103,447,520 spam emails sent, there are 154,200 calls on Skype per day.
Increased anxiety, fear, stress, depression and lack of self confidence
This glut of information overload has caused more serious side problems and issues. We have more cases of individuals with increased levels of anxiety, fear, stress, depression, low self esteem and confidence. The 24 hour online environment has resulted in lack of necessary downtime for the brain to relax and rest
Less face to face interaction is going on with more interaction taking place online. The skill and art of conversation is getting lost as entire generations are glued to their smart phones. With increased anxiety we get more cases of severe stress and depression worldwide.
Employees are expected to increase output with reduced team numbers. They are expected to be always online and answering to ever demanding customers. Sales of anti depressants and psychiatric cases are ever increasing due to this increased pressure of modern day life.
Stress and constant fear is a silent killer and creeps on us before we know it. It paralyses our best intentions and makes us inactive. Stress compromises our immune system severely and makes us vulnerable to disease
There is no greater danger than having continual stress with no outlet. This is why the narcotics and substance abuse industry is gaining more traction as society’s standards and expectations are getting more severe. Most people look for short term relief outlets to alleviate this stress.
Comfort eating, TV binge watching and other escape outlets are the norm. Obesity and lifestyle diseases are becoming the norm as we do not have time to stop and reflect on what we actually want to achieve in life.
Accidents caused by multitasking
Multiple and fatal car accidents have been caused by cell phone use while driving. Almost all countries in the world have banned cell phone use while driving. It has caused serious cognitive distraction and is one of the major leading causes of accidents worldwide.
Pedestrians have been knocked dead as they had their attention glued on their phones and forgot about their immediate environment. Serious work place accidents have occurred where employees are distracted and forget to pay attention to their immediate work environment.
Doctors and nurses are been banned from using cell phones at work to avoid wrong prescriptions and wrong dosage administered to patients. Incidents due to distraction have increased and there are now cell phone free zones where prescriptions and dosages are prescribed and administered.
Student’s grades are getting affected as they are constantly distracted by multiple entertainment channels.
Why meditation is important eight (8) key benefits of meditation
The key purpose of meditation is to control one’s thoughts and minimize distractive thoughts and aimless mind wandering. It is simply the direction of mental attention. To bring awareness and mindfulness to the present. It is a tool to help an individual focus and centre one’s thoughts.
Meditation’s benefits have been proven to go beyond calming the mind. Scientific studies have shown that meditation improves the immunity of the body and helps to fight disease. It boosts the body’s healing rate by over 17%.
It is a very important tool for stress management. It improves cardiovascular health and helps control reduce cortisol hormonal release in our bodies.
Here are listed benefits of meditation derived from extensive research on the subject
- It helps decrease chronic pain for people who suffer from issues such as migraine headaches, lower back pain etc
- It helps slow the aging process
- Assists in emotion regulation and calms the mind and reduces the heart beat and palpitations
- It increases compassion and empathy
- It reduces and curbs self criticism
- It increases blood flow to the brain and helps boost growth of grey matter. Grey matter is responsible for muscle control, seeing, hearing, memory, emotions, and speech
- It helps increase mental focus and clarity
- It helps the practitioners gain better perspective in life and see the big picture
The proof is in the pudding. Who practices meditation- A president , celebrities and major corporations
These list of celebrities below have incorporated meditation as part of their daily routine and programs. They realised the impact meditation had on their mental clarity and focus.
Steve Jobs – The billionaire and the late founder of Apple Corporation. Steve Jobs was regarded as a visionary and a deep thinker. He started practising meditation early in his life after a visit to India. This greatly influenced his mental clarity and approach to life.
Ray Dalio- The billionaire hedge fund founder also swears by meditation. He also uses it to seek mental clarity and performance when making critical decisions
Warren Buffet- The billionaire investor reads and thinks. He spends 80% of his work day doing this. The results are phenomenal he has been on the global list of the richest billionaires in the world for decades.
James Simons= Billionaire mathematician spends a large part of his day just thinking and pondering about different subjects.
Oprah Winfrey- The billionaire entertainment media mogul also swears by meditation. It has calming effects on her mind and helps her focus on her tasks
David Beckham– David Beckham the former footballer and fashion model is a practitioner of meditation
Joachim Chissano – The former president of Mozambique is also an avid practitioner of meditation and had his entire cabinet learn meditation techniques
Other celebrities who practice meditation include Tim Ferris, Anthony Robbins, Sting, Arianna Huffington, Hugh Jackman, Jerry Sienfield, Madonna, Bob Stiller, Pat Flynn, Larry Brilliant, Padmasree Warrior, Russell Simmons, Joe Rogan, Marc Benioff, Andrew Chert, Bob Shapiro, Justin Timberlake, Jessica Biel, Jennifer Aniston, Russell Brand, Kate Hudson, Gisele Bundchen, Ryan Gosling, Lady Gaga, Adam Levine, Jeremy Piven, Tom Hanks
Major Corporations that promote employee meditation
Apple- With Steve Jobs the founder been an ardent meditation practitioner it naturally followed that Apple would promote the practice for its employees. They are allowed to take 30 minutes each day to meditate at work, it provides classes on meditation and yoga on-site, and offers the use of meditation rooms in its premises.
