meditationinthewestMeditation as a habit has been encouraged to flourish in the modern west numerous times. For many decades, in a time before people learned to embrace the wisdom of other cultures, it was dismissed as eastern superstitious nonsense.

It was not popularised until scientist Jon Kabat-Zinn tested the effect of Buddhist style meditation on ordinary American people as an experiment. In developing stress reduction techniques from these teachings and not selling meditation as a purely spiritual exercise, but promoting its physical and personal benefits, he introduced the western world to a lot of Buddhist tradition.

His personal definition of meditation is that it means “to pay attention on purpose in the present moment non-judgementally”.

As someone who has spent a lot time not only meditating, but studying meditation, studying Buddhism and studying the effects of meditation and other techniques on all kinds of people, it would be safe to assume that he would know.

Meditation helps countless people today all over the world to relax, to refresh their mind and to replenish their readiness to embrace the modern world. It does not take a lifetime of study or contemplation to achieve these ends. But taking note of the thoughts of those who have will make them much easier to embrace yourself.

According to Kabat-Zinn’s definition, meditation is about so much more than just relaxation. Which makes a lot of sense – you can relax in hundreds of different ways depending on your interests and hobbies. And they can have hugely beneficial effects on your mental wellbeing, many of them similar to those you gain through meditation.

But meditation, done with specific goals in mind and carried out properly, does so much more.

Meditation is about emptying your mind to a state of pure objectivity. It is about removing the preconceptions you develop as you live and learn. It refreshes your consciousness and prepares it to better handle both old and new stresses.

It focuses on what you are suffering. It drains you of all your negative emotions and destructive energy. It identifies the true cause of the problems from a fresh, unbiased perspective. It allows you to remove your personal prejudices from a situation and judge it with an open mind.

It does this so you can face your problems calmly, so that you can evaluate situations and approach them rationally. It is about reminding you that there is more to any moment than your particular experience of it.

Removing the tension caused by your subjectivity allows you to go through life with a lot less pain. It increases your sense of empathy, which makes you more considerate and generally nicer to those around you.

Meditation, since Kabat-Zinn’s writing and the growth of his Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction courses, has become central to the mental health profession. It has become a key part of guiding people through emotional damage and, while still in relative infancy, has helped a huge amount of people with trauma.

It is now considered to fundamental not just in helping people through stress that has already occurred, but also valuable in warding off stresses in the future. Training your mind and emotions through meditation is considered to have positive preventative ramifications.

It continues to grow increasingly commonplace in an environment very alien to its birth countries. It, like many other good things, can be peddled by morons who won’t do you any good. It can be misunderstand and performed incorrectly and for the wrong reasons.

But those who practice it – and do so well, and use it wisely – experience its goodness at equal levels across the world. Its benefits, by now, are just as cherished here as anywhere.

Kirstie Summers,

Daily Zen.