Meditation is a calm state of mind, arrived at by mindfulness. The practice of meditation is at once ancient and contemporary, local and worldwide. Whether you need peace of mind, or the mental power to sustain a calm, assertive energy, a combination of meditation and activity done with a mindful attitude can take you there.
According to some scholars, the earliest records of meditation come from Indian texts dating around 1,500 B.C. However, the Vedic texts of India claim that meditation has been going on since the dawn of humankind.
In addition to India, many other ancient cultures viewed meditation as a powerful vehicle for spiritual development:
Egypt: In his book, Symbol & Magic in Ancient Egyptian Art, Egyptologist Dr. Richard Wilkinson explains that much of ancient Egyptian culture involved harmonizing the duality inherent in nature. This type of balancing is a key feature of meditative practices.
In addition, some have linked the Uraeus, the serpent crown worn by pharaohs as a symbol of divine authority, with the opening of the third eye and the awakening of the Kundalini.
China and Southeast Asia: The Tao Te Ching by Lao-tzu, written around 500 B.C.E, is one of the oldest treatises on a type of secular mindfulness. After the turn of the century, Buddhism expanded beyond the borders of India, bringing its powerful set of teachings and practices into China and the rest of Asia.
The Middle East: In Christianity, both Jesus Christ and the Apostle Paul spent an extended period of meditative isolation in the desert before beginning their ministry. Following in their footsteps, around 200-300 C.E. the Desert Fathers of Egypt became some of the first Christian monastics. They lived like hermits and spent nearly all of their time absorbed in spiritual contemplation.
The Meditteranean: Ancient Greek philosophers such as Philo of Alexandria and Plotinus wrote on the practice of meditation as a kind of mental and spiritual exercise.
The practice of meditation is becoming increasingly popular in the United States. According to a recent study from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 14.2% of all American adults mediated in 2017. That’s about 46 million people, or more than the entire state of California. Just five years earlier, in 2012, only 12.8 million people were meditating.
What’s behind the rising interest in meditation? Here are a few of the major factors:
- The growing popularity of yoga. In 2017, roughly 47 million people in the U.S. practiced yoga. Although a distinct practice, like meditation, yoga traces its roots to ancient India. In addition, many yoga studios incorporate some form of mindfulness or meditation in their regular classes.
- An increase in scientific studies. Each year more scientists publish their findings on the health benefits of meditation. As more research comes out, more people become convinced to give meditation a shot.
- American secularation. Based on data from the past several decades, Professor Alan Downey predicts that up to 40% of Americans will state they have no religious affiliation by 2035. This means that many people will continue to turn to non-religious ways of coping with life’s challenges — something meditation can really help with.
Aside from the sociological factors, many people are meditating because it offers so many physical, emotional, and spiritual benefits. These are some of the ones that stand out:
- Increased focus
- Enhanced productivity
- Improved self-confidence
- More self-awareness
- More self-control
- Better relationships
- Increased compassion
- Greater mental clarity
- More effective communication
- Deepened spirituality
With all the above benefits, it’s not a surprise meditation is one of the fastest-growing health trends in the world.
Ready to give meditation a try? Follow these steps to get started and experience the power of meditation for yourself:
- Select your style. There are many kinds of meditation. Learn more about the different types of meditation to find one that suits your personality and interests.
- Pick a time and place. You don’t have to commit to a full meditation routine in the beginning. Just pick a time and place when you will try meditating once. After that, you can plan the next time you want to do it.
- Set a timer. When meditating, it is important to try to minimize distractions as much as possible. Setting a timer is a great way to allot yourself a fixed amount of time without having to worry about checking your watch every 5-10 minutes.
- Meditate! There is a saying that we are our own worst critic. Don’t be hard on yourself. Meditating is actually a natural human skill; like walking, everyone can can do it. It just takes practice.
- Reflect on your experience. How did it go? What did you like? What didn’t you like? Reflection is like stretching after a workout—it helps your mind integrate all the benefits of your meditation session.
Having difficulty making time for meditation? Check out this article to get tips on how to make meditating a part of your daily life.
Or you can try starting a meditation journal to help track your progress and record your experiences.