Meditation and Mental Health

If you want to live a more fulfilling and satisfying life, it pays to strengthen your mental health. The stronger the pillars of your mind are, the better able you are to live the life you truly want.

A healthy mind takes action, unhindered by fear, confusion or distractions. And it keeps working when things get tough.

Your mind is the product of your entire lifestyle (and, I suppose, the reverse is also true). Looking after it is like looking after your body. You’ll want to live right, eat right and sleep right. Your mind needs social contact, interesting puzzles and physical movement to stay at its best.

Looking after yourself draws on every aspect of your life. So meditation is not the whole answer, though it’s certainly part of it.

Q: How does meditation improve your mental health?

Firstly, nothing I say here should be construed as medical advice. Only a licenced professional who has, you know, spoken to you would be qualified for that.

But, for most people, meditation is great training for your mind’s health. Just like physical exercise keeps your body strong, meditation develops key mental skills. Focusing on the present moment keeps you from dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. Accepting what you experience reduces the sting from any negative emotion.

You don’t lift weights to get good at lifting weights. You do it to become strong in your everyday life. Meditation is the same.

Some quiet time also allows your unconscious mind to work through any issues behind the scenes. When you meditate long enough, you’ll have days where you come out of it feeling great. You won’t know what resolved, but you’ll know something did.

That makes you stronger for whatever happens next.

Q: How much should I meditate each week?

If you’ve never started before, take it slow. Maybe you want 10 minutes a day, three days a week.

You want to build that up. Most people find it better (and easier) when they do 20 minutes every day. That’s what I do, at least.

Then sometimes I will meditate twice in a day or have a longer session (about an hour).

Whether that’s right for you is up to you. I encourage you to try longer sessions, though.

Q: Does meditation help with more serious mental health issues?

It can. There’s a lot of evidence that meditation is great for things like anxiety, stress and trauma – even PTSD. For serious conditions, I recommend seeking guidance – at the minimum, talk to your doctor. You probably want a good meditation coach too.

Meditation generally isn’t recommended for people who hallucinate or have split personalities.

Q: I have something I want to work through but meditation isn’t helping. Any thoughts?


Your Body’s Mechanism for Enhancing Your Health

There’s a principle in medicine that applies to everyone. It doesn’t matter whether you’re healthy or not. It doesn’t matter whether you have a genetic condition, an old injury, a nasty infection… or if you’re in the prime of your life.

This principle underlies modern medicine and alternative medicine (at least, the ones that work). Every doctor and healer by other names knows this to be true.

It’s the cause of more healing than anything else on the planet. It does contradictory things, like boost your immune system or restrain it, to improve your wellbeing.

And when you understand it, you can use to keep yourself safe, healthy and full of energy.

Are you ready to hear what it is?

In scientific terms, your body is amazing.

It is truly, genuinely amazing.

You’re alive in a world full of things that can kill you. Injuries and infections lurk at every corner. And yet here you are.

Genetics have not changed much in the last 100,000 years. You have the same basic structure as your hunter-gatherer ancestors. They had to fight, hunt and forage for every scrap.

There were no tools except what they could make. There were no medicines except what they could gather.

In this world, they survived for decades. They laughed, wept, found love, raised families. Many of them lived full, rich lives in a world with rival tribes, terrible predators and diseases that could infect a simple scratch.

Their bodies – your body – kept them alive and well, against the odds.

Your body is amazing.

This is the principle: no medicine of any kind heals you. All it does is restore balance and remove obstacles enough for the body to heal itself.

Modern medicine knows this. The body does all the work – all doctors need to do is interfere occasionally to set it on the right track. There’s nothing in a hospital that tells cells to repair a cut. Nothing, that is, except the patients.

Your body constantly heals itself. Every day, you wear yourself down. Every day, you build yourself back up. This balance can keep you alive and vibrant for decades.

But there’s only so much energy to go around.

If you perceive a threat, you need to act now – maintenance can wait. If you put the wrong foods into your body, there’s less of what the repair mechanisms need. Without sleep, rest and downtime, the balance tips away from health’s favour.

Meditation gives your body time to do what it needs to.

It calms the system, freeing resources to go where they’re needed.

Your mind strengthens, steering you towards better habits.

And it brings your awareness to what your body says it needs.

This is how meditation helps you stay healthy. It does little directly to fight off infections or repair damage. Indirectly, though, it liberates your precious resources from being squandered on the wrong things.

