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Meditation and a Proactive Outlook

Why you should give meditation a shot

By Maxwell Hawla | 12/9/16 2:48pm | Updated 12/9/16 2:48pm
Jaclyn Merica / American Word Magazine

People often hold a limited and misguided idea of meditation. The average person I’ve talked to about it tends to put those who meditate into two camps: Buddhists, and hippies who appropriate it from Buddhists. A few years ago, I believed so myself. Now, since beginning my practice, I have been accused of being the latter type of person because I learned how to meditate from Tibetan Buddhist monks.

However, these two groups are not the only people who meditate. It’s not a practice exclusive to nor originating from Buddhism. Monks of various Christian denominations, Sufi mystics, Hindus, etc. have all meditated for centuries, and for different reasons. Meditation itself is secular and universal. It ultimately comes down to just concentrating on a single, particular thing or concept for a duration of time.

Personally, I meditate to be a better student and musician, but I also use it to maintain a level head through difficult times.

I was on my way to meditate when I came across the post-election protest in front of MGC. I missed the actual flag burning and assaults, but I saw the aftermath: a swarm of spectators circling around a few people screaming their unfiltered opinions at each other. After watching the chaos for a short while, I grew exhausted and moved on to Kay Spiritual Life Center. Venerable Bhante Katugastota Uparatana, a Theravada Buddhist monk from Sri Lanka and part-time chaplain at Kay, facilitates a session there on Wednesday afternoons at 4:30 P.M. All are welcome to come.

Bhante’s weekly practice in Kay entails what’s called loving-kindness meditation. He chants at the start, expressing a hope for all living beings - friends, teachers, relatives, ‘indifferent persons,’ enemies - to live a life of well-being. The general idea is to exercise compassion for everyone regardless of their differences from you. In particular, I’ve found the mention of ‘enemies’ particularly pertinent right now.

On other occasions we do a walking meditation. We walk silently, one step at a time, cognizant of the physical act of walking. I still find this quite hard. When I sit on my own, I just observe my breath and feel relaxed and rejuvenated for the rest of my day. There’s no single way to meditate and there’s a practice suitable for everyone.

Bhante and I sat for about a half hour, and afterwards I could feel I’d rid myself of some negative energy regarding the election. I felt a bit more apt to move forward, to engage with people less upset by the election’s outcome. I realized how unproductive the protesters and their opposers - just yelling for the sake of yelling - were being.

A study from Harvard in 2011 suggests meditation can help improve memory and learning capabilities as well as reduce stress levels - it offered empirical evidence regarding levels of grey-matter in the hippocampus and amygdala. Respectively, it increases in the former while decreasing in the latter. Neurological jargon aside, good memory, relaxation and level-headedness are all things people could benefit from right now. Especially with final exams looming in the near future.

You’re probably pretty drained from this most recent election season. Regardless of your political preferences, or your opinion on our president-elect, I think everyone can agree this election had an exceptional amount of vitriol and division.

With the divisive results and remaining hostility from all sides and your own academic and personal stresses, give meditation a shot. Even for five minutes, just try sitting and focusing on nothing but your breath. Your mind will inevitably wander in distraction, but bring it back to your point of focus and persevere. It might just be what you need to remember that even those you disagree with are still your fellow human beings.