There is a common misconception that meditation is concerned with “quietening” or stopping the activity of the busy mind. Nothing could be further from the truth.
While it may downregulate the biological consequences of an active or stressed mental field, (by lowering cortisol and the stress hormones, adrenaline and noradrenaline), the truest and deepest benefit of meditation is the gradual awakening to the reality that we are more than just our physical bodies.
In deep meditation states, we become aware of the many layers of our human experience – the movement of our physical bodies, the fluctuations in our moods and emotional states and the thousands of thoughts that pass across our consciousness. We may also stand the chance of becoming, for the first time, deeply aware of our true, subjective, core nature.
Our body changes year to year, our moods come and go, and our thoughts flit across our consciousness at an alarming rate. We have approximately 60,000 thoughts a day, the majority of which are the same as the day before. But the fundamental question is: to whom are these changing events taking place?
The answer is YOU, the real you, the witnessing subjective sense of oneself. Only in the deepest states of witnessing meditation do we stand the chance of arriving at our true, authentic selves.
While it has many health benefits, the deepest and most enduring benefit of a daily meditation practice is that we may, for the first time, become aware of our core nature, our deepest selves. Like a cloth that we dip into dye every day with a meditation practice, we stand the chance of permanently colouring our daily lives with the qualities of our core, unchanging, authentic selves. We slowly wake up to the realization that our daily waking consciousness and the incessant movement of our internal dialogue do not represent our deepest identity.
If we make meditation part of our daily practice, we may also experience many of the well-documented health benefits of a daily practice. Forty seven studies on meditation were analyzed and published in JAMA Internal Medicine in Jan 2014. Conditions such as anxiety, depression, hypertension, IBS, chronic pain, cancer, HIV, tinnitus and insomnia have all been positively influenced by a meditation practice.
MRI scans have shown that after 8 weeks of a meditation practice the area of the brain associated with fear and the fight or flight response (called the amygdala) shrinks. Mean while, the prefrontal cortex, the area associated with concentration and decision making, increases in size. The scale of change is influenced by the number of meditation hours practiced.
Furthermore, in deep meditation, we may transcend all awareness of a separate, symptomatic self and experience the opening into a sense that my separate, subjective self is no different than anyone else’s. We wake up to the awareness that at the deepest core of the human experience lies the awareness that there are no boundaries between you and me.