WHY AGING HEROES MEDITATE
“When you're a kid, you lay in the grass and watch the clouds going over, and you don't have a thought in your mind. It's purely meditation, and we lose that.” ~ Dick Van Dyke
Meditation has a history that goes back thousands of years. It was once associated exclusively with spiritual practices, but has come to be a mainstay for wellness and emotional health. The earliest recorded evidence of meditative practice comes from cave paintings in India from about 7000 years ago. Hindu meditation dates back to about 1500 BC and was adopted by Buddhists and Taoists in the 5th or 6th century BC. It was practiced in early Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The first scientific study on meditation was done in 1936.
Meditation isn’t strange or esoteric and it doesn’t have to be particularly spiritual. Humans and animals meditate naturally all of the time. My dog, Zeus, spends much of his time in a meditative state. He lays there for long stretches of time, relaxed, sometimes with his with his eyes open, sometimes with his eyes closed, but he is not asleep. If a dog barks in the neighborhood somewhere, or a car door slams shut, or someone walks up the front steps, he springs to his feet perfectly alert. When Zeus sleeps, he is slow to awaken and generally needs a good stretch before he gets going.
"The truth is, any extended, uninterrupted, repetitive behavior is likely to result in a meditative experience."
Have you ever driven on a long trip alone without a radio on? If so, you may have found yourself so lost in thought that time passed without your awareness. You may have thought to yourself, “Who in the hell has been driving for the past two hours?!” This is an example of a meditative experience. The truth is, any extended, uninterrupted, repetitive behavior is likely to result in a meditative experience. Knitting, mowing the lawn, weeding a garden, operating a tractor, and even washing dishes or folding laundry can all trigger self-transcendent states.
Self-transcendence is a shift from the typical conscious state of duality, wherein one experiences the self in relation to all other things, to a state where everything merges into just the flow of experience. When you first learned to drive a car, you were keenly aware of yourself in relation to the many actions and objects involved in the process of driving. There was you in relation to the gas pedal. You in relation to the steering wheel. You in relation to the other cars on the road. However, once you became an experienced driver and took that long trip, you sort of disappeared into the experience of driving. Instead of you driving the car, there was just driving. Your self and your experience were no longer separate. You were self-transcendent.
"Unfortunately, one side effect of having the most highly developed brain on the planet, is that we respond to imaginary threats in exactly the same way as we respond to actual threats and we invent LOTS of imaginary threats!"
Meditation is a proven stress reducer. The human stress reaction is a hardwired evolutionary trait that kept us in the gene pool for thousands of years. Life was precarious for primitive people living in the natural world. They had to deal with wild animals trying to eat them and aggressive neighbors trying to wipe them out. Those who responded to threats with aggression and anger by fighting (fight) or with fear and anxiety by running away (flight), survived to raise offspring. All animals have a fight or flight response. If a child tries to catch a squirrel, the squirrel will run away. If by some miracle, the child were able to grab the squirrel before it ran away, the squirrel would certainly bite the child.
Unfortunately, one side effect of having the most highly developed brain on the planet, is that we respond to imaginary threats in exactly the same way as we respond to actual threats and we invent LOTS of imaginary threats! In modern life, we are rarely in a situation where our lives are in actual danger, so in the absence of lions and poisonous snakes, we stress over things that our ancestors would consider absurd. Our fight or flight response is triggered by bills, school work, jobs, and relationship issues. The result is a near-constant state of stress!
"Meditation can improve memory, relieve depression and anxiety, slow down the aging process, decrease cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, and may even extend life!"
While the stress response is extremely effective in the natural environment, it wreaks havoc in modern life. Long-term stress can result in cardiovascular disease, obesity, asthma, accelerated aging, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, digestive disorders, depression, anxiety, pain, and premature death! The stress response is the most extreme experience of duality (self versus other stuff). Stress is the self feeling threated by something that is not the self. It is the polar opposite of the self-transcendent, flow state that occurs in meditation. So, it should not be surprising that meditation is an effective tool for combating all of the emotional, cognitive, and physical health problems caused by stress. Meditation can improve memory, relieve depression and anxiety, slow down the aging process, decrease cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, and may even extend life! Meditation is a practice that directly affects physical and emotional health and wellness. What have been your experiences with meditation?