Harness the Power of Meditation

Meditation consists of maintaining steady concentration on the internal mind while acknowledging distracting thoughts as they are. Essentially, various meditation practices have specific goals to ultimately strengthen one’s awareness. However, they share common elements such as gaining awareness of the present moment and focusing on breathing (Kok & Singer, 2017). In other words, by meditating an individual can realize the power of the present, rather than shift between the past and the future. Although meditation can enhance mental wellness, there are some limitations to discuss as well. The primary purpose of this paper is to explain how meditation influences consciousness, understand how spirituality evolved, unravel the mystery of free will, explore the phenomenology of meditative experiences, state, and trait effects, characterize the nature of self, discuss different benefits associated to meditative practices, and lastly, how meditation can be applied in psychotherapy. 

The Nature of Consciousness 

Examining the nature of consciousness involves a multidimensional approach. For example, Sedlmeier (2018) research suggests that consciousness is not a fixed state, rather a state of continuous change. These changes may consist of different behaviours and alterations in cognitive, emotional, and physiological states (Sedlmeier, 2018). Nonetheless, openness to explore eastern meditation practices from Buddhism and Hinduism may further develop understanding consciousness. The Buddhist theory explains that consciousness is dynamic and quickly shifts from one moment to the next (Sedlmeier, 2018). Generally, these fleeting moments are three-fold—pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral, and include other aspects of cognition (Sedlmeier, 2018). Given that consciousness shifts from moment to moment, it is difficult to describe how attachment to unpleasant moments changes consciousness. Therefore, supposedly if an individual fixates on an unpleasant experience, alterations in consciousness will become limited. Furthermore, the Hindu theory of meditation such as Samkhya/Yoga emphasizes the concept of pure consciousness achieved through meditation practice (Sedlmeier, 2018). The theory constitutes that the mind contains a sense, ego, and intellectual mind (Sedlmeier, 2018). Taken together, these form the material aspects of the mind. The non-material is a key part of the material mind known as pure consciousness, independent of material object. 

On the contrary, if an individual becomes engrossed in sensory pleasure this theory does not fully explain if pure consciousness is attainable under sense pursuits. Therefore, a more comprehensive definition of consciousness will require further research. Understanding how spirituality evolved using a rational approach involves multiple disciplines that examine spirituality concerning meditation. 

Historical understanding of spirituality and our rational approach to it

Spirituality consists of discovering a higher self on a subjective level (Kristeller & Jordan, 2018). Essentially, spirituality embodies higher-functioning and requires an empirical approach to understand its function in a specific context (Kristeller & Jordan, 2018). Also, Kristeller and Jordan (2018) explored how meditation expands the meaning of spirituality. For example, their findings showed that spirituality is multifaceted and becomes influenced by meditation. Meditation is an engine that moves spirituality in various directions. 

Considering the strengths of Kristeller and Jordan (2018) research, there are some limitations to address. For example, individuals with mental illness aspiring to have a spiritual life may find it challenging to achieve a higher purpose or serving others, which could be discouraging. Thus, expanding research to establish spiritual guidelines for individuals with mental illness may have clinical utility. However, ascending to a higher realm of spirituality supposedly lies in the individual's hand. Investigating the illusion of free-will shall determine the driving factors behind action. 

The Illusion of Free Will

Free will is the notion that individuals have the power to choose and act (Hanif, 2019). Supposedly, free will gives an individual the power and autonomy to make decisions. Although an individual has free will, exercising this free will in unfavorable conditions have undesirable results. For example, an individual suffers from a severe mental illness and acts out of their usual character. According to free will, the individual can choose what to do and behave responsibly. On the contrary, someone with severe mental illness may have less power or capability to have control over their actions. In other words, mental illness depletes the power to choose, impairs decision making, and ultimately changes the function of free will. 

Further, exploring free will involves the recognition of how much control an individual has. For instance, thoughts entering the mind's stream of consciousness come outside of awareness or prior thinking. This signifies that there is little to no control over thoughts that float in the mind. Free will implies control over the mind but when thoughts arise this control nearly vanishes (Hanif, 2019). Additionally, bodily functions such as a heart beating operate irrespective of freewill. The arguments above explain that freewill has significant limitations which supports the idea of the illusion of free will. Exploring the phenomenology of meditation experiences may be compatible with the illusion of free will argument.

Phenomenology of Meditative experiences

Meditation has different meanings, but it may consist of concentration to achieve stillness and acknowledge distracting thoughts as they are. Meditation practices can vary, which in turn, shapes individual experience. For example, loving-kindness meditation veers toward cultivating kindness to oneself and others (Kok & Singer, 2017). Kok and Singer (2017) found that loving-kindness meditators experienced positive emotions and a greater connection to others. The researchers also stated that any contemplative practice gives mental refreshment and increases in positive energy (Kok & Singer, 2017). However, the researchers did not fully address how an individual while meditating can experience possible negative side-effects. Therefore, with greater discomfort, concentration decreases, and readjusting the mind becomes taxing. On the other hand, the researchers have found based on longitudinal studies that meditation has significant benefits, and more research will provide insight into its successes (Kok & Singer, 2017). Thus, exploring how meditation carries out changes in one's state and trait concerning neural correlates will add another dimension to the human experience.

