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The Healing Power of Meditation: Your Prescription for Getting Well and Staying Well with Meditation

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Written for people with limited time for formal daily medication, this book teaches how to unlock one's natural healing power with a simple meditative method.

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One: Meditation and Wellness

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Meditation is a healing practice. As a doctor, I have incorporated meditation into my medical practice. Over the years, I have seen many patients benefit from the healing power of meditation. I often encounter patients with problems that won’t respond to medication, but will resolve or lessen with meditation. Compared to medication treatment, healing using meditation also has the great advantage of having no risk of adverse side effects, and it’s free!

I have witnessed the practice of meditation help a retired engineer overcome a serious depression. An anxious widow, whose blood pressure could not be controlled with medication alone, learned to avoid severe blood pressure spikes by practicing meditation. A man with advanced-stage lung cancer, by meditating, found the peace and inner strength that enabled him to undergo chemotherapy with a positive attitude. An elderly woman, who had long suffered in an abusive marriage, through meditation, was finally able to find the self-esteem to live on her own and is now much happier pursuing many other interests. A young healthcare worker, who frequently missed work days due to psychosomatic, stress-induced symptoms, found in meditation a way to bring her life back into a healthy balance. Meditation has also helped people suffering from chronic insomnia learn to return to sleep naturally.

 

Two: Healing Illness: A Prescription for Meditation

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The number of conditions that can be helped by meditation runs the gamut from “A” for asthma to “Z” for can’t get enough zzzzz’s (insomnia), from cancer and cardiac disease to obesity. This chapter looks in greater detail at the use of meditation in the treatment of illness. If the practice of meditation were routinely applied by patients with one or more of the conditions discussed here, the potential impact on health care and healthcare costs would be enormous.

The amount and quality of sound scientific information on the use of meditation to treat illness has grown enormously in recent years. Many of the research studies have demonstrated that treating a variety of medical conditions with meditation is beneficial. It is important to bear in mind though that medical research (or any research for that matter) contains conflicts and contradictions. They are inevitable. And, research studies on meditation are no exception.

Many of the published studies that investigate meditation as a medical treatment are not perfect due to difficulty with designing a meditation experiment. Following are the standard research methods used and the special challenges that the study of meditation poses:

 

Three: Zen Perspective

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By now you have learned how to meditate. But how does meditation fit in with the other activities and challenges of your life? How can you avoid the fragmentation that comes from randomly jumping from activity to activity? How can you lead a balanced life that allows you to live your core principles every day?

The answer to these questions requires one to develop a coherent philosophy of life that is compatible with the laws of nature. This philosophy of life becomes part of the spiritual realm of your life. Bringing this spiritual dimension to your practice deepens your motivation to practice meditation regularly and sustains your commitment to the process. This gives you the determination to stick with it, through whatever difficulties you experience or no matter how busy or fragmented your life becomes. Meditation becomes a skillful way to link the spiritual to the physical dimension of your life.

In studying how various spiritual leaders have incorporated meditation into their lives, I find the insights of Zen Buddhism to be a very useful point of reference. While I don’t subscribe to all aspects of Zen teaching, the concepts are truly enlightened and worth considering, especially because Zen speaks so directly to the healing power of meditation. I am not talking about Zen as a religion, but rather as a philosophy of life that is compatible with most religious beliefs and modern scientific theories. In the Time magazine cover story “The Dalai Lama’s Journey” (March 31, 2008), reporter Pico Iyer explains that Buddhism is “more accurately called a science of mind than a religion.”

 

Four: Meditation and Healing Exercises for Expanding Your Practice

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This chapter describes a series of traditional and contemporary meditations and practices. Included are calming meditations, as well as practices to promote meditative insight and mindfulness. These exercises will help expand your practice so you can benefit more from meditation’s healing power.

Please do not attempt to make a regular practice of all of these techniques. Feel free to try either all or just some of these exercises, and use only the ones that seem to work best for you. You can choose to practice different meditation methods at different times. This choice of practice method may depend on factors such as your mood or temperament, the amount of time you have, or the need to deal with anger, pain, or some other specific health problem like insomnia. (See Chapter 2 for a listing of health problems that respond to meditation.)

These meditations can be used in a variety of circumstances: walking in a park, on a break at work, sitting in your backyard, listening to music, riding a train or bus, in doctors’ waiting rooms, and in hundreds of other circumstances. Below is a short description of each meditation. These alternate meditation exercises supplement, but shouldn’t entirely replace, your daily sitting meditation routine, which remains the foundation of your practice.

 

Five: Advanced Meditation Concepts for Deepening Your Practice

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This chapter on advanced meditation concepts presents a unified approach to the practice of meditation, rather than simply seeing the process as a menu of optional meditation exercises that you choose from in some haphazard way. It focuses on how to transform the negative feelings and states of mind, which can create obstacles in your meditative efforts and keep you from experiencing its deeper benefits, into positive ones. This chapter more fully explores Zen concepts concerning happiness, love, self, community (sangha), the role of thinking in our lives, and the notion of aimlessness. Also explained is how to correct previous unskillful behavior by making a fresh start or “beginning anew,” and the benefit of viewing life from the perspective of “the ultimate dimension.”

“The practice” refers to the practice of meditation in the context of a life of wisdom and morality. It’s called “the practice” because you have to practice it regularly for it to help, and with regular practice you get better at it. However, you never get it 100 percent right for long. This section provides a unified overview of how the practice works in real-life situations, and discusses aids and obstacles to the practice of meditation.

 

Six: Mindful Art

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This chapter contains a variety of examples of what I call “mindful art,” which is art that stimulates both the artist and the consumers of art to stay mindfully engaged in the present moment while either making or appreciating the artwork. The majority of examples used in this chapter emphasize works by artists in the Zen tradition. Although the art forms of dance and music are discussed, most of the examples cited include artworks that can be reproduced in print. These include samples of calligraphy, painting, sculpture, photography, literature, poetry, song lyrics, Zen rock gardens, stained glass art, and ceramics.

Experiencing great art usually puts a person in a positive state of mind, often associated with emotions like happiness, tranquility, or a sense of wonder. Like other forms of meditation, art appreciation and art making are here-and-now experiences that can help heal a person’s mind, body, and spirit. So they are superb mindful activities.

Participation in art is a type of mindfulness that is both natural and healthy. Ellen Dissanayake’s book Art and Intimacy: How the Arts Began (University of Washington Press, 2000) presents anthropological evidence that we are conditioned from an early age to participate in art, and that the arts serve a vital role in helping to bind communities of people together, thereby conferring a healthy survival advantage.

 

Seven: The Nature of Reality and Consciousness

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Meditation is both a healing art and a science of mind and body. This final chapter explains key aspects of Western science’s views on the nature of reality and how the mind works, and compares and contrasts these with Eastern insights about meditation and Zen. You will see how the scientific view of reality and the Zen perspective outlined earlier in this book are not inconsistent but, in fact, inform and complement one another. This neuroscientific description of how the mind works includes: the surprising role that feelings play in life regulation; how it is that we have the capacity for consciousness awareness; and the mechanisms by which we are able to learn and acquire wisdom. Lastly, this chapter reveals the neurobiology of how meditation affects the mind and enhances our health and well-being.

British mathematician, scientist, and humanitarian Jacob Bronowski, who was mentioned previously in the book, worked in the 1960s at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California. There, he wrote the BBC television documentary series and book called The Ascent of Man, wherein he insisted all science is philosophy. He called it “natural philosophy.” He wrote, “My ambition here has been to create a philosophy that is all of one piece… For me the understanding of nature has as its goal the understanding of human nature, and of the human condition within nature.”

 

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