A recent study reveals that Meditation DOESN’T make you a calmer person: Buddhist practice leaves people just as aggressive and prejudiced. I think it is high time we stop slavishly following the western trend to pick up some eastern practice out of context of its original teachings and then promote it as the panacea for every ailment.
Stages towards Meditation
Patanjali, the Indian sage in his Yoga Sutras, the Eightfold Path of Yoga offers guidelines towards spiritual enlightenment. The first two steps towards improving our state of being are by following the Yamas and Niyamas. Yamas are things Not to Do, or restraints, while the Niyamas are things To Do or observances. They are the moral values necessary to reconnect us with our spiritual nature. The basic five Yamas are Ahimsa: nonviolence, Satya: truthfulness, Asteya: nonstealing, Brahmacharya: continence, Aparigraha: non-covetousness. Every day if we are aware of our failings, mindful of our actions and words, we can move on to the next step, the Niyamas which are observances that help us to integrate our inner and outer experiences. The five Niyamas are Saucha: cleanliness, Samtosa: contentment, Tapas: heat; spiritual austerities, Svadhyaya: study of the sacred scriptures and of one’s self, Isvara pranidhana: surrender to God. Once we inculcate Niyamas in our daily behavior and actions our mind is ready for the spiritual discipline of meditation. Without being aware of our failings and making an effort to rectify them we cannot really go into the presence of God – which is meditation. A wicked, angry or emotionally hurt heart will soon trip upon the negative thoughts and emotions that arise during meditation.
Dangers of an Unprepared Mind
Though meditation is considered to be safe for healthy people, there have been reports of meditation-induced psychosis. Meditation could cause or worsen symptoms in people who have certain psychiatric problems, however, this question has not been fully researched. The above moral disciplines are absolutely important to induce moral and disciplined states of mind. Getting into meditation with unresolved emotional trauma could lead one into having to confront our dark painful experiences in a heightened state. This could lead to hallucinations and psychosis. Mental health problems simply do not go away with meditation. It can show you things that have been suppressed and hidden deep within your mind. A skillful teacher or guru is needed to guide one through that dark night of the soul, where our painful unconscious becomes conscious. Or else meditation could cause more damage than good.
Alternative Ways to Improve Well-being
Who has not felt her mood lifting when one receives a compliment, gift or a helping hand. Even small acts of kindness can change our mental states. Kind and loving acts increase the feel-good hormones serotonin and oxytocin, which helps increase our sense of trust, easing social connection and reduce anxiety. This effect has been observed in the giver of kindness, the receiver of kindness and the watcher of the kind act. We need to understand that meditation and other mindful practices are not really the cure-all for all illnesses, loving-kindness could be one way to improve our mental state.
Each of us needs to understand what works for someone may not necessarily work for us. We have to be aware of our past histories and find a path that works for us. Meditation can help one heal, but it is probably best to come from within us. Don’t push yourself into something just because everyone is doing it. If you’re not comfortable, it’s not for you. If you follow your inner wisdom then you are less likely to end up in a practice which is bad for you.