We’ve been writing about meditation for a few weeks now. But–since most of us have never actually meditated ourselves–it might be good to address the question: What exactly is meditation?
We all have certain associations when we think of meditation. But putting aside whatever we may have heard along the way, meditation is really nothing more a learned practice of focused attention. One needn’t be “spiritual” or religious, or hold any ideas about such matters at all.
The mind is wired to think. That’s a good thing! But at times we think too much, and in ways that are not helpful to us. Even at rest our minds are active. We think over things that have happened in the past (often with regret) or things that have not yet happened (often with anxiety). Thoughts that neither help us to resolve our past issues nor plan successfully for the future fill our minds and stimulate unhelpful (and unhealthy) stress responses.
But because the brain is wired to think, we can’t just tell it to stop. The mind doesn’t respond to such direction. Meditation, then, is a practice by which we give the mind something of neutral content to think about, often by simply turning our attention to our breath. By building up a practice of sustained attention, we lower stress, and create a “set point” to which, over time, it becomes easier to return. And then our thinking becomes more clear.
Rabbi Mark Sameth is the spiritual leader of Pleasantville Community Synagogue (Joyful Judaism!) an inclusive progressive synagogue–with members from twenty towns, villages and cities all across Westchester. Read The New York Times article. Weekly meditation at the synagogue every Saturday morning at 9 am is open to the public. All are welcome and warmly invited.