There are three main types of meditation: 1. Pointed meditation–you try to anchor your mind to one point of attention, like your breath or a candle or a mantra. 2. Open focus meditation: recognizing any thoughts, feelings or sensations that pop into your head as they arise—without passing judgment on them. 3. Cultivation meditation, where you try to develop specific qualities or habits of the mind, e.g. loving-kindness meditation, which emphasizes openness and compassion. These three are not mutually exclusive and you may often simultaneously practice them. Our singularity of focus has powerful consequences: it causes the frequency of our brainwaves to slow down and relax. But at the same time, it causes the amplitude, the power of our brain-waves, to increase. If we look at a diagram of our normal waking consciousness, we see a Beta brain-wave pattern–a fine saw-toothed pattern where the waveform is shallow. As we slow our brain into an Alpha brain-wave pattern, the height of the waveform increases. If we dive deeper still, to the Theta, it increases more. And if you go to the deepest brain-wave pattern, Delta, the height of the waveform/amplitude, is the highest. When we look at waves at the beach, the highest are most powerful. Similarly, with sound waves, the higher the waveform, the louder we hear.
As we meditate, our brain-waves decelerate, becoming more powerful. Our brain cannot handle this increased power without creating new neural connections, which in turn, creates new communication inside the brain. During and post-meditation, both sides of our brain begin working together in synchrony. Electrical patterns begin firing in the same rhythm. What are the consequences of this? This balancing within our brain causes both sides of our brain to begin working together in synchrony. Electrical patterns begin firing together in the same rhythm. This increased balancing in our brain promotes further our united, rather than distinct, vision/ideology about the world and people. We thus feel more calm and peaceful, with greater expansiveness and equanimity.
We begin to perceive the interconnectedness and the oneness of things. We see unity rather than duality. We see things as joined, rather than separate. We have more ‘threading’ or wiring in our brain, more connections and communication between and within neurons, allowing us to apprehend the world also as more connected and unified. With so vast a storehouse of connections, we feel more tethered to our present moment. Our anchor feels steady. We’re living with a more solid platform. Rather than being fretful or anxious, we feel safer and more trusting.
About meditation, this metaphor is frequently used: we’re like a mirror that reflects consciousness, but the mirror is covered with dust. Meditation is the way to wipe the dust off the mirror so we can reflect who we truly are. When we’re meditating, without gripping tightly, we’re touching lightly the contents of our mind. It responds by easing and calming down. If this doesn’t happen immediately, most people assume they are doing it “wrong.” We’re reassured to know there is no “right” and no “wrong.” Everything we experience is ripe for our observation, and always without judgment.
Acknowledging our part in our pain, we take ownership for our experience. We see more clearly through our unique mental filter, the way we color our world and others . . . our psychological vision is less fuzzy and cleaner. Meditation as mental practice is akin to golf or tennis practice enhancing performance. Recent studies repeatedly demonstrate we are capable of training and modifying our brain. Mental training via meditation (and other disciplines) is capable of changing the physiology and circuitry of the brain. Meditation is akin to push-ups for the brain!
In deep meditation, moving into conscious brain wave activity other than our customary beta, we may feel unnerved. Why? By shifting things around in ourselves, we experience upheaval. We created an internal map of reality as were growing up. The goal in creating this map of reality was for us to protect ourselves, to feel safe. The more we felt threatened during childhood, the more tightly we clung to our life narrative. When we delve into a powerful medium, e.g. meditation, psychotherapy, etc. we’re pushed to change. Even though we consciously seek it, there’s a hidden part of us that says, “I’ve done it my way my entire life, and what will happen if I let go? Do I have a guarantee I won’t drown and die? What if I fail? I know the familiar and it feels okay to cling to what I know, even if it’s not optimal.” We resist what is good for us. This resistance is inevitable. Rather than fight it, or judge and criticize, our task is to accept it. We trust in our intrinsic healing potential. We trust our thrust not only to survive, but to thrive.
We’re released from pain when we stop resisting, surrendering to the present inevitable Reality. In doing this, we’re not attached to an outcome. Instead, we’re released from being gripped within. This doesn’t mean we should be passive. We continue taking action, but we refrain from our brittle attachment to outcome. This is a profound, huge figure/ground shift in perspective. We maintain our equanimity regardless of what happens around us. If we’re attached to things and people being a certain way, we must wait for things to be as we wish in order to feel okay. We’re dependent on external circumstance. As such, we’re rendered helpless and vulnerable, feeling a lack of control over our lives and ourselves. Virtually all discomfort in meditation–and suffering in life–is created by our resistance to it. Suffering happens when we want Reality to be something other than it is. It seems to us that our pain is caused by an external force/event. But this is usually a sliver of our net experience. Our suffering is caused by our resistance itself. In meditation, we come to see the wisdom of this.