Meditation describes a state of concentrated attention on some object of thought or awareness. It usually involves turning the attention inward to the mind itself. Meditation is often recognized as a component of Eastern religions, having originated in Vedic Hinduism. It has also become mainstream in Western culture. It encompasses any of a wide variety of spiritual practices which emphasize mental activity or quiescence. Meditation can be used for personal development, or to focus the mind on God (or an aspect of God). Many practice meditation in order to achieve peace, while others practice certain physical yogas in order to become healthier.
The English word meditation comes from the Latin meditatio, which originally indicated every type of physical or intellectual exercise, then later evolved into the more specific meaning "contemplation." The use of the word meditation in the western Christian tradition has referred generally to a more active practise of reflection on some particular theme such as "meditation on the sufferings of Christ". Similarly in Western philosophy, one finds, for example,Descartes' Meditations on First Philosophy, a set of six mental exercises which systematically analyze the nature of reality.
"Meditation" in its modern sense, however, more generally refers to what in Christian monasticism is called contemplation. Here, awareness is brought to bear on the reality of the present moment without deliberately encouraging conceptual thought or imagination. A meditative state is the state of mind that someone is in during meditation. It is usually a state of relaxation. In the late nineteenth century, Theosophists adopted the word "meditation" to refer to various spiritual practices drawn from Hinduism, Buddhism, and other Eastern religions. Thus the English word "meditation" does not exclusively translate any single term or concept, and can be used to translate words such as the Sanskrit dhyana, samadhi and bhavana.
Meditation is usually defined as one of the following:
Its ritual and contemplative qualities are similar to prayer in Western religions, but prayer emphasizes communication with a higher being, whereas meditation focuses on developing oneself.Template:Fact
Meditation may be for a religious purpose, but even before being brought to the West it was used in secular contexts, such as the martial arts. Beginning with the Theosophists, though, meditation has been employed by a number of religious and spiritual movements, such as Yoga and the New Age movement, as well as limited use in Christianity. It has been suggested that the recent popularity of "meditation" as a religious practice in the West signals some discomfort with more traditional Christian and Jewish practices such as prayerTemplate:Fact. Others see meditation and prayer as harmonious: Edgar Cayce taught that "Through prayer we speak to God. In meditation, God speaks to us."
From the point of view of psychology, meditation can induce an altered state of consciousness.Template:Fact However, many religious people would challenge the assumption that such mental states (or any other visible result) are the "goal" of meditation. The goals of meditation are varied, and range from spiritual enlightenment, to the transformation of attitudes, to better cardiovascular health.
Types of meditation
According to Perez-De-Albeniz & Holmes (2000), the different techniques of meditation can be classified according to their focus. Some focus on the field or background perception and experience, also called mindfulness; others focus on a preselected specific object, and are called "'concentrative' meditation." There are also techniques that shift between the field and the object.
Categorizing the varieties of meditation is difficult. One common way is according to religion or lineage. But some meditative traditions, such as yoga or tantra, are common to several religions or occur outside religious contexts. Therefore, to avoid controversy, this article will not attempt to classify all meditations into a religious class or lineage.
The Bah�'� Faith teaches that meditation is necessary for spiritual growth, alongside obligatory prayer and fasting. 'Abdu'l-Bah� wrote:
"Meditation is the key for opening the doors of mysteries. In that state man abstracts himself: in that state man withdraws himself from all outside objects; in that subjective mood he is immersed in the ocean of spiritual life and can unfold the secrets of things-in-themselves."
Although the Founder of the Faith, Bah�'u'll�h, never specified a particular form of meditation, some Bah�'� practices bring about a meditative state. One of these practices is the daily obligatory chanting of the Arabic phrase All�hu Abh� (Arabic: ???? ????) (God is Most Glorious) 95 times, which is preceded by ablutions. This is similar to the Sufi practice of chanting the names of God. The word Abh� comes from the same root as Bah�' (Arabic: ????? "splendor" or "glory"), which Bah�'�s consider to be the "Greatest Name of God".
Meditation has always been central to Buddhism. The Buddha himself was said to have achieved enlightenment while meditating under a Bodhi tree. Most forms of Buddhism distinguish between shamatha and vipassana meditation, both of which are necessary for enlightenment. The former consists of learning to focus the attention single-pointedly; the latter involves seeing the true nature of reality.
