Meditation: To Calm the Heart
or Break it Open?
by Elisabeth Targ
the spiritual purpose of meditation is not to lower blood pressure but to
increase awareness. As the student learns to quiet the mind, he or she may
add a practice of letting the mind rest, not just on a word or object, but
on the sum of his or her inner experience. As meditators sit with internal
experience, they may find an intensified consciousness of pain, sadness,
confusion, or anger. Anxiety occurs as these emotions (or the reasons for
them) come closer to conscious awareness.
example, a student may become aware in practice of her shame or
self-criticism about failing to give a dollar to a homeless person on the
street. While it might be easier not to think about it, as part of her
practice, she chooses to relax her attention around the feeling, and allow
in her pain and confusion. This very act is a moment of connection and
caring by the student for herself. It is the beginning of access to
loving-kindness. From this more open and loving inner experience, she may
also be able to let in more of the homeless man's experience. Longtime
meditators sometimes describe their increased sensitivity as a
"breaking open of the heart."
cause of distress during meditation is the evolving awareness of the
constraints of our life choices and daily experience. This is exemplified
in the famous torments of St. John of the Cross, described in his book
Dark Night of the Soul. This courageous explorer of inner worlds
experienced a divine epiphany, followed by sadness, isolation, and
larger question is whether this deeper and more difficult exploration is
healing. I believe it is. Data from our laboratory's recent study of
spiritual practice for women with breast cancer found that those who
meditated scored lower on measures of avoidance or avoidance coping than
those who did not. In other words, the meditators became increasingly
aware of the degree of their pain, the extent of their illness, even the
proximity of death. At the same time, they became significantly less
depressed and anxious.
can increasing our awareness of our suffering or difficulties help us cope
with or recover from illness? Whether the practice is meditation or prayer
to God, saints, or spirits, spirituality requires radical honesty with
oneself. As we spend less mental energy running from our feelings, and
allow less physical contraction and bracing around the areas of our body
that are diseased, we can relax and let in more nourishment.
relaxation has obvious psychological and immunologic effects. The
nourishment may be in the form of self-love, support from friends and
family, hope, energy, or realization.
as we courageously face the subtleties of our unpleasant feelings about
and "unacceptable" reactions to small or large difficulties, we
begin to understand how we hurt and limit ourselves. We can make choices
that bring us closer to our communities; we can become less vicious to
ourselves. We can make things better.
with permission from:
& Health Magazine
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