It is of no secret that our daily lives can become a heavy weight to carry: a weight that can grow and become burden to us both physically and mentally in as little time as a single day. Common methods of lessening this weight involve quick, temporary fixes such as watching a movie, drinking alcohol and other means of entertainment. However, their effects are usually not long-lasting and, upon waking up in the morning, the weight may return. Additionally, by using temporary fixes, we can also end up causing ourselves more damage than actual healthy benefit.
Meditation is often described as a quiet deep contemplation of one’s own livelihood. It involves a reassessment of one’s actions, decisions, self-conduction, spiritual relations and gaining a higher sense of self-awareness. The latest report released by the UK government on Stress-related and Psychological Disorders in Great Britain saw the total number of cases of work-related stress, depression or anxiety for 2013-2014 as 487, 000 cases. Although this total figurehas remained somewhat consistent within the last decade, the number of cases remain statistically higher in females than in males and the number of new male cases has been significantly raised within the last 4 years . From this, we can therefore confirm that stress, depression and anxiety is a common problem of today’s society.A meta-analysis study on the health benefits carried out by the US Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality in 2014 suggested moderate strength in evidence that “mindfulness meditation” programmes reduce pain severity and psychological stresses, including anxiety and depression . However, meditation as an alternative to modern medicine is not a common practice despite its long-lasting health benefits. Therefore, in today’s post, I will guide you through a very simple outline of meditation, including why we meditate, how to meditate, when to meditate, where to meditate and its links with Islamic teachings.
By estimate, meditation is a 5,000-year-old practice whose earliest recorded roots trace back to the teachings of the Vedas in Ancient India. By the 6th to 5th centuries BCE, its significance as a religious element had been developed by Buddhists of Taoist China and Buddhist India. By then, Buddhist meditation had taken the form of a “contemplative concentration” and as a means to an end of both knowledge and liberation.
Meditation also developed into an early Judaic practice whereby the patriarch, Isaac, is described in the Torah as going ‘lausach’ in a field- a term commonly understood (although debated) as ‘meditating’. Later, in 1227, ‘Zazen’ (sitting meditation) was penned by Dogen (a Japanese Zen Buddhist teacher) upon his return to Japan from china, which led to the building of a community of monks whom solely focused on Zazen meditation.
Soon enough, by the 10th and 14th centuries, the Christians of Mount Athos in Greece had created Hesychasm: a form of meditation which involves the repetition of the Jesus prayer. And, finally, by the 11th and 12th centuries, Sufi Islamic teachings reformed the art of meditation as ‘Dhikr’- the Islamic meditational form of remembrance of God.
Modern aged forms of meditation include those established by new schools of yoga developed by Hindu revivalism from the 1890’s and other non-Hindu practices, such as transcendental meditation (which became popular in the 1960’s) and Hatha yoga, a derivation of Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga commonly known as plain ‘yoga’ in Western adaptations.
Meditation In Islam: An Introductive SummaryMeditation in Islam, commonly known as ‘Dhikr’ or ‘Zikr’, is the inner remembrance and outward mention of God. This is mentioned in the Quran as:
Zikr is divided into 4 main sub-categories:
- Tasbeeh: chanting or reciting the holy divine names and attributes of God or specific prayers. It can be performed silently or loudly, alone or within a group.
- Tafak’er: To think/contemplate/meditate constructively, positively, purposely and with intent. It is very much the opposite of unconscious thinking.
- Muraakebah: To observe/watch/be still and consciously present. Known as the most powerful form of Islamic meditation because it leads to a transcendence of the self to an experience beyond the finite, temporal ‘self’ (referred to as the ‘Ego’ in common English) and into an awareness and consciousness within the presence of God.
- Muraabetah: Literally means to become ‘at one with’. Performed by Muslims whom seek a personal spiritual association with the Prophet (PBUH). This is a definition of meditation that is more commonly associated with mainstream meditation.
And a hadith stressing the importance of reflection includes:
“An hour of reflection is better than a day of prayer.”
Thus, meditative thought is an important aspect of Islam as it bridges the gap between understanding the message of the religion, the creation (i.e. the universe) and spiritual reformation. In addition, meditation promotes inner and outer peace and encourages us to make well-informed decisions, to have a mutual understanding of people and things rather than conflict and ‘blind acceptance’ and, in many senses, can strengthen belief.How, Where and When to Meditate
So, here’s the part you have probably been waiting for. As a 21-year-old female living in the ‘modern era’, I have a relatively high amount of responsibility to go out and make something of myself in this gigantic, opportunistic world. And, alas, with responsibility comes all kinds of hard-core stress, anxiety and, occasionally, depression. If we have ever spoken personally, then I would probably have told you about meditation and its benefits and my use of it within stress management. However, through these conversations, I have become increasingly aware that not many people my age (or older) actually know how to meditate. So, to help out, here’s a very basic meditative technique that you can try out in the comfort of your own living room:
1. Finding the perfect spot to meditate:
- Meditation is usually best carried out in a quiet and calm place that is free from distractions. So hide your electrical devices, your books, your fridge, your siblings and household pets (i.e. distracting things).
- As for ambience, I personally find that a place that is within sight of natural light and nature (such as at a window or in a park or garden).
- A comfortable spot is also needed: the floor, a chair or any flat surface will do (this is to avoid tense positions and enable the ability to just ‘relax’).
- Sit up. Back straight. Chin slightly acute of a 90 degree angle with your neck (i.e. face forward).
- A lot of people cross their legs, but if you’re on a chair, there’s no need (unless you want to- your call).
- The most comfortable/relaxing hand position is to just place them on your knees. Let them lay comfortably supported by your legs.
- As for hand gesture, several yoga Mudras exist that are popular in Indian culture and are regarded as signs of ‘peace’ (more info here). However, although Islamic tradition tends to be relatively impartial to hand gestures, palms faced-down on the thighs or knees is generally practised.
- (Hopefully) breathing isn’t something we usually have to “think” about in our daily lives: it’s an autonomic process.
- Mindfulness of breathing is a concentration exercise which, by focusing solely on breathing, enables you to both control your resting heart rate and become aware of the mind’s tendency to rapidly jump from one thought to another.
- As you meditate, you will begin to realise the tenser areas of your body (e.g. your shoulders, neck, legs, etc.). Consciously relax these.
- You are coming to the end of meditation.
- At this point, your focus will be much sharper than to begin with and you will be feeling more calm, collected and ‘refreshed’.
- To end meditation on a positive note, channelling thoughts of gratitude, concerning people and things that you are grateful for, is recommended.
- Islamic meditation usually ends by giving thanks to God and offering prayer (e.g. by performing tasbeeh, using misbaha/33 prayer beads).
- Possibly the most important step: letting go and moving on. It’s hard, but it’s required to live a more internally peaceful, happy life.