Be of good cheer, with some peace and quiet
Shopping! Just one empty spot on the parking lot, practically in Utah. Tinny “Jingle Bell Rock” coming from somewhere — Hell, maybe? — and the whole mall smells like Subway and barely contained mania.
Shiny things! Inexplicable gift sets! There are people everywhere, throngs of them. It’s a red-and-green phantasmagoria, kind of like that scene in “Dumbo” with the pink elephants. Santa’s watching.
Speaking of which! Secret Santas: the office minefield. And office parties! Toffee in the break room, potluck lunches, good cheer of fluctuating sincerity.
Get the lights up, get the tree up (and get the cat out of it), wrap the presents, pour the eggnog, go here, go there, bring a gift, fling the tinsel, smile and smile some more.
And breathe, in and out and in again. It’s not so easy right now. Is there a better time to consider meditation?
“The whole idea of meditation is that what we think of as our daily life and real aspects of life are really reactions and perceptions,” said the Rev. J. Douglas Bottorff of Unity Church of Grand Junction. “Through meditation we’re opening ourselves to the pure experience of life.”
Long a part of the vernacular and cultural dialogue, meditation has emerged from the stereotypes of high Himalayan monasteries and unapproachable ascetics to a daily, necessary practice for anyone seeking a little peace, a little calm and quiet and meaning.
“It’s great to see people give themselves a chance at meditation,” said Jill Whinnery, who teaches meditation in Grand Junction. “Even if it’s just spending a few minutes of the day being more mindful.”
Long associated with Eastern philosophies and religions, meditation actually is a part of many beliefs and practices, Bottorff said.
“It’s universal,” he said. “Jesus said go into your inner closet and shut the door and pray to your father who is in secret. Meditation is in the Christian church as much as in Eastern religions and philosophies. It’s just we’ve gotten away from that inner approach.”
As an individual practice, it’s something that is almost universally agreed to be beneficial. A study by Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers published in the May 2011 Brain Research Bulletin found that 12 study participants, who were new to meditation and who practiced mindfulness meditation for eight weeks, had enhanced attentional modulation of alpha rhythms in their brains.
Alpha rhythms, or alpha waves, flow through the cortex, which processes sensory information, and help minimize or suppress distracting sensory information.
Another study, published in 1997 in the journal Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, found that study participants who practiced mindfulness meditation for eight weeks reported reductions in stress and other psychological symptoms and an increase in sense of control.
“When you feel some lack in your life, the idea of meditation is always to go within first and fill that sense of lack,” said Bottorff, who has practiced meditation for more than 30 years and leads weekly guided meditation at Unity Church. “It has nothing to do with religions, but who and what we are on the deepest level.”
However, beginning meditation can be intimidating, Whinnery said. One of the most common roadblocks she hears from people is that they can’t stop thinking or that they can’t empty their minds — and believe that’s necessary to meditate.
“The mind is meant to think, just like the eyes are meant to see,” Whinnery said. “But we can step outside that process and see our thoughts happen, we can slow our thoughts and see them pass without getting involved.”
Bottorff compared the ceaseless flow of thoughts to standing on the bank of a powerful river — watching it rush past but not jumping in. Learning to do so is the work and practice of a lifetime.
However, though meditation isn’t something that’s ever completed — there are no certificates awarded, there’s no finish line — it begins simply: seated comfortably in a quiet space and focusing on breathing. Then, Whinnery said, meditators practice techniques for keeping the mind present, for calming it and fully experiencing the present in all its reality.
“Once you’re present, you can realize what’s going on,” Whinnery said. “You realize that you’re in charge, you’re the architect of your life. Once we can accept what is, whatever it is, we find the peace within us.”
“Meditation gets us in touch with what is true of ourselves,” Bottorff said. “I think of it, the sun appears to rise and set, but we know that’s not true. We know Earth is turning. Meditation is the process of coming to know that Earth is turning.”