Our society pushes the idea that the more responsibilities we accept, the better and more successful we are. Since we live in a society that demands that we be the best, most fulfilled versions of ourselves, it often feels like we must spread ourselves too thin. These demands stem from a deeply ingrained human desire for perfection, which does not accept anything less. And fulfillment is not for ourselves, but rather a deeply ingrained capitalistic demand for the highest level of productivity possible from every individual.
One of the ways to relearn how to fully enjoy and be present in our lives, however, is learning meditation. Although it may often seem like something only “hippies” or yoga masters do, meditation can and should be used by everyone in today’s world in order to align their minds to the present and to allow for a more fully lived and experienced life. Meditation, of course, cannot solve all of the world’s problems. It has the ability, however, to very deeply improve the lives of individuals, which would improve their world in some way.
In many ways, I hit my personal rock bottom about a year ago. I was heavily depressed, and the only way I dealt with it was by crafting deeply harmful habits. I would drink every weekend as much as I could, lay in bed until two p.m. on weekdays, and skip class at least twice a week. I tried everything I could think of to distance myself from the pain I was feeling deep down, and I thought that would be how I would live the rest of my life. It wasn’t until I cracked and broke down that I realized it was unsustainable. I had to get back in touch with who I really was and what I really wanted in order to be happy again. That is where meditation came in — I started meditating once a week, for about three minutes at a time, and started figuring out what I really needed. Quieting my mind helped me step away from my pain and sadness, and trace their roots. It helped me find ways to get better, to be happier, because I was no longer ignoring what was going on with my mind.
Now, I meditate every day, ten minutes a day. I am more in touch with who I am and am happier than ever before, and even though I still have bad days, I now have a sustainable practice to get through the bad days.
The earliest records of meditation are from the Vedas in India around 1500 BCE. Since then, it has been used throughout the world, especially in religious contexts. In the mid-twentieth century, however, meditation began to become more secular. As secularization occurred and society’s view of meditation shifted, different scientific studies were done on meditation experts from the east, and the results were shocking. These experts were able to voluntarily control their body processes, such as heartbeat, blood pressure, and body temperature. Since then, meditation has been recommended to individuals to decrease stress, anxiety, and many other ailments.
Reoccurring, deep-seated anxiety can often cloud our thoughts and take us away from the present in order to focus on the terrible things that might happen to us. This, in turn, causes our bodies a lot of stress, which can have damaging effects on our health due to increased heart rate and blood pressure. Other harmful effects include sleep problems, sex drive issues, anger, and depression. Dr. Elizabeth Hoge, a scientist at Harvard Medical School, found that meditation can help with generalized anxiety disorder.
In our daily lives, we encounter small, inevitable stressors, like rush hour traffic. Such stressors can trigger a flight-or-flight response, which can cause deep stress to our bodies. Through practicing meditation, such stressors can prompt a relaxation response instead. This response helps alleviate anxiety, and positively impacts heart rate, blood pressure and brain activity.
We also become more aware and present. We are able to be more grounded in our daily lives, and instead of worrying about the past or the future, we focus on what is occurring right in front of our eyes. We are better able to enjoy our lives, rather than spending some of the best moments dreaming of what has yet to come.
Meditation has also been shown to directly help with blood pressure, heart disease, addiction, and many other physical ailments. Some of these health problems have been linked to deeply-rooted psychological issues, which can be helped by meditation. These psychological issues vary — addictions are sometimes linked to a desire to escape one’s own life or problems, so people spend their time and money on things they hope will take their mind off the pain.
Meditation can also help us with mind-wandering, a habit that can sometimes lead down a path of negative, self-deprecating thoughts. Meditation, however, helps us have more awareness in our minds and thoughts. This allows us to identify less with our emotions and thoughts, which helps those thoughts lose power, hence increasing our happiness. As we learn to give less power to those thoughts, we can shift our focuses to what is happening to us in the current moment. By concerning ourselves with the current moment and distancing ourselves from our emotions, we are able to live more fully in the moment and appreciate it for what it is.
Meditation can also help our relationships. Meditation helps us better recognize not only our emotions, but also those of others, and this can help create lasting harmony in relationships. In other studies, individuals who were married and regularly meditated said they experienced more satisfaction in their relationships than individuals who did not meditate.
Meditation has an immense amount of positive physical impacts, and it is one of the easiest methods of keeping ourselves healthier. Although it has been misused and misrepresented by some individuals in Western culture, if used correctly, it can have health benefits. It reduces some of the biggest stressors on our bodies and can help us live a longer, happier life. Not only that, but it can also lead to a life in which we are more present and our memories are more meaningful.