A Beginner's Guide to Meditationun guide de débutants à la méditation
A BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO MEDITATION
Animation by Katy Davis
Narrated by Dan Harris
Animation by Katy Davis
Narrated by Dan Harris
I set out to discover the why of it, and to transform my pleasure into knowledge
Why! Why! Why! Ask it of everything your mind caresses. If spectacle, revelry and mystery are missing in your everyday life, it may be simply that you have forgotten where to look! Curiosity is the offspring of mystery and wonder and it is the inspiration of the true adventurer. When is the last time you experienced moments of insight and meaning, your eyes sparked with revolutions, your hair stood on end with astonishment? When is the last time you lived outside prescribed boxes, daring to live until you discover the treasured purpose of your one and only life?
From the drumbeats of our primal ancestors to today’s unlimited streaming services, music is an intrinsic part of the human experience. Music has the ability to make you ecstatic, happy, amused, sad, fearful or irritated. Music has also been shown to have the wonderful power to awe humans. Scientists at the Montreal Neurological Institute, for instance, have found dramatic evidence on brain scans that the “chills,” or a visceral feeling of awe, that people report listening to their favourite music are real.
Music that a person likes – but significantly not music that is disliked – activates both the higher, thinking centres in the brain’s cortex, and, perhaps more importantly our ancient circuitry, the motivation and reward system. It is this ancient part of the brain that, often through the neurotransmitter dopamine, also governs basic drives such as for food, water, and sex, suggesting the tantalising idea that the brain may consider music on a par with these crucial drives.
So where does our love of music come from and how do our preferences develop? One of the most popular theories at the moment is that mothers are responsible for our musical development. As we evolved away from our ape-like cousins, female humans started making special sounds to their babies such as lullabies and, as a result, humans gradually developed the ability to listen and respond to a variety of sounds.
According to Dr Nina Kraus, humans and songbirds are the only creatures that automatically feel the beat of a song. The human heart wants to synchronise to music, the legs want to swing, metronomically, to a beat. Quite simply, our bodies are made to be move to music and be moved by it. In another interesting study “We found that the same neural reward system is activated in female birds in the breeding state that are listening to male birdsong, and in people listening to music that they like,” says Sarah Earp, who led the research at Emory University.
There is not doubt that there is just something about music that excites and activates the body. There is a growing movement of music therapists and psychologists who are investigating the use of music in medicine to help patients dealing with pain, depression and Alzheimers disease.
Music is the language of the spirit. It opens the secret of life bringing peace, abolishing strife
― Kahlil Gibran
However, the notion of using song, sound frequencies and rhythm to reduce stress is gaining momentum. Dr Daniel J. Levity, PhD and author of the book “This is Your Brain on Music” has found compelling evidence that musical interventions can play a healthcare role in settings ranging from the operating room to the family clinic. The researchers found that listening to and playing music increase the body’s production of the antibody immunoglobulin A and boosts the immune system’s effectiveness. Music also reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
Another exciting study in full melodic swing is a sleep project being conducted by the University of Sheffield to find out what people listen to when they are slipping into sleep and how it improves their sleep. They discovered the top rated composer of sleep music in their sample is Johann Sebastian Bach. He was followed by Ed Sheeran, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Brian Eno, and Coldplay. Using sophisticated computer programs they were able to pin down the consistent musical features that support sleep among these many diverse musical sounds.
And in the near future they hope to be armed with the necessary evidence that will allow us to move from this “instinctive approach” to a more informed and optimised application of music as an effective aid in the battle against insomnia.
Music, because of its ubiquity in our society as well as its ease of transmission, has perhaps the greatest potential among alternative therapies to reach people who do not otherwise have access to care. Psychology, neuroscience and medicine studies all acknowledge that music is one of the most powerful neurobiological tools we have to change our mood, mindset and behaviour. Already some online music stores tag music according to mood. It is only a matter of time before music is given a firm scientific foundation and it will be possible to search for therapeutic music according to the emotional content and and it’s ability to fundamentally change the way we interact with music, and more importantly lift our mood.
Music is a cost effective, personable and side effect free form of complementary care. Can you imagine a day when your GP will prescribe music to soothe, comfort and regulate your mood. That day is closer than you think. A music prescription for the blues……..
Some say we have come a long way, some say we have a long way to go. But picture this The Flying University was a clandestine school that frequently changed locations because it was illegal for women to attain any higher education in German and Russian occupied Poland, at the the time.
Women, however, like the imminent scientist Marie Curie were not to be deterred and found more creative ways of educating themselves. The first Flying University began in Warsaw in 1882, when women began inviting other women into their homes for secret classes. Curie was one of the first to join the University along with her sister prior to earning degrees in France. Women scholars initiated a brave underground movement where anything from philosophy or arts to science were taught.
The classes floated between private homes for years because their organisation was illegal, hence the name the Flying (or Floating) University. Here, the women did not just exercise their intellect, but they also celebrated their native heritage free of influence from the controlling political parties at the time.
Gone are the days when higher education and lifelong learning is reserved for a fraction of the population – either the absolute best and brightest or wealthiest – or indeed based on your body parts.
