Ideas Presented in Chapter 2
Idea #6: Cultivating the Meditative Function Develops the Mind and Body
Having looked at the immediate effects of meditation, let's now consider the long-term effects. Meditation is not over when it is over. When we get up from a sitting, subtle and enduring effects remain at work in our system, whether we think about them or not. These effects, once again, come directly from nature. In short, they amount to growth. When you make meditation a regular part of the daily routine, the mind and body grow, they develop. Dr. Khalsa’s list of the effects of meditation goes beyond the workings of the body given above. It includes these longer range effects:Meditation has a profound effect upon three key indicators of aging: hearing ability, blood pressure, and vision of close objects. Long-term meditators experience:
Rejuvenation and development are the two natural, salutary effects that all living systems can experience, their opposites being deterioration and decline. In rejuvenation, a system returns to what it once was. In development, it moves forward, unfolding its potential. We experience the relationship of rejuvenation and development quite clearly in early life. Sleep, rest, meals and hugs rejuvenate a child. On days that lack these rejuvenating influences, the child suffers. Receiving them the next day, the child returns to a state of happiness. That is rejuvenation. However, if the child experiences a daily regimen of rejuvenating influences, something profoundly more significant occurs: the child grows and moves through the stages of childhood development.
Likewise, an occasional experience of the meditative function provides a salve for the stresses of life, but a daily regimen does more than restore. It supports new growth. This kind of growth does not appear on the charts in the doctor's office. This is the growth that older people cherish when they say (more seriously than not, usually) that they would not want to go back to an earlier age. They enjoy the growth of mind, soul, and spirit that comes with living. Contradictory though it sounds, meditation's rejuvenating influences make us "younger" while its developmental influences make us "older.”
It would not be proper to say that meditation produces long term growth any more than one would say that milk produces healthy babies. Growth and health are produced by life processes. Meditation and milk contribute necessary elements to those processes. The meditative function does have its own unique and necessary role to play in human development, especially adult development after age 18 or so. Without its long-term developmental benefits, meditation would not have held a prominent, honorable, central seat for thousands of years in cultures around the globe. Many of humankind's highest aspirations ride on the wings of meditation and meditative prayer. They have lofty names: transformation, transcendence, enlightenment, godliness, sainthood. In more ordinary terms, we could just say it develops wisdom.
Meditation helps develop wisdom through the expansion of the capacity to experience life and then compounding the influences of experience. Let’s elaborate these two processes:
Expansion of capacity
Regular experience of the meditative function develops the style, quality and depth of functioning of the mind and body. Although basic brain and nervous system development ends in late teens, a youth's capacity to experience life is small compared to what it can become. Growth in adulthood brings a depth of awareness that is critical to the enjoyment of what life dishes up for us. It also gives the ability to maintain a global perspective during challenging moments. It gives a growing sense of purpose and identity and provides stability in the face of change.
During a sitting of meditation, we experience the depth and essence of the mind, but the influence penetrates our roots, effecting thoughts and feelings outside of meditation, too. Gradually the mind and heart develop an expansive stability that graces life moment-by-moment. This expansion of capacity is said to be unlimited. When major levels of growth have been achieved, meditative traditions often label the growth "enlightenment." More on this expansive subject is available in the final Idea of the course.
As noted in Chapter One, the cumulative impact of the meditative function is like the "training effect" of aerobic exercise. In both meditation and aerobics, the functioning of the body and mind is improved through regular exposure to an unusual condition. With aerobics, the kick-off condition is vigorous muscular action, like running. The short-term effect of this action is the raising of heart and lung output. The cumulative effect is a complex set of benefits such as improved coronary efficiency, greater endurance, disease resistance, and mental alertness. Now compare that to the meditative function: the kick-off condition is mental; the short-term effect is the lowering of heart and lung output; and the long-term effect is a complex set of benefits, such as stabilized blood pressure and weight, reduced headache pain, better sleeping, disease resistance, mental alertness, creativity, social ease, and sensitivity to others.
Some other parallels: neither aerobic nor meditative training effects can be crammed into a few intensive months. It takes as many as ten years to achieve peak aerobic conditioning enabling the running of a 26-mile marathon. Peak conditioning in meditation, likewise, comes at great length, generally over decades.
With both kinds of conditioning, normal daily activity gradually becomes infused with the extra-ordinary functioning experienced during the session. With aerobic conditioning, the body becomes capable of greatly increased activity without disturbing the normal beating of the heart and lungs. Well-conditioned joggers carry on conversations, while the beginners can barely manage a phrase between heavy breaths. With meditative conditioning, the mind and body become capable of greatly increased activity without disturbing inner peace and stability known at first only in meditation. The peak conditioning brings this fully into all moments of waking and sleeping.
Compounding of experience
Meditation gradually improves the clarity and sanity with which we approach life-affecting decisions, both big and small. A single good choice can have immeasurably valuable influences further downstream. It is worth pondering this. Good choices compound. How awake, intelligent and happy we are in a given moment influences what will come to us in the next moment. Pick any noteworthy event in your life and ponder the role played in it by mood, wakefulness, manner, intelligence, humor, kindness, and prudence. The steady influence of meditation on our ability to choose well and to behave well compounds an incalculable value in just a few days. This compounding influence may prove to be meditation’s most enduring value.
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