How meditation changes our brains, enables us to connect more to each other, works as a practice for psychics and Wiccans, and helps us to put away the ghosts of our ancestors.
Meditation conjures up an image of a bald monk, dressed in a loose-fitting robe, sitting cross-legged in a monastery while humming “Ooommm.” While that still occurs, meditation as a practice has spread to many cultures around the world and for many different purposes.
The practice, which originated over two millennia ago, was slow to spread through the West. For decades, scientists and researchers were skeptical about the benefits of meditation. Today, numerous studies have shown that meditation can decrease blood pressure, prevent anxiety, relieve depression, and intervene in cases of drug addiction.
But what you don’t know will surprise you. Scientific studies are important for capturing empirical data—the stats on your health, for instance. What they can’t measure is the “other” side, that side beyond what our normal senses perceive. Here are seven things you didn’t know about meditation.
1. The Growth of Gray Matter
Many practitioners of meditation have long suggested benefits other than physical relaxation and being at ease. But one group of researchers were skeptical. Could meditation result in improved cognitive and psychological benefits? Their study followed the following format:
- 16 participants
- An eight-week-long mindfulness stress reduction course
- Results gained from Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
The result was gray matter. After the course, participants showed an increase in gray matter in certain areas of the brain. These areas were involved in learning and memory, emotional regulation, sense of self, and the ability to take perspective.
2. Exploration of the World and LSD
For many practitioners, meditation is far more than a practice of being still for minutes (or hours) and achieving a state of bliss. Part of the deal for many is the exploration of the mind—and hence, the world.
Buddhism precepts list our mind as the chief cause of our suffering. The two pillars of Samsara include: Our belief in a ‘self’ and our belief in permanence Meditation then can become a way to challenge those beliefs and increase our understanding of ourselves and the world.
In the 1960s and 1970s, LSD was thought of as akin to meditation because it would provide a ‘glimpse’ into the world of full consciousness. While many eastern practitioners refuted this claim, psychedelics such as magic mushrooms are still practiced by many groups today for religious or spiritual experiences.
3. Why Movement Doesn’t Matter
The image of the monk sitting cross-legged while meditating may be an image burned into our consciousness of how meditation “should be.” But practitioners can perform meditation in any position—lying, standing, kneeling—and can occur during movement like walking.
What matters more, according to Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Zen Master, is awareness. Some key suggestions include:
- Become aware of your breath with each inhale and exhale
- Focus your awareness on a single point
- Move that focus between different parts of your body
- Notice your thoughts as just by-products of your mind
4. Trance States
The art of the trance has a long role in mysticism, where mystical experiences mean that the practitioner is connecting and communicating directly with a Deity. People can fall into trance-like states through chanting, breathwork, smell, and even tastes. The states themselves can induce:
- Religious conversion
- Communion with a higher power
Some forms of meditation use visualizations or smells to bring practitioners to a higher understanding of the world beyond the material. But meditation has been used beyond the realm of Buddhism in other religions and belief systems for a more supernatural purpose.
5. Supernatural Powers
If you are a psychic or want to be a psychic, meditation might be a good way to start. Some individuals say meditation can help psychics achieve supernatural powers. It is a time when you will contact the Spirit and your guides.
A psychic may benefit from meditation with:
- Out of body experiences
- Noticeable disruptive feelings in the body’s energy waves
- Connecting with a deeper power
Psychics are not the only less mainstream belief system that uses meditation. Wiccans employ the same practice before rituals. Meditation, in this sense, helps ease the ritual performers into the right state.
6. Controlling the Hungry Ghosts
The Legend of the Hungry Ghosts has roots in Buddhism, with stories told of beings who were deceptive and malicious becoming hungry ghosts in the next life. Hungry Ghosts have a problem, and it stems from their mouths. They can be flaming, very small, or decomposing and because of this, they cannot eat or drink.
In Buddhism, there are rituals performed to settle the hungry ghosts. These can be elaborate rituals, lasting over an hour. Walking meditation is required before most of them to settle the mind and strengthen the spirit in preparation for the chants.
The offering, though? Food.
7. Finding the ‘Real’ World
However, with all that said, the real coup of meditation is this: When it is harnessed for years and years, practitioners can experience the world behind the world—that is, full consciousness. Buddhist tradition has long espoused that it is our mind that is the roadblock to understanding the world. Because we exist within our mind, we cannot perceive reality. Just three of the benefits are:
- Suffering would no longer become you.
- Bliss and peace would suffuse you.
- Happiness would permeate around you.
And you would know the mystery that everyone desires.
Because a final word on meditation is too important to pass up.
It’s as simple as closing your eyes and breathing. Awareness of your breaths, while counting out loud in your head, can produce rest and a sense of happiness.
But for those that are looking for a little something beyond the health benefits of meditation, consider this quote from Jiddu Krishnamurti. He was an Indian philosopher who believed a revolution was needed in the psyche of every human being to eradicate conflict and suffering.
“To understand the immeasurable, the mind must be extraordinarily quiet, still.”
Think beyond the bald monk in a monastery and find the answer you seek.