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How to Meditate By Sam Harris

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  • medit8ionsociety
    How to Meditate By Sam Harris, Neuroscientist From the Huffington Post 5/12/11: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sam-harris/how-to-meditate_b_861295.html How to
    Message 1 of 1 , May 13, 2011
      How to Meditate By Sam Harris, Neuroscientist
      From the Huffington Post 5/12/11:

      How to Meditate

      There are many forms of introspection and mental
      training that go by the name of "meditation,"
      and I have studied several over the years. As I
      occasionally speak about the benefits of these
      practices, people often write to ask which I
      recommend. Given my primary audience--students
      of science, secularists, nonbelievers, etc.--these
      queries usually come bundled with the worry that
      most traditional teachings about meditation must
      be intellectually suspect.

      Indeed, it is true that many contemplative paths
      ask one to entertain unfounded ideas about the
      nature of reality--or, at the very least, to develop
      a fondness for the iconography and cultural
      artifacts of one or another religion. Even an
      organization like Transcendental Meditation (TM),
      which has spent decades self-consciously adapting
      itself for use by non-Hindus, can't overcome the
      fact that its students must be given a Sanskrit
      mantra as the foundation of the practice. Ancient
      incantations present an impediment to many a
      discerning mind (as does the fact that TM displays
      several, odious signs of being a cult).

      But not all contemplative paths kindle the same
      doubts or present the same liabilities. There
      are, in fact, many methods of meditation and
      "spiritual" inquiry that can greatly enhance our
      mental health while offering no affront to the intellect.

      For beginners, I always recommend a technique
      called vipassana (Pali, "insight"), which comes
      from the oldest tradition of Buddhism, the Theravada.
      The advantage of vipassana is that it can be taught
      in an entirely secular way. Experts in this
      practice generally acquire their training in
      a Buddhist context, of course--and most retreat
      centers in the U.S. and Europe still teach its
      associated Buddhist philosophy. Nevertheless,
      this method of introspection can be brought within
      any secular or scientific context without embarrassment.
      The same cannot be said for most other forms
      of "spiritual" instruction.

      The quality of mind cultivated in vipassana is
      generally referred to as "mindfulness" (the Pali
      word is sati), and there is a quickly growing
      literature on its psychological benefits. Mindfulness
      is simply a state of open, nonjudgmental, and
      nondiscursive attention to the contents of
      consciousness, whether pleasant or unpleasant.
      Cultivating this quality of mind has been shown
      to modulate pain, mitigate anxiety and depression,
      improve cognitive function, and even produce
      changes in gray matter density in regions of the
      brain related to learning and memory, emotional
      regulation, and self awareness.

      Programs in "mindfulness-based stress reduction"
      (MBSR), pioneered by Jon Kabat-Zinn, have brought
      this practice into hospitals and other clinical
      settings. The Inner Kids Foundation (for which
      my wife, Annaka, has volunteered) teaches mindfulness
      in schools. Even the Department of Defense has
      begun experimenting with meditation in this form.

      The practice of mindfulness is extraordinarily
      simple to describe, but it is in no sense easy.
      Here, as elsewhere in life, the "10,000 Hour Rule"
      tends to apply. And true mastery probably requires
      special talent and a lifetime of practice. Thus,
      the simple instructions given below are analogous
      to instructions on how to walk a tightrope:

      1. Find a horizontal cable that can support your weight.
      2. Stand on one end.
      3. Step forward by placing one foot directly
      in front of the other.
      4. Repeat.
      5. Don't fall.

      Clearly, steps 3-5 entail a little practice.
      Happily, the benefits of training in meditation
      arrive long before mastery ever does. And falling,
      from the point of view of vipassana, occurs
      ceaselessly, every moment that one becomes lost
      in thought. The problem is not thoughts per se
      but the state of thinking without knowing that
      one is thinking.

      As every meditator soon discovers, such distraction
      is the normal condition of our minds: Most of us
      fall from the wire every second, toppling
      headlong--whether gliding happily in reverie,
      or plunging into fear, anger, self-hatred and
      other negative states of mind. Meditation is a
      technique for breaking this spell, if only for
      a few moments. The goal is to awaken from our
      trance of discursive thinking--and from the
      habit of ceaselessly grasping at the pleasant and
      recoiling from the unpleasant--so that we can enjoy
      a mind that is undisturbed by worry, merely open
      like the sky, and effortlessly aware of the flow
      of experience in the present.

      Meditation Instructions:
      1.Sit comfortably, with your spine erect, either
      in chair or cross-legged on a cushion.

      2.Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths,
      and feel the points of contact between your
      body and the chair or floor. Notice the sensations
      associated with sitting--feelings of pressure,
      warmth, tingling, vibration, etc.

      3.Gradually become aware of the process of
      breathing. Pay attention to wherever you feel
      the breath most clearly--either at the nostrils,
      or in the rising and falling your abdomen.

      4.Allow your attention to rest in the mere
      sensation of breathing. (There is no need to
      control your breath. Just let it come and go naturally.)

      5.Every time your mind wanders in thought,
      gently return it to the sensation of breathing.

      6.As you focus on the breath, you will notice
      that other perceptions and sensations continue
      to appear: sounds, feelings in the body, emotions,
      etc. Simply notice these phenomena as they emerge
      in the field of awareness, and then return to
      the sensation of breathing.

      7.The moment you observe that you have been
      lost in thought, notice the present thought itself
      as a object of consciousness. Then return your
      attention to the breath--or to whatever sounds or
      sensations arise in the next moment.

      8.Continue in this way until you can merely
      witness all objects of consciousness--sights,
      sounds, sensations, emotions, and even thoughts
      themselves--as they arise and pass away.

      9.Don't fall.

      Those who are new to the practice generally
      find it useful to hear instructions of this
      kind spoken aloud, in the form of a guided
      meditation. UCLA's Mindful Awareness Research
      Center has several that beginners should find helpful.
      For many people, Mindfulness may not be the
      best type of meditation and they may feel it
      "didn't work". By checking out our web site,
      Meditation Station
      you may find dozens of other techniques that
      may be the ones that bring you greater peace,
      health benefits, and whatever else you sought
      from Mindfulness.
      The above article was shared for educational
      purposes only and not for any commercial use at
      all. It thus falls under the Fair Use Statutes.
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