Theravada Buddhism emphasizes the meditative development of mindfulness (sati, see for example the Satipatthana Sutta) and concentration (samadhi, see kammatthana), as part of the Noble Eightfold Path, in the pursuit of Nibbana. Traditional popular meditation subjects include the breath (anapana) and loving-kindness (mett?).
In Japanese Mahayana schools, Tendai (Tien-tai), concentration is cultivated through highly structured ritual. Especially in the Chinese Chan Buddhism school (which branched out into the Japanese Zen, and Korean Seon schools), ts'o ch'an meditation and koan meditation practices are extremely important, allowing a practitioner to directly experience the true nature of reality (each of the names of these schools derives from the sanskrit dhyana, and translates into "meditation" in their respective languages). The esoteric Shingon sect shares many features with Tibetan Buddhism.
Tibetan Buddhism (Vajrayana) emphasizes tantra for its senior practitioners; hence its alternate name of Tantrayana Buddhism. However, visitors to Tibetan monasteries are often surprised to discover that many monks go through their day without "meditating" in a recognizable form, but are more likely to chant or participate in group liturgy.
Template:Main Christian traditions have various practices which might be identified as forms of "meditation." Many of these are monastic practices. Some types of prayer, such as the rosary and Adoration (focusing on the eucharist) in Catholicism or the hesychasm in Eastern Orthodoxy, may be compared to the form of Eastern meditation that focuses on an individual object.
Christian meditation is considered a form of prayer. Some Christian prayer is made primarily by using the intellect, through the contemplation of the divine mysteries. However, Christian prayer or meditation through the heart, as described in the Philokalia is a practice towards Theosis, which involves acquiring an inner stillness and ignoring the physical senses.
According to the Old Testament book of Joshua, a form of meditation is to meditate on scriptures. This is one of the reasons why bible verse memory is a practice among many evangelical Christians. "Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it, then you will be prosperous and successful." (Joshua 1:8)
The Jains called the practice of meditation Samayika, a word in Prakrit language. The aim of Samayika is to transcend our daily experiences as the "constantly changing" human beings, called Jiva, and allow identification with the "changeless" reality in us, called the Atma. One begins in Samayika by achieving a balance in time. If the present fine moment of time could be defined as the moving line between the past and the future, Samayika happens by being fully aware, alert and conscious in that moving timeline when one experiences one's true nature, Atma, which is considered common to all living beings. The Samayika is derived from the word samay - meaning time - in the Prakrit language. The Samayika takes on special significance during a special 8-day period practiced by the Jains called Paryushana.
There are several types of meditation in Hinduism. These include (but are not limited to):
There are two concepts or schools of meditation in Islam. One is that which is described in the Qur�an and Sunnah, i.e. developed during the life and times of the prophet or shortly thereafter. Another is that which has been developed by the Sufis, Muslim ascetics, in later times.
The original concept of meditation is based on contemplation, called tafakkur in the Qur�an. Literally, this refers to reflection upon the universe. Muslims feel this is a form of intellectual development which emanates from a higher level, i.e. from God.
The second form of meditation, the one developed by the Sufis, is largely based on mystical exercises. However, this method is controversial among Muslim scholars. One group of Ulama, Al-Ghazzali, for instance, have accepted it, another group of Ulama, Ibn-Taimia, for instance, have rejected it as an innovation.
Sufism relies on a practice similar to Buddhist meditation, known as Muraqabah.
Template:Main The concept of Jewish meditation, in Hebrew called hitbodeidut (????????) or hisbodeidus is explained in Kabbalah and Hassidic philosophy. The word hisbodedut, which derives from the Hebrew word "boded", ???? (a state of being alone) and claimed to be related to the sfirah of Binah (lit. understanding), means the process of making oneself understand a concept well through analytical study.
Kabbalah is inherently a meditative field of study. Kabbalistic meditative practices construct a supernal realm which the soul navigates through in order to achieve certain ends. One of the most well known types of meditation is /Merchava/, from the root /R-Ch B/ meaning "chariot"(of God).
