by Beverly Hutchinson McNeff
If you thought a good night’s sleep and proper diet and exercise were all you needed to be healthy, a new study from Harvard Medical School shows that meditation (prayer) can also change us for the better on a cellular level. It has long been agreed by scientists that meditation reduces stress and illness, but they were never sure why. This study finds the reason for the benefits. Regular meditation causes cellular change by basically turning on clusters of “good” genes that make us healthier while turning off clusters of “bad” genes that lead to disease.
In a study reported in Yoga Journal, volunteers meditated for twenty minutes a day for eight weeks. The results showed an increase in “health-promoting genes that boost immune response, energy metabolism, and insulin secretion,” and a decrease in “health-depleting genes linked to stress and inflammation.”
Want to meditate but not sure how?
For many people the idea of a twenty minute meditation may seem reasonable until they start and find their spirit may be willing, but their dedication is weak. Perhaps these three basic steps to meditation according to Yoga Journal will help:
1. Focus on your breath – as you close your eyes, bring your attention to the quiet and calming act of breathing in and out through your nose.
2. Choose a mantra – find a word or short phrase to repeat and focus on during your meditation.
3. Clear your mind – if thoughts come up to distract you, simply allow them to pass by without judgment and come back to your breath or mantra.
It has long been agreed by scientists that meditation reduces stress and illness, but they were never sure why.”
These are wonderful, simple steps, so how can we incorporate them as students of A Course in Miracles? First off, meditation is a practice. Don’t be upset with yourself if you find it difficult to focus or stay with a twenty minute meditation. If you are doing the workbook lessons in the Course, you have seen that they gently move you into longer practice periods of meditation, starting with a few minutes and then building up as you move through the lessons. The purpose is to always release any guilt you may feel if you miss a practice period or fall short of the amount of time recommended. As the lessons suggest, simply try again when you can. This process slowly builds our spiritual muscle so that when we need it, it’s there.
Let’s look at the above three steps again. First, focus on your breath. This is a wonderful way to begin. Even though the Course never really speaks of your breath as a focusing agent, over the years with my own personal meditations or when I lead a group in prayer, I have found that using our breath to calm us and bring us to a common point can be very helpful. Focusing on your breath is something personal and yet universal. It’s one of the best examples of one-mindedness, if you will, because it’s something we all do, it’s automatic, and it’s with us always. Bringing a group or individual to the awareness of the breath is a very centering and connecting activity.
Next, the idea of choosing a mantra is in perfect harmony with the Course’s workbook. What better place to find a personal mantra or experience a different one everyday as you move through your daily workbook lessons (which I know you all are doing)?! Plus, the daily lessons not only give you the mantra, but also direct you as to how to apply the lesson (mantra) and the amount of time to give to it. The lessons are very directional, which is helpful to our mind’s training process. We have learned quite well how to think apart from God; now we are learning how to think with God once again.
All through the workbook you will hear phrases such as this, because the Course is aware of what a strong hold our ego has on our mind.”
The last point is an essential one to our meditation success: When thoughts come up to distract you (and they will), simply allow them to pass by without judgment, and come back to your lesson or mantra. All through the workbook you will hear phrases such as this, because the Course is aware of what a strong hold our ego has on our mind. Remember, the ego is only the thought of separation/fear, and, as a thought, it can be replaced by a better thought – one of truth. The ego, therefore, will do anything to survive, even meditate with you! It will meditate with you to prove you can’t do it because: you can’t keep your focus, you always get distracted, you can’t remember your lesson, you can’t mediate that long, you fall asleep, etc.
There will seem to be many reasons we think we can’t join with God, but none of them matter. The fact is we can’t help but join our minds with God because our minds are one with God. This final thought is terrifying to our ego because it knows its days are numbered. It will hold on as long as it can; don’t give it the power it needs to survive. Allow distracting, angry, or frustrating thoughts to simply pass by without effect. This will take a lot practice, but the benefits are well worth it!
“Simply do this: Be still, and lay aside all thoughts of what you are and what God is; all concepts you have learned about the world; all images you hold about yourself. Empty your mind of everything it thinks is either true or false, or good or bad, of every thought it judges worthy, and all the ideas of which it is ashamed. Hold onto nothing. Do not bring with you one thought the past has taught, nor one belief you ever learned before from anything. Forget this world, forget this course, and come with wholly empty hands unto your God.” (Lesson 189)