Meditation
Of all the things that you can do to come to know yourself, nothing will serve you as well as developing the practice of
meditation. Meditation is not Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, or other religions. It can be done in the name of any
of these faiths, but it is owned exclusively by none of them. It does not even require religious affiliation. It is a single
term defining many practices, some of which have no spiritual component whatever. The things these paths -whether
Christian, Muslim, or something else - all have in common is they are designed to give practitioners a measure of
focused control, which affects psycho-physiological processes, such as blood pressure, seratonin levels, and brain
function. This is the same control that produces the placebo effect. It is a way of training oneself to open to nonlocal
awareness, and this is why meditation is important to nonlocal awareness.  
Article By:  Stephan A. Schwartz is the Scholar in Residence at Atlantic University.
Correspondence: saschwartz@earthlink.net.   Personal Website: www.stephanaschwartz.com.

Meditation is definitely associated with mysticism, the inner path to experiencing transcendence. It is a foundation of
most spiritual paths of Asian origin, and with good reason. The same rational empirical basis by which these cultures
developed acupuncture and the martial arts, led them also to develop inner-listening practices. They observed over
generations that there is a positive benefit to developing such inward-looking skills.  But it is equally true that
meditation lies at the heart of the inner-wisdom of both Judaism -and Christianity.
 

Psalm 19:14:   Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord.
Psalm 49:3: My mouth shall speak wisdom; the meditation of my heart shall be understanding.

The practice of meditation goes on and on across the rainbow of human culture. It is notable how similar so many of
these rituals are:  The use of repetition ; saying aloud, or in one's mind,sounds or words or phrases.  Sometimes it is
not even a word, just the sibilant sound of the breath as it moves in and out of one's lungs.  It is this focus on a
repetitive sound that helps produce the effect.  For the past 30 years, Harvard researcher physician Herbert Benson,
MD, has conducted studies seeking to understand how the mind affects the body during meditation and prayer.  Using
MRI brain scans he has documented the physical changes that take place in the body when someone meditates.  
Benson says "For Buddhists, prayer is meditation".  For Catholics, it's the rosary. For Jews, it's called dovening.  For
Protestants, it's centering prayer.  Every single religion has its own way of doing it".  All the forms of prayer and
meditation he and his team have studied evoke what he calls a relaxation response:  A change in the psycho-physical
state that reduces stress, calms the body (lowering blood pressure being one example), and promotes healing.

Benson's experimentation represents the work of just one laboratory; there are, in fact, researchers and
laboratories throughout the world conducting research in meditation.  Neurologist Olaf Blanke of the
University Hospital of Geneva, Switzerland, published a paper in the prestigious journal Brain describing
how the brain generates out-of- body experiences.  As meditators go deeper and deeper into their
discipline, although the body calms, intense activity occurs in the parietal lobe of the brain.  All of it,
collectively, presents us with a picture of the complex brain activity associated with meditation.  This
portion of your brain controls your physical orientation in space and is responsible for making the
distinction between your sense of self; and the outer world, that which is other than you.  Dr. Blanke
argues that all the lobes of the brain play a part in something as complex as religious experience, but that
the temporo-parietal junction is a prime node of that network.  

Meditation research over the past two decades has documented a kind of deep, stillness that affects the entire brain.
When this occurs, the frontal and temporal lobe circuits - which track time and create self awareness- seemingly
disengage. The mind-body connection which is a Western technique for meditation dissolves.  These studies show us
that the limbic system is responsible for assigning emotional values to persons, places,everything in our total life
experience. This assignment is based on a complex set of stimulus responses.  Since the limbic system, among other
things, regulates relaxation, and ultimately controls the autonomic nervous system, heart rate, blood pressure, and
metabolism, it produces both emotional and physiological effects when you react to the numinous quality of a specific
object, person, or place.

These reactions produce real emotional and physiological states. This is why your hair stands on end; your skin
crawls, your stomach lurches or your heart beats faster.  Often the response is not only to a single example of a
category but the category itself, because memory also interacts with the limbic system. For example, if you are an avid
baseball fan you might react to the specific baseball you caught at a big league game when you were a child. But you
might also have a reaction, although perhaps not as strong, to any baseball. Or, if you were arrested as a youth, you
may react to any picture of any policeman. If you were frightened by a graveyard as a child, a picture of a cemetery
could evoke a response.  Because meditation affects the limbic system, developing the discipline allows one to
become more volitionally in control of these responses. The practice has a calming effect that leaves us relaxed and
physiologically more evenly regulated. This, in turn, allows us to be coherently focused because we are less distracted
by our inner dialogue and emotions, as well as our physiological responses.

The literature concerning meditation now runs to more than 3,000 studies. The physical, emotional, and
mental benefits reported for those who meditate, in comparison with control populations who do not,
make developing the practice an important positive life decision.  But how to do it? There are literally
hundreds of techniques.  People who use any meditation technique, tend, over time, to change their
perspective. They come to feel they are not alone, that all life is interconnected and interdependent, and
that this life network, including themselves, is connected to something profoundly good that is greater
than them selves.  If it is important to you to remain a materialist, and/or an atheist, meditation may be
something you do not want to undertake.

Meditation is at once the simplest and hardest thing you will ever do. It is simple to do it a single time, or even for a
week or two, but it is hard to do as a regular practice.  Research has shown that most of what we do during our
waking hours is unconscious reactive behavior.  Presented with a person of a different race, or religion, or ethnic
background, or sexual orientation, or social status, or economic group we immediately have an entire set of programs
that kick in to tell us how to react. What passes for thought about this person is really, upon closer examination, little
more than running the program until you fit them into the appropriate category so that a judgment can be made as to
how to react to them.  

Meditation focuses you, independent of your religious or spiritual views. It reclaims autonomy and allows you to live in
what most spiritual traditions call the now, by which is meant you make a decision freed from the drag of biases
derived from the past, or in anticipation of a particular future.  However you choose to practice it, meditation will
subtly but unquestionably change you and make you feel more in control of your life, and will help you make choices
that are actually what you want, and not what the boss want.  On the basis of the evidence accumulated through
research to date, the practice of meditation will also make it easier for you to be consciously aware of the nonlocal
linkage that lies at the core of your being.  Here is the technique that I have developed and personally used for almost
four decades. It imposes no beliefs, it offends the tenets of no religion, and one need not be religious to use it. I want
to be clear here.  This is but one technique of the many available. If you find something else that works better, do it.  

The important point is to develop the habit of meditation.