Template:Main In Sikhism, the practices of simran and N?m Jap? encourage quiet meditation. This is focusing ones attention on the attributes of God. Sikhs believe that there are 10 'gates' to the body, 'gates' is another word for 'chakras' or energy centres. The top most energy level is the called the tenth gate or dasam dwar. It is said that when one reaches this stage through continuous practise meditation becomes a habit that continues whilst walking, talking, eating, awake and even sleeping. There is a distinct taste or flavour when a meditator reaches this lofty stage of meditation, as one experiences absolute peace and tranquility inside and outside the body.
Followers of the Sikh religion also believe that love comes through meditation on the lord's name since meditation only conjurs up positive emotions in oneself which are portrayed through our actions. The first Guru of the Sikhs, Guru Nanak Dev Ji preached the equality of all humankind and stressed the importance of living a householders life instead of wandering around jungles meditating, as was popular practise at the time. The Guru preached that we can obtain liberation from life and death by living a totally normal family life and by spreading love amongst every human being regardless of religion.
Taoism includes a number of meditative and contemplative traditions. Originally said to have their principles described in the I Ching, Tao Te Ching, Chuang Tzu and Tao Tsang among other texts; the multitude of schools relating to Qigong, Neigong, Daoyin and Zhan zhuang are a large, diverse array of breath training practises in aid of meditation with much influence from later Chinese Buddhism and with much influence on traditional Chinese medicine and the Chinese as well as some Japanese martial arts. The Chinese martial art T'ai Chi Ch'uan is named after the well-known focus for Taoist and Neo-Confucian meditation, the T'ai Chi T'u, and is often referred to as �meditation in motion�. Taoism was made famous in the West by the book The Tao of Pooh and its companion book The Te of Piglet written by Benjamin Hoff.Template:Fact
New Age meditations are influenced by Eastern philosophy and mysticism such as yoga, Hinduism and Buddhism, yet may contain some degree of Western influence. Examples of such meditations include:
Although the term meditation is usually associated with one's body assuming a static, "meditative" posture, the dynamic types of meditation, widely used in Karma Yoga, are also quite widespread. An example of such activity could be Natya Yoga or a Shamanistic dance, such as described by Carlos Castaneda.
Sri Aurobindo was meditating while walking. Osho, earlier named Rajneesh, introduced the meditation techniques which he termed Active Meditations, which begin with a stage of activity � sometimes intense and physical � followed by a period of silence. He emphasized that meditation is not concentration. Dynamic meditation involves a conscious catharsis where one can throw out all the repressions, express what is not easily expressible in society, and then easily go into silence. Some of his techniques also have spontaneous dance as a step into.
Also the Thai monk Luang Por Teean taught a (more conservative) form of dynamic meditation, involving the use of the hands and arms during sitting meditation. He also used walking meditation as a complementary method. His teaching was aimed at developing awareness of the movements of the arms, which are moved continuously in a certain pattern throughout the meditation. The awareness is, however, not limited to the arms but inclusive of the whole life-experience. This type of dynamic meditation is a type of vipassana meditation, which is popular in Thailand, and is becoming more well known in the western countries, too.
Often Taoist Internal martial arts, especially Tai Chi Chuan are thought of as moving meditation. A common phrase being, "movement in stillness" refering to energetic movement in passive Qigong and Taoist meditation; with the converse being "stillness in movement", a state of mental calm and meditation in the tai chi form.
Forms of meditation which are devoid of mystical content have been developed in the west as a way of promoting physical and mental well being. Most notable Template:Fact is Autogenic training developed by the German psychiatrist Johannes Schultz in 1932.
Herbert Benson M.D., of Harvard Medical School, has conducted a series of clinical tests on meditators from various disciplines - mainly Transcendental meditation and Tibetan Buddhism. He first described the results in his 1975 book The Relaxation Response where he outlined a secular approach to achieving similar results.
Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche founded Shambhala Training in 1976, a secular program of meditation with a belief in basic goodness and teaching the path of bravery and gentleness. The 1984 book Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior contains student-edited versions of Trungpa's lectures and writings.
The book Sensual Meditation (1980) which was written by the founder of the [[Ra�lian Church|Ra�lian movement]] outlines a sequence of non-ascetic meditation exercizes which emphasize a Sensual Meditation involving a physical and sensual awareness connected with current knowledge of how the body and mind are organized.
The 1999 book The Calm Technique: Meditation Without Magic or Mysticism by Paul Wilson is a discussion and instruction in one form of secular meditation.
