Meditation is an integral part of Eastern religions and forms the basis of some Christian traditions. This gives rise to the many myths surrounding meditation. As a consequence some people are unsure of meditation and are concerned about practising it. Therefore it is important for these issues to be discussed. If we have doubts about meditation because of our religious background, we need to speak to our minister or priest and be guided by our own feelings of what is right for us.
Meditation is like so many of the other Eastern techniques and disciplines we have adopted, such as various martial arts, tai chi and yoga. In India the word ‘yoga’ is a generic name for a multitude of meditation disciplines. The word ‘yoga’ was originally defined as ‘the way to go’, but more recently it has been defined simply as ‘union’.
We associate yoga with the practice of gentle physical and breathing exercises. This form of yoga is derived from a very strict meditation discipline called ‘hatha yoga’. The West has adapted hatha yoga to its needs by stripping it of all its religious and ascetic practices. This form of yoga is now an accepted part of our Western lifestyle.
Other forms of meditation from the Eastern traditions have also been adapted. The comprehensive and intricate visualisations of various deities have been replaced with images of beaches or forests, the devotional ‘gazing’ has been replaced with flowers or candles, and the sacred mantras have been replaced with everyday words.
There is nothing mysterious in these techniques. The strict adherence and disciplines required for their religious and philosophical aspects have been stripped away, leaving their bare essence, techniques for relaxation. Learning to meditate does not mean we have to change our religion, our lifestyle or our diet. The only thing which will change will be our response to stress and anxiety.