Meditation: From History to Healing
Nico, the son of a friend, and I were sitting in a garden restaurant in Mexico enjoying our coffees. We had recently gotten acquainted and were discussing various healing modalities. Our conversation eventually led us to meditation, and we both found it an interesting topic.
As we sipped our cappuccino, Nico began telling me about his dual major in psychology and neurobiology, and we delved deeper into the roots of meditation. In this article, we will discuss the history and science behind meditation and its purpose.
The History of Meditation
According to Willard Johnson in his book, Riding the Ox Home: A History of Meditation from Shamanism to Science, hunting is believed to be the first form of meditation. When humans acquired fire, they could sit around it for warmth and protection. This marked the beginning of sitting meditation.
Shamans later discovered soma, which provided an altered state and a connection with the Infinite. The archeological record shows that meditation goes back to at least 3000 BCE. Patanjali recorded yoga and meditation techniques around 200 ACE, which replaced soma and allowed the meditator more control.
Patanjali listed three requirements for successful meditation – time, persistence, and devotion. These elements were essential in achieving the desired state for meditation.
Meditation as Healing
There is a lot of scientific evidence regarding the healing qualities of meditation. Clinical studies have shown that meditation helps treat disorders like depression, anxiety, addictions, and chronic pain. Dr. Judson Brewer of the Yale School of Medicine used fMRI brain imaging study to identify functional changes in the brains of experienced meditators.
Experienced meditators could turn off areas of the brain associated with daydreaming and psychiatric disorders such as autism and schizophrenia. It has been suggested that meditation decreases daydreaming and egoistic thinking. The meditative state brain may become a normal resting function with continued meditation practice.
The Individual Meditator
According to the history of meditation, it duplicates the life history of individual meditators. Many people lead frantic lives, seeking happiness, or working hard just to survive. They may use psychedelics to gain access to ecstatic states. However, when they begin with sitting meditation, this usually replaces the use of drugs.
Riding the Ox Home is a series of picture koans that portray the history of meditation. In the first image, the master is chasing his ox. The last image depicts the master in meditation while riding the ox. The ox knows the way home. The images show the meditator controlling his body and his passions to finally arrive at Nirvana.
The Purpose of Meditation
Nico told me that when Western culture adopted meditation, they got it wrong. In the East, meditation was not centered on healing. Its purpose was to experience the emptiness of the Infinite – the ground of being.
What science discovered about meditation and its healing qualities is true, though this was not its original intent. Ken Wilbur, in his book Boomeritis, describes the different levels of consciousness. He explains how our focus has been on “me” or “I”, neglecting to honor our past as part of who we are. He says that until we can do that, we cannot progress to the next higher level of consciousness.
Similarly, when we focus only on what we can get out of meditation, we fail to consider its founders or foundation. The devotional aspect mentioned earlier as one of the keys to successful meditation is often missing. Balance is crucial, as meditation can be a trap, isolating us in our ivory towers while we sit or be a substitute for taking action in the world.
In conclusion, meditation has come a long way since its humble beginnings as a form of sitting by the fire for warmth and protection. From shamanism to science, its history has been a fascinating journey. The healing qualities of meditation, backed by scientific evidence, have made it even more attractive for those seeking relief from day-to-day afflictions.
However, we should not forget the main purpose of meditation – to experience the emptiness of the Infinite, the ground of being. With balance, meditation can enable us to connect better with our past, present, and future, and help us progress to the next level of consciousness.
So, the next time you sit down to meditate, remember the history and purpose of meditation and embark on the journey to the Infinite, the ground of being.
Featured photo credit: Pray/Belgianchocolate via imcreator.com