Acoustic and photic
Newer forms of meditation are based on the results of EEG work in long term meditators. Studies have demonstrated the presence of a frequency-following response to auditory and visual stimuli. This EEG activity was termed "frequency-following response" because its period (cycles per second) corresponds to the fundamental frequency of the stimulus. Stated plainly, if the stimulus is 5 Hz the resulting measured EEG will show a 5 Hz frequency-following response using appropriate time-domain averaging protocols.
Meditation in context
Most traditions address the integration of mind, body, and spirit (this is a major theme of the Bhagavad-Gita); or that of spiritual practice with family life, work, and so on. Often, meditation is said to be incomplete if it doesn't lead to positive changes in one's daily life and attitudes. In that spirit some Zen practitioners have promoted "Zen driving," aimed at reducing road rage.
Meditation is often presented not as a "free-standing" activity, but as one part of a wider spiritual tradition. Nevertheless, many meditators today do not follow an organized religion, or do not consider themselves to do so faithfully. Religious authorities typically insist that spiritual practices such as meditation belong in the context of a well-rounded religious life that may include ritual or liturgy, scriptural study, and the observance of religious laws or regulations.
Perhaps the most widely-cited spiritual prerequisite for meditation is an ethical lifestyle. Many martial arts teachers urge their students to respect parents and teachers, and inculcate other positive values. Some traditions incorporate "crazy wisdom" or intentionally transgressive acts, in their sacred lore if not in actual practice: Sufi poets (e.g. Rumi, Hafiz) celebrate the virtues of wine, which is forbidden in Islam.
Most meditative traditions discourage drug use. Exceptions include some forms of Hinduism and the Rastafari movement, which have a long tradition of cannabis using renunciates; and certain Native American traditions, which use peyote, ayahuasca, or other restricted substances in a religious setting.
A number of meditative traditions requires permission from a teacher or elder, who in turn has received permission from another teacher, and so on, in a lineage. Most Chinese traditions rely on the Confucian concept of a Sifu. Hinduism and Buddhism stress the importance of a spiritual teacher (Sanskrit guru, Tibetan lama). Orthodox Christianity has "spiritual elders" (Greek gerontas, Russian starets); Catholic religious have spiritual directors.
The immediate meditative environment is often held to be important. Several traditions incorporate cleansing rituals for the place where one meditates, and others offer instructions for an altar or other accessories.
Different spiritual traditions, and different teachers within those traditions, prescribe or suggest different physical postures for meditation. Most famous are the several cross-legged postures, including the Lotus Position.
Many meditative traditions teach that the spine should be kept "straight" (i.e. that the meditator should not slouch). Often this is explained as a way of encouraging the circulation of what some call "spiritual energy," the "vital breath", the "life force" (Sanskrit prana, Chinese qi, Latin spiritus) or the Kundalini. In some traditions the meditator may sit on a chair, flat-footed (as in New Thought); sit on a stool (as in Orthodox Christianity); or walk in mindfulness (as in Theravada Buddhism). Various hand-gestures or mudras may be prescribed. These can carry theological meaning or according to Yogic philosophy can actually affect consciousness. For example, a common Buddhist hand-position is with the right hand resting atop the left (like the Buddha's begging bowl), with the thumbs touching.
Quiet is often held to be desirable, and some people use repetitive activities such as deep breathing, humming or chanting to help induce a meditative state. Practitioners of the Soto Zen tradition meditate with their eyes open, facing a wall, but most schools of meditation assume that the eyes will be closed or only half-open.
Often such details are shared by more than one religion, even in cases where mutual influence seems unlikely. One example would be "navel-gazing," which is apparently attested within Eastern Orthodoxy as well as Chinese qigong practice. Another would be the practice of focusing on the breath, which is found in Orthodox Christianity, Sufism, and numerous Indic traditions.
Sitting cross-legged (or upon one's knees) for extended periods when one is not sufficiently limber, can result in a range of ergonomic complaints called "meditator's knee".
Frequency and duration
These vary so greatly that it is difficult to venture any general comments. On one extreme there exist monks and nuns whose whole lives are ordered around meditation; on the other hand, one-minute meditations are not out of the question.
