Written by Andrea Martin. Media by Mary Todd Christian.
Attending a Christian college has provided me with many opportunities to gain a unique insight into meaningful issues about faith, myself, what I believe, and the importance of values. During the times I have struggled, I took the time to read the Bible to grasp a different perspective that could better my mind and open my heart. But many times, I still felt discontentment, my heart and mind completely and utterly separated. Here entered meditation and its changing ways, which I think can benefit everyone, even Christians, in their search for answers and peace.
Meditation can come in many different forms; some focus on compassion, mindfulness, and yoga, among other things, but such differences hardly outweigh the benefits that connect them all. Here are just a few:
1. Meditation Reduces Stress.
This seems like an outright fact that many people have come to accept, but the means by which relaxation is achieved truly isn’t grasped until one takes the time to actually practice meditation on a daily basis. Meditation allows for people to take control of their emotions and thoughts. According to Stanford University researcher Emma Seppälä, “Studies have shown improved ability to [permanently] regulate emotions in the brain…It’s very empowering.” As a college student, I am all too familiar with stress and have frequently been beaten and bruised by it, but upon taking the time to meditate 40 minutes every Sunday, I have noticed, considerably, the changes of patterns of thoughts. My mind feels lighter in the sense; I’m not constricted by overwhelming thoughts and feel refreshed and ready to tackle the upcoming week. One doesn’t need to meditate for 40 minutes to feel the effects; a simple 15 or 20 minutes can bring about great changes.
2. It Increases Happiness.
Ronnie Newman, director of research and health promotion for the Art of Living Foundation, described the ways of how the brain reacts to meditation. Studies conducted have shown that brain signaling increases in the left side of the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for positive emotions. In tune with that, activity in the ride side of the prefrontal cortex decreases, therefore decreasing negative emotions. Described as the “fast track” to happiness, I can certainly vouch for how meditation greatly affects my overall mood and happiness. Although the main goal of meditation is not to necessarily seek happiness, I like to think it’s a nice, extra benefit.
3. It Helps You to Focus on the Present.
Focusing on calming your mind is a key fundamental aspect of meditation, but the greatest thing that is born from this finding a better sense of the present. In training the brain to be aware of both positive and negative thoughts, neural connections “loosen;” the connection to our fear center and our “Me” center (when the brain constantly reflects back to you) can slowly start to wither away. This way, neural pathways causing anxiety, fear and other negative-provoking thoughts become regulated, or sufficiently ignored, therefore allowing for better neural pathways to form. With this, we are more readily able to be mindful of our feelings, our surroundings and ourselves; no longer are we a slave to our anxious or negative thoughts. Mindfulness is an important aspect of Zen meditation where the goal is to be living in the present, free of distractions from the past and the future.
Many have the assumption that meditation is strictly for Buddhists, Hindus or those who practice Yoga. (I may or may not have been guilty of thinking that at first, too.) While meditation is very much essential to each of those, it can also be essential for Christians who are looking to establish a concrete connection with God and their faith. The purpose of meditation is to be aligned with God, to better know God – to stop struggling against God’s Will for us and accept things the way they are. Even in Buddhist cultures meditation is a form of being present in the moment, to acknowledge whatever feelings may arise and to peacefully let them go. I think it would be okay to tip our hats off to meditation because there is nothing non-Christian about it.
The promise of meditation isn’t to make a day less hectic or insane. The promise, instead, is to make you less hectic and insane in a world that is constantly busy. Our perception, our view, our reality is forever changed when a stable and cultivated relationship is established with God, which can truly happen through a form of meditation. No longer are we fearful of this world. We take everything that happens with open arms, show it compassion and love, and then slowly release it back. Trust is rooted into our core, knowing that what may come our way is okay. A prime example of meditation, thought or dwelling takes place in Philippians 4:8. Paul states, “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” (“Think” has also been translated to “meditate” or “dwell.)
To pray or merely read about these ideas that Paul has listed is not enough to put them into action. We are called to think and meditate about these ideas, to truly understand them. They are to be the object of our attention; it is an obligation to observe them and to apply them into the world. Such ideas are guarded and protected by Christ, and each are the closing link in proclaiming the Gospel and the demand to be like Christ. Those who respond with their heart, their mind and their soul are truly the ones to embody the call.