From Stephan A. Schwartz comes this in-depth, scientifically-inclined exposition on the positive effects of meditation. Because knowledge of, and understanding of high level performance has been Stephan’s stock-in-trade for decades, he has developed a very effective non-sectarian, non-dogmatic method for meditation which he includes in this essay, “Meditation—The Controlled Psychophysical Self-Regulation Process That Works.” Here’s its beginning:
“The sense of spiritual consciousness, connecting to something greater than oneself, is one of the most intoxicating realms a human can enter. Across the millennia such experiences have shaped the lives of individuals and, upon occasion, whole cultures. The experiences and their effects are historical fact. The question for science is not to deny them, but to seek to understand the processes by which they occur, and the domain into which they lead us. Central to these true stories is a special state of mindfulness, what the psychologist Charles Tart described in his classic 1972 Science paper as a state of consciousness.1
Whether it is a physicist achieving understanding of a physical principle, a spiritual pilgrim having an epiphany, a great painter or composer creating a masterpiece, or a remote viewer describing a teacup hidden in a closet, all report that when the experience is happening, when they feel that they are “in the zone” they are in a state of nonlocal consciousness. They experience themselves as being in a domain in which space and time are just informational enrichers, not limitations. They all report a timeless spaceless connection to something greater. For each the experience is modulated by their context and their intention, but regardless of whether they are physicists, painters, or meditators, it is essentially the same.
Although such experiences occur spontaneously only once or a few times in an individual life, almost every human culture has discovered they can be evoked and has developed practices, usually in a spiritual or religious context, for attaining this state. Similarly, all the martial arts have this component of mindful discipline, a practice of focusing intentioned awareness. Collectively, we have come to call these practices meditation.
This ability to open to nonlocal consciousness is a function of coherence, that is, intentioned awareness, and the ability to focus. There are two ways people achieve this state on a regular basis—one negative, the other positive—and the outcomes are quite different. The negative way is through the development of neurotic obsessions that compel us to such focus—this is, the realm of psychiatry. It can cause great pain and dysfunctionality. The positive way is the kind of training that comes from the consistent practice of meditation.
Of all the things that you can do to come to know yourself, nothing will serve you as well as developing the practice of meditation. Although meditation is often associated with Asian cultures, it is not Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, Satanic, or any faith at all. It can be done in the name of any of these faiths, or without faith in a religion—as distinct from a spiritual sense. It is a single term defining many practices, some of which have no spiritual component whatever.
The purpose these paths—whether Christian, Muslim, or something else—all share is they are designed to give practitioners a measure of focused control over mind and body. Inevitably the paths incorporate some model of nonlocal consciousness, because the experience of mind connected to a greater whole is virtually universal among long-time meditators. Empirical observation across millennia has vouchsafed this effect. One ancient source of particular interest is the Patanjali Yoga Sutras, which date at least to the second century BCE. The Sutras speak at length about moving into nonlocal awareness through meditation.
Psychologist William Braud, who has made a particular study of this, notes: “The sixth, seventh, and eight ‘limbs’ of ashtanga Yoga are dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation), and samadhi (profound absorption), respectively.”2
The Patanjali source refines this further, Braud explains. “The repeated continuation, or uninterrupted stream of that one point of focus is called absorption in meditation (dhyana), and is the seventh of the eight steps (tatra pratyaya ekatanata dhyanam).” When these three are practiced together, the composite process is called samyama.
Samyama might be translated as constraint; thorough, complete, or perfect restraint; or full control; it might also be translated as communion or mind-poise. Samyama conveys a sense of knowing through being or awareness through becoming what is to be known. Through mastery of samyama comes insight (prajna), and through its progressive application, in stages, come knowledge of the Self and of the various principles of reality (tattvas). With increasing yogic practice come a variety of mystical, unitive experiences, states, conditions, or fulfillments—the various samadhis—along with the attainments or powers (siddhis).”2
Although couched in Buddhist terms the Putanjali Sutras describe the same insights and processes concerning nonlocal functioning that modern research has discovered. For the first time in what I believe will be seen as one of history’s great confluences, the practices of the spiritual and martial traditions and the practices of science have found common ground, and reached the same conclusions.”
Read the rest here in “Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing,” Volume 7, Issue 6 , Pages 348-353, November 2011.