Twenty or thirty minutes is broadly accepted as being a typical duration. Experienced meditators often find their sessions growing in length of their own accord. Observing the advice and instructions of one's spiritual teacher is generally held to be most beneficial.
Many traditions stress regular practice. Accordingly, many meditators experience guilt or frustration upon failing to do so. Possible responses range from perseverance to acceptance. Also, many meditators stress the importance of continual practice in order to strengthen concentration for prolonged meditation sessions as well as increased focus during their daily lives.
Purposes and effects of meditation
The purposes for which people meditate vary almost as widely as practices. Meditation may serve simply as a means of relaxation from a busy daily routine; as a technique for cultivating mental discipline; or as a means of gaining insight into the nature of reality, or of communing with one's God. Many report improved concentration, awareness, self-discipline and equanimity through meditation.
Many authorities avoid emphasizing the effects of meditation � sometimes out of modesty, sometimes for fear that the expectation of results might interfere with one's meditation. For theists, the effects of meditation are considered a gift of God or from the Holy Spirit/Ghost, and not something that is "achieved" by the meditator alone, just as some say that a person will not convert to Christianity without the influence of the Holy Spirit/Ghost's presence.
Commonly reported results from meditation include:
Some traditions acknowledge that many types of experiences and effects are possible, but instruct the meditator to keep in mind the spiritual purpose of the meditation, and not be distracted by lesser concerns. For example, Mahayana Buddhists are urged to meditate for the sake of "full and perfect enlightenment for all sentient beings" (the bodhisattva vow). Some, as in certain sects of Christianity, say that these things are possible, but are only to be supported if they are to the glory of God.
Health applications and clinical studies of meditation
In the recent years there has been a growing interest within the medical community to study the physiological effects of meditation (Venkatesh et al., 1997; Peng et al., 1999; Lazar et al., 2000; Carlson et al., 2001). Many concepts of meditation have been applied to clinical settings in order to measure its effect on somatic motor function as well as cardiovascular and respiratory function. Also the hermeneutic and phenomenological aspects of meditation are areas of growing interest. Meditation has entered the mainstream of health care as a method of stress and pain reduction. For example, in an early study in 1972, transcendental meditation was shown to affect the human metabolism by lowering the biochemical byproducts of stress, such as lactate, decreasing heart rate and blood pressure and inducing favorable brain waves. (Scientific American 226: 84-90 (1972)). In 1976, the Australian psychiatrist Ainslie Meares, reported in the Medical Journal of Australia, the regression of cancer following intensive meditation. Meares would go on to write a number of books, including his best-seller Relief without Drugs.
As a method of stress reduction, meditation is often used in hospitals in cases of chronic or terminal illness to reduce complications associated with increased stress including a depressed immune system. There is a growing consensus in the medical community that mental factors such as stress significantly contribute to a lack of physical health, and there is a growing movement in mainstream science to fund research in this area (e.g. the establishment by the NIH in the U.S. of 5 research centers to research the mind-body aspects of disease.) Dr. James Austin, a neurophysiologist at the University of Colorado, reported that Zen meditation rewires the circuitry of the brain in his landmark book Zen and the Brain (Austin, 1999). This has been confirmed using functional MRI imaging which examine the electrical activity of the brain.
Dr. Herbert Benson of the Mind-Body Medical Institute, which is affiliated with Harvard and several Boston hospitals, reports that meditation induces a host of biochemical and physical changes in the body collectively referred to as the "relaxation response" (Lazar et al., 2003). The relaxation response includes changes in metabolism, heart rate, respiration, blood pressure and brain chemistry. Benson and his team have also done clinical studies at Buddhist monasteries in the Himalayan Mountains.
Other studies within this field include the research of Jon Kabat-Zinn and his colleagues at the University of Massachusetts who have studied the effects of mindfulness meditation on stress (Kabat-Zinn et al., 1985; Davidson et al., 2003).
Meditation and the brain
Mindfulness meditation and related techniques are intended to train attention for the sake of provoking insight. Think of it as the opposite of attention deficit disorder. A wider, more flexible attention span makes it easier to be aware of a situation, easier to be objective in emotionally or morally difficult situations, and easier to achieve a state of responsive, creative awareness or "flow".