Google- Google the technology giant has promoted a meditation program by the name “Search inside Yourself” since the year 2007 spearheaded by the head of personal growth Chade-Meng Tan. Employees learn how to breathe mindfully, listen to their coworkers, and even improve their emotional intelligence. The company also offers meditation space and meditation courses.
Nike- Nike the sportswear Apparel giant also promotes active meditation among it’s employees. Employees have access to relaxation rooms, which they can use to take a nap, pray and meditate. In addition to these quiet rooms, employees can also take part in meditation and yoga classes.
Mckinsey & co.= The consulting giant promotes meditation as a practice among it’s employees. It is also cited that it promoted the practice to an Australian client that helped the client save more than 20 million dollars
Deutsche Bank – The traditional Financial Services industry has also embraced meditation as a practice. They have offer meditation classes and quiet spaces on site for several years
Other major companies that offer meditation and yoga classes and facilities to employees include Proctor and Gamble, HBO the television series producer, Yahoo, AOL Time Warner etc
If such major corporations realise the value of meditation why are we as individuals not taking it up as a daily practice.
Meditation meaning and background
Meditation is derived from the latin word meditation which is in turn derived from a verb meditari which means to think, ponder, contemplate, devise and plan.
Meditation is a mindset practice or tool that has it’s formal traditions in the eastern religions of the world. It was a central tenet in the faith of the religions of Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Taoism
The techniques and meditation styles in the eastern religions differ according to the core religion practiced. Hinduism has several branches which include Yoga, Samkhya and Vedanta Philosophy. Jainism had two main branches which include Dharmya Dhyana and Shukla Dhyana.
Mantra chanting was a key technique for the Jain adherents. Buddhism the other key eastern region has three main branches for meditative practice the bhavana, jhana/dhyana and vipassana. These Buddhist meditation techniques are the most popular in the world and mainly use breathing and visualisation techniques.
Sikhism had it’s meditative practice as Simran while Chinese Taoism was influenced by Buddhism which concentrated on visualisation and breathing techniques.
The Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity, Islam and the Bahai Faith practised it formally through time set aside for contemplation. It was a time set aside to reflect upon teachings in the Torah, Bible or Koran.
Different Techniques of Meditation
Meditation has many techniques but there is no prescribed form of meditation, you are free to choose which technique most suits you. Here are the most common techniques and they are classified by the country and religion of origin.
- Buddhist Techniques
Zen meditation- or seated meditation– This meditation involves seating in an erect posture with two main variations. The first variation focuses on your breathing and it’s movements in and out of the nose. The other variation focuses on seating and just been present. Practitioners remain as much as possible in the present moment, aware of and observing what passes through their minds and around them, without dwelling on anything in particular.
Vipassana mediation– This technique also dwells on the mindfulness of breathing to help the brain focus on the moment and then the technique moves on to developing “clear insight” with a focus on bodily sensations and mental phenomena, observing them moment by moment and not clinging to any.
Mindfulness meditation- This is an adaptation of Vipassana mediation and is the most widely used form of meditation in the western hemisphere. This is also centred on movement of the breathe and rhythmic breathing and just been aware of our thoughts and not dwelling on them.
Loving Kindness meditation– (Metta Meditation) – This is compassion meditation where the focus is on introducing compassion and empathy for the self, increased self acceptance and acceptance of others as they are.
- Hindu Techniques (Vedic and Yogic)
Mantra meditation (OM meditation) – This is meditation where mantras are repeated to focus the mind without any meanings. These are not affirmations. It is also practised with a seated erect posture.
Transcendental meditation (TM Meditation)– Also similar to OM meditation and based on repeated chants. This meditation practice has many adherents including celebrities like Oprah Winfrey
Yoga meditation– Yoga means union and brings together many elements in meditation such as physical body postures (asanas), rules of conduct (yamas and niyamas), breathing exercises (pranayama) and contemplative practices of meditation (pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, samadhi). Very widely practised as it also incorporates physical exercise.
Self Enquiry and I am meditation– This form of meditation focuses on investigating our true nature and our state of being. It involves emptying all perceptions of our self and getting to our real emotions and feelings of what we truly are.
