What do you think about meditation?

The heading’s question demands an explanation of what ‘meditation’ means. In addition to the usual meaning as “the act of spending time in quiet thought”, meditation also refers to any practice in which the mind is appeased in some way. Such definition includes, among many things, hatha yoga, tai chi and the walking meditation of Tibetan Buddhism. For the purposes of this note, however, we want to delimit the word to the methods that endorse body stillness, sensory isolation and mental calmness.

Within this context, meditation is an exercise, during which a person sits in a quiet environment and in a comfortable position, eyes closed, in silence, adopts a passive attitude and focuses attention in some mental device (a word, a mental image, some sound, soft background music…). If the word or image are of religious nature, the exercise becomes equivalent to praying in silence.

Mindfulness meditation, a neutral meditation approach, with no affiliation to any group or sect, is a meditation technique, similar to the one described in the previous paragraph but quite more specific, in which the mental device is restricted to some area on or some function of our own organism (for example, the breath, the body sensations, the area under the nose, or the mental states).

Why should the meditator focus attention on some body spot or function? Quite simple: A word, even if ‘repeated’ in silence, any mental image, any sound or musical tone come from external sources and reflect preferences imposed by others. Breath, sensations, body parts or mental states are neutral and unambiguous nouns to the meditator, -as opposed to mantras (words or phrases), mandalas (figures) or malas (beads) prescribed by a teacher- and do not require affiliation to any group, sect. master or guru.

Media permanently preach the benefits of meditation, in general, and those of mindfulness meditation, in particular. There are limited data, however, on how many people actually perform such disciplines. According to a 2012 survey by the USA National Institutes of Health, the percentage of people practicing meditation is rather low (8% of adults in the U.S.,), a figure that includes a very broad range of health supporting disciplines. Furthermore, such report has no data on the frequency with which practices are used.

The survey at this link​ (<– click here to answer it) seeks to estimate the participants’ attitude and predisposition to the practice of meditation, a habit so simple, so wholesome and so affordable to anyone. We want to insist that this survey refers exclusively to the meditative approaches defined above as meditation and mindfulness meditation, and excludes exercises that involve movement, exclamations, zeal, devotion or tributes.

The survey results should lead to an estimate of the actual ‘popularity’ of meditation and will offer prospective participants a comparison of their current attitude and predisposition toward meditation with the inclinations or preferences of those who have responded the survey. Such a comparison might well stimulate the enthusiasm of potential meditators.

The first question of the survey is informative and refers to the geographical location of the participants. The second, the survey itself, measures the degree of interest on the subject, on a scale from none (level 1) to maximum as a regular practitioner of mindfulness meditation (level 10). In case of doubt between two alternatives, the participant must select the response with the highest mark.

The mere reading of the alternatives of the survey should lead to reflections. Why do I resist meditating? Why do not I meditate more often or for longer periods? Mindfulness meditation, at level 10, is an intense exercise of silence that our brain, permanently bombarded by non-stop anxiety-and-stress generators, badly needs … Perhaps with even more urgency than the physical exercise required by our muscles.

Atlanta, November 18, 2016


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