One theory, presented by Daniel Goleman & Tara Bennett-Goleman (2001), suggests that meditation works because of the relationship between the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex. In very simple terms, the amygdala is the part of the brain that decides if we should get angry or anxious (among other things), and the pre-frontal cortex is the part that makes us stop and think about things (it is also known as the inhibitory centre).
So, the prefrontal cortex is very good at analyzing and planning, but it takes a long time to make decisions. The amygdala, on the other hand, is simpler (and older in evolutionary terms). It makes rapid judgments about a situation and has a powerful effect on our emotions and behaviour, linked to survival needs. For example, if a human sees a lion leaping out at them, the amygdala will trigger a fight or flight response long before the prefrontal cortex responds.
But in making snap judgments, our amygdalas are prone to error, such as seeing danger where there is none. This is particularly true in contemporary society where social conflicts are far more common than encounters with predators, and a basically harmless but emotionally charged situation can trigger uncontrollable fear or anger � leading to conflict, anxiety, and stress.
Because there is roughly a quarter of a second gap between the time an event occurs and the time it takes the amygdala to react, a skilled meditator may be able to intervene before a fight or flight response takes over, and perhaps even redirect it into more constructive or positive feelings.
The different roles of the amygdala and prefrontal cortex can be easily observed under the influence of various drugs. Alcohol depresses the brain generally, but the sophisticated prefrontal cortex is more affected than less complex areas, resulting in lowered inhibitions, decreased attention span, and increased influence of emotions over behaviour. Likewise, the controversial drug Ritalin has the opposite effect, because it stimulates activity in the prefrontal cortex.
Some studies of meditation have linked the practice to increased activity in the left prefrontal cortex, which is associated with concentration, planning, meta-cognition (thinking about thinking), and positive affect (good feelings). There are similar studies linking depression and anxiety with decreased activity in the same region, and/or with dominant activity in the right prefrontal cortex. Meditation increases activity in the left prefrontal cortex, and the changes are stable over time � even if you stop meditating for a while, the effect lingers.
Meditation and EEG
Electroencephalograph (EEG) recordings of skilled meditators showed a significant rise in gamma wave activity in the 80 to 120 Hz range during meditation. There was also a rise in the range of 25 to 42 Hz. These meditators had 10 to 40 years of training in Buddhist-based mental training. EEG done on meditators who had received recent training demonstrated considerably less rise.<ref name="Lutz"> Template:Cite web </ref>
The experienced meditators also showed increased gamma activity while at rest and not meditating.<ref name="Lutz"/>
During meditation there is a modest increase in slow alpha or theta wave EEG activity.<ref name="Lutz"/><ref> Template:Cite web </ref>
Chang and Lo found different results.<ref name="Chang"> Template:Cite web </ref> First they classify five patterns in meditation based on the normal four frequency ranges (delta < 4Hz, theta 4 to <8Hz, alpha 8 to 13Hz, and beta >13Hz). The five patterns they found were:
They found pattern #5 unique and characterized by:
They had collected EEG patterns from more than 50 meditators over the prior five years. Five meditation EEG scenarios are then described. They further state that most meditation is dominated by alpha waves. They found delta and theta waves occurred occasionally, sometimes while people fell asleep and sometimes not. In particular they found the amplitude suppressed pattern correlated with "the feeling of blessings."
Predominantly, studies of meditation report positive effects. However, some studies report that meditation may have adverse effects in certain circumstances (Lukoff, Lu & Turner, 1998; Perez-De-Albeniz & Holmes, 2000). If practiced improperly or too intensely, meditation can lead to considerable psychological and physiological problems. Serious and credible teachers of meditation usually warn their students about the possible pitfalls of a contemplative path (Trungpa, 1973).
Another issue concerns the adaptation of eastern meditative concepts to a western culture, an adaptation that is often unfamiliar with the cultural matrix in which the meditative concept originated. Eastern concepts of meditation are often imported to a western setting within the popular context of new religious movements, or within the context of popular approaches to body and health. It is common for this popular context to be unfamiliar with the broad range of adverse effects that might occur during meditation, and to have limited tools for dealing with them when they do arise. Since the practice of meditation may include a powerful confrontation with existential questions, it is not considered wise to engage in intense meditation techniques without an extended period of psychological preparation, preferably in contact with a credible teacher or clinician. In the case of Asian contemplative traditions (Hindu, Buddhist), which has often originated within a monastic or reclusive context, there often exist major challenges connected to the way the particular meditation techniques are to be applied to a Western mindset without causing harm to the practitioner, for example passivity.