Meditation and its effect on state vs. trait and related neural correlates

Understanding meditation and its impact on state vs. trait will also explain neural changes, respectively. State effects are relatively brief or short-term, while trait effects are long-term and persist over time. Basso, McHale, Ende, Oberlin, and Suzuki (2018) study reported that participants who practiced daily meditation for eight weeks experienced improved mood, less anxiety, sharpened cognitive skills such as working memory, attention, and other benefits. Basso et al. (2019) reported that areas such as the anterior cingulate cortex and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex involved in cognitive abilities have higher activity also. Trait effects of meditation impact many areas such as cognition, emotional health, intelligence, working memory, attention, and others. According to Singh, Sharma, and Talwar (2012) research, neural activity in long-term meditators is more effective in areas such as the prefrontal cortex, parietal cortex, thalamus, midbrain, and others. According to Goleman and Davison (2017), a yogi successfully inhibited feelings of anger when someone stomped on their foot. More importantly, this inhibition came about because of long-term meditation. Taken together, the state effects of meditation are a launching point for an individual to work towards long-term meditation. However, state effects may not always boost motivation to meditate consistently due to possible negative effects. 

For instance, an individual during the meditation may experience unpleasant memories, attach to those memories, and lose concentration. Therefore, they would step outside of a meditative state and step into a place of uncertainty and perhaps dismay. Understanding the nature of self and achieving higher well-being can occur through meditation.

The nature of self

Understanding the nature of the self involves identifying human values that become shaped by meditation (Goldstein & Kornfield, 2001). These human values consist of non-violence, truthful action, truthful speech, control over desires, compassion, and more. Essentially, these values capture the ideal version of the self that is something to work towards. More importantly, practicing human values are the building blocks to wise meditation (Goldstein & Kornfield, 2001). However, selfish pursuits and lack of sincerity hampers the progress to determine the nature of self and working towards wise mediation. 

Essentially, a virtuous mind paves the path to strengthening concentration and wisdom more easily (Goldstein & Kornfield, 2001). Notably, when the mind is still, the process of meditating awakens an individual’s true sense of self (Goldstein & Kornfield, 2001). However, this true sense of self is an illusion and this realization can occur through meditation (Hanif, 2019). The sense of self dominated network becomes non-existent and this realization illuminates within meditation and beyond. As discussed by Kok and Singer (2017), meditation has considerable benefits in reaching higher well-being. Nonetheless, examining the research of different meditative practices and its specific benefits can explain why it is a topic of interest to explore.

Benefits of meditative practices shown by research

Meditation has considerable benefits to enhance well-being. Various meditative practices have emerged such as loving-kindness meditation, mindfulness meditation, insight meditation, and others. Moreover, loving-kindness meditation consists of wishing pure love and warmth to oneself, near ones, neutral people, and all beings (Goleman & Davison, 2017). Specifically, they found that individuals who engaged in loving-kindness meditation for two and a half hours (20 sessions of 10 minutes each) felt calm and showed greater generosity versus. a comparable group who lightly exercised (Goleman & Davison, 2017). However, other potential factors could influence these results. This may include that in individual before attempting loving-kindness was altruistic and loving-kindness had some impact on the individual's behaviour. Therefore, determining the impact of this practice is necessary to see observable changes over time. 

Furthermore, mindfulness is awareness of the here and now without self-judgement (Davis & Hayes 2011). According to Davis and Hayes (2011) research, mindfulness meditation improves well-being, and reduces anxiety. In a previous study, brief mindfulness training resulted in individuals experiencing more positive and less negative emotions when they watched positive clips or a mix of both in comparison to a control group (Davis & Hayes, 2011). Note that, this study was correlational and drawing a causal relationship is not possible. Mindfulness has received strong empirical support especially in the subject of emotional regulation. However, exploring how regular mindfulness practice and inconsistent mindfulness influence wellbeing is necessary to discuss. 

Addressing insight meditation will also reveal some benefits like loving-kindness and mindfulness meditation. Insight meditation is a path that empowers an individual to explore their internal mind, give rise to compassion, and therefore understand the world (Goldstein & Kornfield, 2001). Montero-Marin et al. (2016) research suggested that after one month on a Vipassana training retreat, individuals experienced improved concentration without more effort or motivation. Additional benefits of insight meditation include improved well-being, increased compassion over time, higher positive affect, and more (Montero-Marin et al., 2016). However, some possible limitations of studies conducted on Vipassana Meditation retreats are a small sample size and lack of randomized conditions (Montero-Marin et al., 2016). Considering the benefits of meditation in healthy individuals, determining its effectiveness with individuals with a mental illness is critical to address. 

Therapeutic use of Meditation

Psychotherapy and meditation go hand in hand because they can treat mental illness. According to Chiesa et al. (2015) research, Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) is an eight-week program that reduces the risk of relapse in individuals with major depression and includes cognitive behavioural therapy to treat major depression as well. MBCT encourages patients to become aware of thoughts, feelings, and emotions in a nonjudgmental and accepting manner. Furthermore, Goldin and Gross (2010) found that Mindfulness-based reduced symptoms (MBSR) of social anxiety disorder. MBSR consists of various mindfulness practices and meditation practices as well (Goldin & Gross, 2010).). As discussed, combining psychotherapy with meditation sounds promising and has clinical utility. However, both of studies discussed above had limited sample sizes therefore, generalizing the results may not yet be possible. 

Overall, the purpose of this paper was to examine how the power of meditation influences consciousness, enlightens the understanding of spirituality, discusses the illusion of free, phenomenology of meditation including state and trait effects, determine the nature of self, explore research demonstrating the benefits of meditation, and finally, the use of meditation in psychotherapy. In other words, meditation has powerful effects that are within reach if used appropriately. These powerful effects including shedding light on consciousness and achieving higher wellness. This higher awareness allows someone to acknowledge suffering for what it is and walk towards a higher self. In turn, a meditation practice such as loving-kindness will allow compassion to flow which, then becomes channelled into positive energy and altruism. As well, exploring both meditation and medication combined may have positive treatment implications. Finally, meditation is a cultivation of the human spirit that reminds an individual of how the spirit of living is the spirit of giving.