Meditation — Benefits and Beyond

A recent headline grabbed our attention. A new study found the practice of mindfulness meditation was just as effective for reducing anxiety as taking medication. A research team at Georgetown University Medical Center conducted the study using two groups of participants over an eight-week period. Those who participated in the mindfulness-meditation program achieved a 20% reduction in anxiety-related symptoms, which was statistically equivalent to those who took the antidepressant Lexapro. While the director of the study, Dr. Elizabeth Hoge, cautioned that meditation should not be used to replace Lexapro therapy for those patients truly in need of medication, she emphasized these findings will encourage alternate treatment options, such as meditation, for those needing stress reduction.

It is encouraging when mainstream media outlets cover such stories, as well as make mention of public figures who meditate. One such public figure is University of Michigan sophomore quarterback phenom J. J. McCarthy. The 19-year-old has been meditating twice daily since his high-school football days in La Grange Park, Illinois, where his coach and team doctor have for years guided their players in meditation techniques. McCarthy claims it helps him get into the “present moment.” Well, upon leading a #2-ranked, undefeated 13-0 team this season, who can argue with the results? While it is estimated that only 6% of all persons on the planet regularly meditate, that still amounts to 480 million people. When role models such as young J. J.—perhaps an “old soul”—who’s fast on track to become the next Tom Brady, embrace mindfulness meditation, this can only serve to inspire others of his generation to take up the practice.

Beyond the secular benefits that meditation imparts, there are more profound implications. The practice of meditation is one of the gateways to access one’s spiritual self. Now, those who engage in mindfulness meditation might cringe at any association of their practice with anything that smacks of religion. But, call it what you want—we’ll call it one’s spiritual self—there is a deeper aspect within us that lies beyond our relative worldly personality. This inner component can be accessed through meditation and, over time, with continued practice, one can maintain a connection with one’s spiritual self during activity. Or, to rephrase this idea without using religious terminology, one can maintain the same state of mindfulness that is achieved when meditating while engaged in activity.

Focusing the mind for protracted periods of time invariably brings about a state of prolonged concentration. The ability to concentrate may be alien to the emerging TikTok generation, which relies on constant commotion to make an impact. But concentration leads to what is referenced in the ancient Vedic seer Patanjali’s manual of liberation, the Yogasutra, as true meditation. This is an uninterrupted, undisturbed state of focused mental quiescence, absent all thoughts, mental images, and emotional sensations. Repeatedly attaining this state through regular practice opens the door to establishing several increasingly progressive degrees of samadhi, or states of deep inner absorption. According to those mystics who have attained this ultimate state, it simply cannot be described.

So, whether utilized as a tool to reduce anxiety, as demonstrated in the Georgetown study, or to center oneself in order to improve one’s chosen vocation, as with J. J. McCarthy, or to achieve the ultimate state of spiritual enlightenment, as demonstrated by numerous mystics and saints, the practice of meditation is a beneficial addition to one’s routine. However, the key word is practice—regular practice—and therein lies the true value of meditation.

References:

-Several recent online articles on the Georgetown meditation study, including opens in a new windowAP, opens in a new windowNBC, and opens in a new windowNPR.

-“J.J. McCarthy’s X-Factor is daily meditation” in opens in a new windowMaize & Blue Review.

-“Who’s That Meditating Under the Goal Post? Michigan Quarterback J.J. McCarthy” in opens in a new windowThe Wall Street Journal.

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