The No-Frills Meditation Book, a scientist’s guide to the power of meditation, by Steven Laureys
The merits of meditation are many. It rewires our brains, reduces stress and ultimately makes us happier.
Much of our current brain activity is inherited from our distant ancestors who struggled daily to survive. Although things have changed greatly today, we are still mainly conditioned by worrying thoughts that protect us from possible danger.
The brain consumes on average a quarter of our energy resources. This is due to the fact that our neurons are constantly being stimulated. We also have the ability to stimulate areas of our brain from the activities we produce. This is called neuroplasticity. This allows us to compensate for underdeveloped areas of the brain (e.g. what corresponds to vision in a blind person) by stimulating other parts (stimulation of smell or touch). Overdeveloped areas are generally favourable to the development of skills (e.g. hand dexterity for a pianist). However, it can induce cycles of negativity if these areas correspond to undesirable elements (e.g. depression which recurs because it corresponds to a stimulated area of the brain).
Meditation takes many forms depending on whether it is practiced in different geographical areas. It may consist of the repetition of mantras (India), contemplation (Europe) or a physical exercise designed to balance vital energy (China). What these practices have in common is the mental discipline they induce.
There is a simple way to get rid of our distracting thoughts. This is sitting meditation, which can take many forms. One of them is to close your eyes and concentrate on an object or on your breathing. By doing this, of course, you will not succeed in extinguishing the hundreds of thoughts that come into your mind. However, the more you repeat this action, the more you will be able to chase away those distracting thoughts so that you are able to “think of nothing”. This is an essential skill when you want to concentrate fully on something else and enter a state of deep work or full concentration.
Meditation has the power to develop your cognitive abilities and enhance the presence of grey and white matter. This is what the author’s experiment showed by studying the brain of Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard.
The ability to do one thing at a time and to do it in a state of full awareness is one of the reasons for happiness. Those who lack the ability to concentrate and are constantly distracted usually have difficulty experiencing well-being. Happiness therefore comes down to being able to think in an undistracted way.
There are other ways to live fully in the present moment. One way is to focus on your senses when tasting or experiencing something. Imagine you are drinking a delicious herbal tea. Concentrate on how a sip of the liquid feels on your palate, how it smells in your nostrils, or how the leaves swirl in the boiling water. You can repeat this exercise with all everyday activities in reality. The more you become aware of what you are doing and how it makes you feel, the more you will be able to be present. And even if it’s doing a task that seems boring at first, like typing on a keyboard because your job requires it. You can decide to be more aware of the keys and your fingers gliding over the texture of the keyboard. You can even slow down your pace for a few moments to become more aware of every detail involved in the experience. If you are able to perform a task more slowly, you have the opportunity to become more aware at any time.
Another technique is to lie on your bed or on the floor with your legs slightly apart and your palms facing the sky. Your goal is simply to pay attention to every part of your body and your breathing. You are going to sort of inspect each limb to see how it feels. By doing this, you will develop your mindfulness and you can use it at other times of your day.
The Power of the Present Moment
A guide to spiritual awakening, by Eckhart Tolle
The present is the only moment you own. Lamenting the past or fearing the future will bring you no joy. The past is the present that is past, the future is the present to come. Essentially, your life is in the present, so it is not wise to live in moments that do not exist. The present is the only time you can experience joy, but if you run away from it you will never experience serenity or peace.
Pain is nothing more than self-created inner resistance to external things that you cannot change. You feel pain when you are not satisfied with the way things are and feel unable to change them. This is particularly damaging when thinking about the past or the future. By definition, you cannot change what has already happened and what has not yet happened. Therefore, it is much more effective to focus on the present if you want to eliminate the feeling of pain.
The ego is one of the main causes of your suffering. Without you realising it, your attachment to your ego makes you less flexible and can cause you to react abruptly to people. Your ego is the representation you have of yourself. When you act you tend to follow a pattern that is dictated to us by our ego. Since life is more complex than what our ego encourages us to do, we can develop bad tendencies that push us towards more unhappiness or pain, simply to satisfy our ego. Knowing how to let go of your ego is one of the ways to happiness.
It is in your mind that the main causes of suffering lie. A simple way to regain serenity is to stop giving too much importance to our ideas and instead focus our attention on our body and our sensations. The Buddha attained enlightenment only after he stopped his asceticism, which represented a negation of the body. It was only when he decided to become one with his body that he succeeded in finding enlightenment. The body is our temple, we must not neglect it.
A simple way to distance yourself from your thoughts is to become aware of them. You can simply observe them or ask yourself the following question: “What will my next thought be? By asking yourself this, you come to not identify with your thoughts but rather begin to see them as not what you are. Your thoughts come, you have to accept them without giving them too much importance. Another approach is to pay attention to your body and try to give it importance in such a way that it is not totally in thrall to your thoughts. If you are hungry but feel guilty about eating something because you are in the middle of work, it is not always good to suppress this feeling because there is also wisdom in the body.
Another equally effective tip is to consider yourself in a state of constant alert. Imagine that something important could happen at any moment. By thinking this way you should be completely immersed in the present moment. All your attention and senses are focused on reacting to the materialisation of this event.
Living in the moment will not eradicate all the pain in your life, but it will eliminate much of it. On the other hand, it does not mean living passively, but rather it gives you clarity and calmness that you can use to solve the problems you encounter.