Secular Meditation

mattYes, it’s me again. Is life stressing you out? Do you wish you could find a way to relax, to clear your mind, to dump all that stress and stop it from messing up your brain chemistry? (because it does; too much stress is bad for you.)

Well, you can. I can show you how, for free. It won’t cost you anything. All it takes is practice.

You see, I was really stressed out long ago, and I taught myself to de-stress, by using Meditation. And I did it without spending any money, going to classes, or visiting some guru. This is secular meditation. No Eastern philosophy required. You don’t have to hook up to some biofeedback EEG machine. You don’t have to join a religion.

What’s the catch? There is no catch. I’m telling you this because everyone should know about it. This is your birthright as a human being. You have a right to know. You have a right to be healthy and sane.

USNASet the Way Back machine to 1975, when I was a struggling Plebe at the U.S. Naval Academy. This was me then. If I look like an uptight jerk, it is because I was under a lot of stress. The Academy is very hard on Plebes, and probably for a good reason. As long as we need military officers, we will need ones who can function under stressful situations.

I learned a lot of things as USNA, like the fact that I was a scientist, not a soldier (eventually I resigned and completed my studies in Physics at civilian universities). But the MOST important thing was what I am going to share with you now.

Your body has a built-in ability to relax and relieve stress. I found out about it by reading a book called The Relaxation Response by Dr. Herbert Benson. It’s an important book, but you don’t need to buy it. Let me save you some money. I will tell you how I learned to de-stress so that I could sleep at night at USNA.

Many spiritual systems have incorporated this natural stress release mechanism, but you don’t need to join any of them to enjoy the benefits of this. The reason that so many traditions include it, that so many seekers found it, is because it is a natural ability of the human body and brain. It is not a reward for good behavior or “good karma.” It is something any person can learn to get better at.

You begin in a quiet, safe area like your own room or office. As you improve, you will find, as I did, that eventually you can do it anywhere: in a waiting room, on a subway, whatever. The only reason you should begin in a quiet area is because distractions will slow down your progress at first.

You do not need some “special” mantra selected by a guru. There are no “magic” words or phrases that work better than others. You can use any sound or word that you find pleasing and easy to remember. Since it is a process, I decided to select something easy, yet sequential: I use the alphabet.

First, I get into a reasonably comfortable position. Not some Yoga posture; you can do this sitting in a comfortable chair. The important thing with posture is simply to get into a position that will not strain your muscles and force you to move or stretch when you are already busy.

When you are beginning, it is best to close your eyes.  Later, if you wish, you can meditate with your eyes open, which helps you stay awake. But at first, it is best to avoid visual distractions that will derail the process.

The rest is simple, really simple. Do your best to relax, then take in a slow breath. Hold it for a few seconds, then slowly let it out as you think “Ayyyyyy…” Then do it again, thinking “Beeeeeeeeee…” and so on through the alphabet. Or use your own personal choice of words or sounds that you find pleasing and relaxing. The reason I use the alphabet is because it gives me an orderly sequence that takes a few minutes to get through. After “Zeeeeeeeee…” I start over at the beginning again. Two or three times through the alphabet is good for many minutes of meditation, because you will find your breathing naturally slows down as you proceed.

What, you say, is that all? Pretty much, actually. You don’t have to “try” to accomplish anything. As long as you follow the steps and keep at it, you will find yourself relaxing and becoming more at peace with yourself. It may not come immediately, but it WILL come. You don’t have to “figure out” how to make it work. The relaxation, slowing down of brain waves, and beneficial changes in your blood chemistry (increased oxygen, lowered lactic acid, etc) will all occur automatically as a response to what you are doing. You may even find, as I did, that you are so comfortable in the state you reach that you almost don’t want to stop.

You will find yourself distracted by small muscles aches if you are not doing this in a comfortable position. Keeping your back straight with proper support helps avoid some of this. You may also find yourself falling asleep from the relaxation. (This is why I originally started doing this — I wanted to fall asleep.) If you find that falling asleep interrupts your practice, try to avoid meditation when you are tired and do it, instead, when you are better rested.

You will also find yourself distracted with random thoughts about the events of the day, upcoming events, or other things. But this will not stop you. Do not strive for rigid iron control of your thoughts. Do not punish yourself for getting distracted by thoughts. You will find them less distracting if you stay calm and gently lead yourself back to meditating. Concern over being distracted is itself a distraction. Rather than becoming upset if you lose your place, merely resume where you think you left off and just continue. You will find that continuing will always lead you on to a better state of mind.

Proof of Health

Proof of Health

You may discover a few other beneficial effects. Your blood pressure may get lower if it was higher than normal. You may find yourself requiring less sleep. The cleansing, regenerative tendency of meditation will help remove stress that you normally might have removed during deep sleep, so you don’t have to sleep as much. A doctor I met at Walter Reed told me that he meditated while he was in medical school so that he could sleep less and study more without getting symptoms of sleep deprivation. According to some people, there are other benefits.

I cannot speak about “spiritual” or “psychological” benefits. I can attest that there are physical benefits, at least. All studies have shown it is relaxing and healthy for the body and brain.

I know it has worked for me. And now you know how to do it. Live healthy, fellow humans!

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