A growing body of clinical literature is now starting to address the phenomenon of meditation-related problems (Lukoff, Lu & Turner, 1998; Perez-De-Albeniz & Holmes, 2000). Several side-effects have been reported, including uncomfortable kinesthetic sensations, mild dissociation and psychosis-like symptoms (Craven, 1989). From a clinical study of twenty-seven long term meditators, Shapiro (1992) reported such adverse effects as depression, relaxation-induced anxiety and panic, paradoxical increases in tension, impaired reality testing, confusion, disorientation and feeling 'spaced out'. The possibility that meditation might trigger strong emotional reactions is also reported by Kutz, Borysenko & Benson (1985). Therefore, meditation might cause serious side effects, even among long-term practitioners, and might even, in some instances, be contraindicated. The tendency of meditation to release unconscious material (Perez-De-Albeniz & Holmes, 2000) implies that the beginning meditator should approach the practice with moderation.
Particularly in the Chinese Qigong tradition, stories of unguided practitioners or inexpertly guided students developing chronic mental and physical health problems as a result of their attempts at meditation training are not uncommon. English speaking practitioners and teachers of Qigong and related disciplines note that the practice of this contemplative exercise is sometimes accompanied by physical and psychological distress. The identification of this syndrome has led to the inclusion of a culture-sensitive category in the DSM-IV called Qi-Gong Psychotic Reaction (American Psychiatric Association, 1994: Appendix 1).
Meditative traditions which include the use of drugs are generally considered to be harmful to the practitioner. Additionally, as with any practice, meditation may also be used to avoid facing ongoing problems or emerging crises in the meditator's life. In such situations, it may be helpful to apply mindful attitudes acquired in meditation while actively engaging with current problems (see Hayes et al, 1999, chap. 3; Metzner, 2005).
Meditation and drugs
Some modern methods of meditation do not include the use of drugs due to the known health problems associated with the use of some drugs. However, the use of either stimulants has been proposed by some as a means to provide insight, and in some shamanistic traditions they are used as agents of ritual. Some Native American traditions for instance emphasized the smoking of a pipe containing tobacco, salvia divinorum or other plants. East Asian traditions use tea and Middle Eastern (and many Western) religions use coffee as an aid to meditation.
During the 1960s, eastern meditation traditions and psychedelics such as LSD became popular among many people, and many people suggested that LSD use and meditation were both means to the same spiritual/existential end. Many practictioners of eastern traditions rejected this idea, including many who had tried LSD themselves. In The Master Game, de Ropp said that the door to full consciousness could be glimpsed through with the aid of substances -- which is doubted by many others -- yet to pass beyond the door required yoga and meditation. Other authors, such as Rick Strassman, continue to believe that the relationship between religious experiences reached by way of meditation and through the use of psychedelic drugs deserves further exploration. <ref>Rick Strassman, DMT: The Spirit Molecule: A Doctor's Revolutionary Research into the Biology of Near-Death and Mystical Experiences, 320 pages, Park Street Press, 2001, ISBN 0-89281-927-8</ref>
Notable quotes about meditation
"Meditation is not the same as concentration. Concentration consists in freeing the attention from objects of distraction and focusing it on one thing at a time. Meditation is that special form of concentration in which the attention has been liberated from restlessness and is focused on God. A man may concentrate on divinity or on money but he does not meditate on money or any material thing. Meditation is focused only on God or sacred thoughts and ideas." —Paramahansa Yogananda <ref name=metamed />
"So, to meditate is to purge the mind of its self-centered activity. And if you have come this far in meditation, you will find there is silence, a total emptiness. The mind is uncontaminated by society; it is no longer subject to any influence, to the pressure of any desire. It is completely alone, and being alone, untouched it is innocent. Therefore there is a possibility for that which is timeless, eternal, to come into being. This whole process is meditation." —Jiddu Krishnamurti
"Enlightenment is a biological process, it is everyones birth right. BUT, they have to do it. You can pray about it all you want, you can think about it all you want...won't work. Meditation is like throwing a football. If you don't practice, the ball won't go where you want it to. Simple." ~ Dr. Glenn Morris, Hoshin Roshi Ryu