And the question now being asked is how can education be delivered more creatively to everyone. Of course, the idea of creating a more authentic and fun learning experience is gaining momentum. Authentic learning engages all the senses and allows students to create a meaningful, useful, shared outcome where the content collected is organised into their unique portfolio.
We are in the early days of online learning. And the possibilities are limitless. You can now take practically every MIT course on iTunes University should you so desire. We now have easy access to top quality lecturers online and in many cases even being able to interact with those lecturers in real time through two-way video connections.
The aptly named Floating University, an online educational initiative that debuted in Harvard in 2011, is seeking to upset the status quo, evolve the structure of higher education and democratise access to the world’s best thinkers. No fees, no sign-ups, with unfettered access to the original e-learning platform. Just pure unadulterated learning. Oh Yes! I do believe we have come a long way…..
Modern gurus can agree on one point and it is that multi-tasking does not work. Of course there are moments when you have no choice but to juggle. However, try to focus on one thing at a time. If you are having lunch, just have lunch. Do not attempt to eat a sandwich crouched over a computer or answering text messages. Focus on what you are doing and let the background noise stay where it belongs – in the background.
Rushing is the original sin of modern life. Everything is just in time: we are out the door 3 minutes later than we should be; we walk into meetings still on the phone; pull into the driveway with just enough time to shuttle the kids into the living room and throw on the dinner. Where possible-step back. Carve out time for the tasks that are important. Be deliberate and contemplative. By not rushing, long-term you will achieve more. Try it – you will be amazed.
We like to pat ourselves on the back about our super-human productivity. High-soaring career, rewarding family life, a multitude of hobbies – we are so hard at work trying to be the best version of ourselves we can be, we do not notice how incredibly exhausted we are, all the time. Here is one simple solution. Do less. Leave blank spaces in your diary – at the weekend schedule an hour or two when you have absolutely nothing to do. How will you fill the free time? Who knows? Who cares? With nothing to distract or divert you will find you are fully inhabiting the moment.
Are you the sort of person who is forever fretting about next week, next year, what you will be doing in a decade? These thoughts can have an enormous drain on your resources. Consciously set them aside: focus on where you are, what you are engaged in. This moment is yours: allow yourself to enjoy it.
Eating used to be a ritual: a part of the day set aside for quietness and contemplation. Today, this is no longer the case; nowadays people rush through their mealtime like…..In fact, mealtimes are the perfect opportunity for mindfulness. Focus on your meal, the tastes, the textures. Savour the flavours and also the opportunity to shut out the world and its incessant …….hubbub.
Often we are too caught up in thinking ahead to give due attention to the person in front of us. It is said there are three types of listening: 1. Waiting for a gap to give our view 2. Judgemental listening 3. Attentive listening. Don’t let your eyes glaze over. Consciously lend an ear to the person opposite; understand what they are saying, and what they may be trying to communicate with their tone and body language.
With the school run imminent obviously you do not have time to fold yourself into the lotus position and think about shafts of sunlight penetrating your soul. But you can practice mindfulness in other ways: such as while carrying out ‘boring’ tasks like cleaning, cooking, cutting the grass…you can be away in another world. Concentrate utterly on the task – live in the now and enjoy the benefits it brings.
Step outside the rough and tumble of the everyday for just five minutes. Listen to your thoughts, concentrate on your breathing. Let the silence – where ere you find it – wash over you, guiding your mind where it will.
Throughout the day, our muscles will contract as stressful situation is piled upon stressful situation. Over time, these physical blocks can cause emotional and physical distress. Take a moment several times each day to ‘reset’ your body, by breathing deeply, stretching and rolling your shoulders, shaking the stress out of your body. Mindfulness is, in part, learning to know our bodies better. By taking these physical timeouts, we are taking the first steps towards achieving that.
If you are distressed or overwhelmed, a straightforward walk can work wonders. It will help you feel ‘grounded’; especially if you focus on the simple sensation of placing one foot on front of the other. If possible, avoid ear plugs. Listen to the sounds around you; the wind in the tress; the hum of traffic, the traffic, the squawk of birds. These sensations will help in anchoring you in the here and now.
Anxiety can build inside us, like steam in a pressure cooker. Eventually the stress requires release. Consider sharing with a friend; just verbally acknowledging your fears and worries can help put them in perspective and bring you back to the moment. Otherwise, you may sink deeper and deeper into distress, your fears rattling around your head until they are all you can hear.
We have all hear it: that voice in our heads telling us we are no good, that we are constantly letting ourselves and those around us down. Try not to be too harsh on yourself. Often it is the standards we set ourselves that we find hardest to live up to. Be kind and compassionate towards yourself – as much as you would towards someone else. Long-term this will make your life more rewarding and productive. Stewing in your perceived failure is no use to you.
Breathing focuses your body and helps anchor you in the now. Try to find somewhere relatively private to do it. You should inhale so deeply that, were a person sitting next to you, they would be able to hear it. Breathing steadies your attention, and helps in screening out needless distractions.
Life can drag us down and become a dreary drama in which nothing feels new or different. With a little conscious effort, you can refresh the page. Very deliberately, turn off the autopilot in your brain. Learn to look anew at everyday things. Embrace the senses – be fully aware where you are and what you are doing. And remember, don’t live the same year 75 times, and call it a life….