I was recently interviewed by a researcher in the field of Psychology who is presently studying for her PhD thesis about “grief and bereavement”. I was asked about the “benefits of Guided Meditation” especially w.r.t the soundtracks that I publish on Youtube and how it helps people overcome grief. Am sharing some parts of that discussion below – it might help some more folks. Cheers 🙂
Over the years, as we live we, knowingly as well as unknowingly, accumulate certain influences, ideologies, preferences, beliefs, moralities and habits and these govern our choices/decisions, behavior and response/reaction to situations. All these also make us see situations/people/experiences as Good or Bad for us. We want to have the Good. We want to avoid the Bad. There’s a constant tussle, a kind of decision-making happening constantly within us, to choose what might feel right for us. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t go the way we had wished.
All this constant decision-making, expectations, successes, rejections …this keeps us overwhelmed with either Good/Happy/Joyous or Sad/Depressing/Frustrating thoughts and feelings. Then there are memories of the past and imagination or planning of the future that goes on in our mind. We also tend to imagine how the past could have been better, how we should have done something but didn’t or couldn’t ..and the associated guilt. Basically, a lot of action happening within – an enormously overwhelming flow of thoughts. To be able to retain a good balance and have a clear vision amidst all these forces one needs to have the ability to detach himself/herself from these forces and be centered. When one is not able stay centered, handling life often feels stressful – if things have gone your way you feel restless, there’s pressure to retain the success, there’s fear of missing out (FOMO), there’s overconfidence and mindless indulgence – if things have not gone your way, there’s frustration, rejection, sadness, depression.
“Meditation” is any practice that brings us back to center or detaches us from these forces for some time. Meditation does not solve our problems – rather it simply brings us to a state where we feel easy and have a clear vision – and as a result we feel more in control of ourselves and can make better decisions. Meditation is any practice or experience that takes us back to our “default settings” ..to a state prior to the ‘accumulations’ mentioned in the opening sentence above (“Over the years …”). It’s analogous to a car engine with the gear dis-engaged…and hence no burden on it …hence the engine runs freely with much reduced friction and much less heat. Or you could say that it’s something like factory-resetting a phone. The phone gets rid of all unwanted files and performs it’s optimal best. In some ways it is also analogous to tranquilizers – medicines that do not cure you directly but rather invoke sleep and the actual healing happens in sleep – a major difference being that in meditation we remain mindful and fully active but are able to dis-engage from the forces without any kind of substance/drug.
Each individual senses or experiences life differently. I am talking at the very basic level of our senses here – we all are more sensitive about certain stimuli than others. Accordingly, different people might have different experiences that take them back to “default”, or to a state of meditativeness. That’s the reason you’ll see so many forms of Meditation programs these days – painting meditation, meditative dancing, creative workshops and even food meditation. Not every program is suited for all. Also, individuals who are very aware about their own mind and are in good health, such people might even enter meditative states without any special guidance or any special workshop etc. Merely, listening to some music, or even doing their daily jobs they might touch those levels of consciousness/awareness. However, most people are accustomed to instructions, guidance or some kind of support in their daily lives… and accordingly for meditation as well they find some kind of guidance helpful, especially in the beginning stages of the practice.
A big chunk of the meditative experience lies in the trust and surrender of the practitioner. It’s NOT to be approached like a commodity with an expectation to get ‘success’ after a few cycles of ‘usage’. It is more like “sleep” – if you approach ‘sleep’ in a utilitarian way it might seem like a wasteful ‘activity’. But rather it is a “giving up of activity” so that you get rest and are ready for more ‘activity. Success of meditation also lies in such a realization… the more the practitioner realizes the benefits of calmness and relaxation within, the more he/she experiences the ‘benefits’ of meditation. If you take the typical approach of ‘expecting returns’ from meditation, it will rather further stress you instead of calming you. There are no ‘future’ gains in meditation – you get the results at the very moment while meditating. It’s much like children playing around and having fun – they get the fun right then and there.. in the playing itself.
There’s no single method to prescribe to all. One has to try out various ways that facilitate meditativeness and then realize which practice suits him/her the most at a given phase in life. Ancient texts associated with Lord Shiva and the texts associated with Lord Buddha mention several techniques in which the physical senses and the mind can be used/applied to achieve states of meditation. A mix of these approaches and the traditional Chinese wellbeing practices later evolved into a field popularly known as Zen. There also are wisdom/intellect oriented practices like observing the mind, realizing a detached state – some people find this more helpful than the other styles.
In Guided Meditation, typically the guidance is related to one or a mix of the above mentioned practices. Since we are accustomed to ‘doing’ the same is used to achieve a state of ‘not-doing’. It’s like one can’t guide you into sleep… because sleep is ‘giving up of action’…one can’t tell you how to do the ‘act of sleeping’. But you can be guided to ‘do’ certain acts which are not goal oriented ..which simply bring you into the current moment… like observing your breath, or perhaps counting something, noticing the sounds, ..these activities don’t have a future goal… hence these bring some kind of relief…and might assist in relaxation. Some may taste the peace in the first attempt itself, and some may take much longer.
In the Guided Meditation soundtracks that I have created so far, I have used the styles/practices of Vipassana and Anapanasati, originally credited to Lord Buddha, and introduced to me through the works of Osho (Rajneesh), Sadhguru (Isha Foundation), Ramana Maharishi and my own spiritual mentors.
The basic functioning of any kind of meditation is explained above. One can of course customize these practices to suit specific purposes. Like I was asked about how meditation can help in grief and bereavement – for the same accordingly specific words and suggestions could be used in the Guided Meditation that facilitate a drift of thoughts and imaginations towards something more positive. Although the ultimate state is that of no thoughts and no memories of past and no imagination or plans of future – but still, before this state, a bereaved person can be given a detour in his/her inward journey via a soothing oasis of positive and reassuring thoughts. It is likely to help. But again, one size doesn’t fit all. It comes with trial and error and by observing the response that your mind-body-soul have towards any such practice. For most people, it is better to be done under able compassionate guidance, in the beginning.
Since we are complex beings and have multifarious aspects within, the calm that meditation brings, affects all our faculties and not just one. It is difficult to pinpoint which meditation practice improved which aspect of you. Often the success of a meditation practitioner can be felt in reduced stress levels and a “light” mindset during the whole day while interacting with professional and personal matters. I know of several people who have felt the benefits in their overall life. There have been some cases of trauma and grief as well where meditation helped the person a lot in coming back to usual life with a newer perspective towards life – I won’t be able to share the specifics though.
Personally, I like to promote a meditative approach towards all aspects of life. You have asked about the benefits of a “Guided Meditation program” – I would like to share here that from my perspective, Guided Meditation is just one of the tools that I have shared for the benefit of people to whom this approach suits. For others, I lead experiential walking tours, I teach some musical instruments or even I train my engineering interns in their own job but with a meditative approach. So, it’s more about benefits of meditativeness that I can share with you (a lot of it is mentioned above already)… won’t be able to pinpoint on specific benefits of ‘Guided Meditation’. Although, one major advantage is that typically ‘Guidance’ does suit masses since most people are used to and require some support in their initial days. For people who are already more in control of themselves, they might not need such guidance at all.
Sharing a playlist of some of my Meditation Soundtracks: