Meditation practice is a key part of our recovery and self development program here at New Life. We have sessions in the morning and afternoon, which everyone in the community is encouraged to join. In addition to formal meditation sessions, many of our activities at New Life are based on principles used in meditation, such as learning to pay attention when we have our meals or when we do community work, or the periods of noble silence we have from 9pm in the evening until 8am the next morning. The silence is very healing, an excellent opportunity to slow down and observe what’s happening in our minds. We allow the quiet and the calmness to penetrate our flesh and bones. We breathe deeply and enjoy the stillness and the freshness. We do not talk to the person walking by our side; she or he needs our support, too. Yet, those who are not familiar with it may wonder, why do we meditate? One reason is to find a way to arrive at inner peace and happiness.
As priest, writer, and student of both Western and Eastern spirituality James Reho writes in his article ‘Ten Days on a Cushion’ in Psychology Tomorrow magazine:
Why would someone go through this? For many, the answer – at least at first – often parallels the answer to why someone would seek out and spend so much money and time on psychotherapy. It is the search for integration, a lessening of fear and anxiety, a deeper sense of inner aliveness and creativity. It is essentially a desire to be present in and authentically engaged with the world, the self, and the other.
The carrot at the end of the stick for the deep meditator is fairly formidable; not only can one achieve the healing of psychic traumas and a lowering of anxieties, but as recent research confirms, one can in fact physically change one’s brain. And this changed brain processes the world differently – and better – than the original, unchanged brain was able to do. One’s self-experience becomes that of what the famous American psychologist Abraham Maslow called the “self-actualized” person.
Further down the path of meditation, however, even this “self-actualized” self is left behind; one lays it down and merges with Being itself. This process is indescribable, closest perhaps to the creative process of the artist in the moment when self-awareness has disappeared along with the cognizance that self-awareness has disappeared. While it seems quite uncertain at the time, one can come out the other side of this process – and when one does, there is permanent psychic change. One emerges with a radically new locus of identity, or equally as good, with no locus of identity.
Towards Inner Peace and Happiness
More and more, the benefits of meditation to mental well-being are being recognised by contemporary mainstream Western psychology, as the boundaries between spirituality and science continue to become blurred. However, as Jeff Warren describes in his account of the travails of a long-term meditation retreat in the New York Times, the path of the meditation practitioner is not always easy. It is easy to become discouraged, although perseverance certainly pays off. Reho continues,
Anyone who says meditation is “relaxing” hasn’t been practicing all that long. While there is certainly a healing and restorative reality to such practice, there are also difficult times – times when component elements of our chronic anxiety become acute and are healed…after such an acute wave passes, the level of chronic anxiety is lowered. One is progressing along the path.
Here at New Life Foundation, we have meditation instructors and life coaches to help us explore this path. Just as importantly, we have the support of our community (what Buddhists might call the ‘sangha’) to support and encourage us in the practice, and to help us through any rough patches that are an inevitable part of meditation for inner peace and happiness within ourselves.