- Chinese Techniques
Taoist meditation– This is guided by the Chinese philosophy of Daoism which emphasizes living in harmony with nature or Tao. The key feature of this technique is the generation, transformation, and circulation of inner energy. The purpose is to quieten the body and mind, unify body and spirit, and inner peace and harmonize with nature or Tao. It involves these key techniques emptiness meditation, visualization, breathing meditation, inner vision and internal alchemy
Qigong (Chi Kung)– This form of mediation is a key feature in martial arts. It is derived from a Chinese word that means “life energy cultivation”, and is a body-mind exercise for health, meditation, and martial arts training. It involves slow body movement, inner focus, and regulated breathing
- Christian Meditation
This meditation is focused on getting closer to God and cleansing the moral spirit. It is focused on contemplation. There are three key techniques involved: contemplative prayer, contemplative reading of the Bible and sitting with God acknowledging his presence in our lives.
- Islamic – Sufi meditation
This meditation is a branch within Islam which focuses on purifying oneself andachieving mystical union with Allah the Supreme Being. Key techniques are contemplation of God, heartbeat meditation, sufi breathing meditation, bond of love meditation, gazing meditation, walking meditation, sufi whirling
- Guided Meditation
This form of meditation is modern and it fuses many traditional techniques so meditation can be distilled and presented to audiences in different formats. It introduces you to meditation as a practice, helps you experiment with different techniques, or keep your attention more present in the meditation.
These formats range from audio files in podcasts, video files in youtube, books and short meditation guides. There are different techniques involved we have traditional mediation teachings, guided imagery, relaxation, body scans, affirmations and the most modern form binaural beats
Four Key Elements of Meditation
- Regulated and relaxed breathing: This is where concentration is achieved by focusing on efficient breathing. This technique involves deep and rhythmic breathing using the diaphragm muscle to expand your lungs. The purpose is to slow down breathing, take in more oxygen, and reduce the use of shoulder, neck and upper chest muscles while breathing so that you breathe more efficiently.
- Focused attention. Focused attention is the key element of meditation. Focusing your attention is what helps free your mind from the self criticism, wandering thoughts and the any distractions that cause stress and worry. The technique normally centres attention on breathing, mantras and images so that distraction is minimised
- Quiet Spot– It is normally recommended meditation is carried out in quiet areas and spots especially for beginners to minimise distraction
- Positions. The seating and erect position is the most common position but you can employ meditation when walking, lying down or carrying out other tasks
Having discussed meditation and it’s merits it’s one key habit that everyone needs to incorporate in their lives.
We need to learn how to calm our minds and focus on the critical goals in front of us. We cannot make rational and optimised thoughts in a state of panic, anxiety or with wandering attention. To be decisive we need to actually learn how to focus and meditation is one key tool we can use to achieve this.
Meditation is the tool that turns our minds to precision guided missiles. The achievers take time to reach deep within their minds. The great athletes, artists, mathematicians, physicists, generals, doctors, politicians, businessmen all take time alone to meditate, contemplate and ponder.
Meditation helps bring clarity to the necessary action, the bare essentials. It strips away the white noise in our brains. The ancient philosophers, biblical texts and modern day age gurus stress the importance of meditation.
Jesus went out alone in the desert for 40 days to meditate, you will notice many passages in the Bible where Jesus left his disciples to be alone for some time, the Buddhists stress it all the time, you need to take out that mental vacation were you go still and centre your thoughts.
We need to learn how to centre our minds and thoughts. Clear and focused thinking is what is expected from us. It helps distil and get the right answers to the problems and issues we will always face.
3 simple techniques you can use now
- Get a quiet spot adopt a comfortable sitting position preferably with an upright erect posture. Start your countdown from fifty to one. Do this for ten days, then ten to one for another ten days, then five to one from then on. Establish this routine first thing in the morning and evening of meditating at least two or three times a day, about fifteen minutes a session. This teaches the mind to concentrate courtesy of Joe Silva – The Silva Mind Control Method
- Sit still for 2 minutes for two sessions a day and then keep on increasing the amount of time you stay still. Keep this on steadily increasing your still time till you are comfortable with a specific time quotient. Your mind will wander with random thoughts but keep coming back to your overall awareness and let the thoughts come and go. You will eventually reach a state when the mind is still. Courtesy of Leo Babuta Zen Habits
- Sitting still and counting your intake and outtake of breath. This helps calm and centre your mind. It gets you away from distracting thoughts when you want to calm your mind very fast. Count to 4 seconds as you take in your breath. Hold your breath for 7 seconds and finally breathe out for 8 seconds. Repeat this at least 3 times per meditation session.
Practicing the Power of Now – Eckhart Tolle
The Monk who sold his Ferrari – Robin Sharma
Finding the Centre Within The Healing Way Of Mindfulness Meditation – Thomas Bien
The Miracle of Mindfulness_ An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation – Thich Nhat Hanh
Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind – Shunryu
Light on Yoga_ The Bible of Modern Yoga – BKS Iyengar