Your body and mind are a team. Teamwork best when both parties show up.

Self-hypnosis has the same result. By putting you in a relaxed trance and resolving unconscious issues, it gives you what you need to be your best.


Meditation Is a Terrible Way to Relax

The way most people come across meditation is they’re looking for a way to relax. The problem is that it’s not a relaxation technique. If you begin by expecting nothing but calm and comfort, you’re in for a shock.

Is it relaxing?

Sure, usually.

Will it reduce your tendency to get stressed in the first place?

Definitely.

But so will reading, jogging, exercising, feeling gratitude…

Meditation works on deep levels of your mind. It expands your consciousness by bringing suppressed thoughts into your awareness. Unlike what Freudians will tell you, not everything that’s suppressed is a bad thing. Expanding your consciousness gives you greater control over your thinking.

Relaxation is a side effect.

So if your main reason to meditate is to feel calmer, you’d better be prepared for the rest of it.

Now, I will say that not everyone will experience this. Some people meditate for years and only feel a light, pleasant relaxation. If that’s all they want, then good for them.

But most meditators reach the stage where they break through to something new. It’s like opening a door in your house that you never noticed and finding a ballroom on the other side.

This is wonderful. The only word that comes close, for me, is transcendence. A wave of new thoughts, memories, experiences and perspectives floods your mind.

It is sublime. This epiphany enriches every corner of your mind.

This is why I started meditating in the first place. I kept running into barriers in my life. A major one in my teenage years was that I was irritable, even angry.

Every day, some trivial experience would get under my skin and make me lash out. (Verbally.)

I didn’t like who I was, so I turned to meditation.

Thank goodness I did, because it expanded what I was capable of. In every moment, I had choice. Yes, I could get angry. Or I could feel happy or calm. The options were mine.

This is transcendence – realising that there’s an easy way around the problems in your mind.

Most of your problems disappear when you stop doing X and start doing Y. That’s easier to say then do… until you expand what your consciousness is capable of.

But if you’re meditating to relax and suddenly your mind blooms…

Well, it freaks some people out. Not because it’s bad but because it’s intense and unexpected.

They just wanted to chill out – they never signed on for becoming enlightened.

If this happens to you, you have two options:

Stop meditating. If you want to relax, take up knitting or something.

Or keep meditating. Take care and take it slow as you integrate these new avenues into your mind.

One feels good. The other is like gaining superpowers.

This is why some people prefer self-hypnosis. The sudden leaps in your thoughts are just as intense but a lot more manageable. This is because your brain will work with you to present easy, understandable metaphors.

Misinterpreting Reality As a Mental Shortcut

Our brains operate on strange (and strangely sensible) rules, especially at an unconscious level. These rules make sense when you sit down and think about them.

Then, when you think about them more, you realise that there are huge leaps of logic.

One of these rules is the Law of Association. It’s a principle that your unconscious follows to efficiently add meaning to raw sensory input.

It’s kept you and your ancestors safe, happy and alive.

And it works thanks to fallacies and hallucinations.

When the hallucinations stop being useful, it can be hard to escape the pattern. That’s when practices like hypnosis and meditation help.

The Law of Association goes something like this:

A hunter-gatherer is out on a hunt. They see a tiger stalk and kill an antelope or something.

Impressive, they think.

They just learned that this animal is a mighty predator. Useful information.

Then they cross into a tiger’s hunting grounds. It ambushes them. They fight it off, thanks to luck, weapons and the advantage of numbers.

Terrifying, they think.

And rightly so. The tiger is capable of harming them. They should fear and admire it, just as they fear and admire all the greatest hunters.

But that’s not what the brain does. It wants to prevent injury but it doesn’t follow that chain of logic. It doesn’t think: “that’s a tiger, tigers have attacked humans in the past, it might injure me, and so I should fear it.”

Your brain skips from “tiger” straight to “fear.”

It associates the two concepts together.

Later, the hunter-gatherers learn that tigers like specific types of grass to hide it. Their brains associate that grass to tigers to fear.

Before long, they go straight from “grass” to “fear.”

The fallacies are that the grass itself is safe. Not all grass hides tigers. Not all tigers are dangerous. And not all danger is scary.

The brain ignores all of that. It takes time to properly process the chain of associations. And you might make a mistake somewhere in that chain.

So the Law of Association compresses everything down. If a certain song reminds you of someone you love, hearing it is the same as seeing them.

If you love your job, entering your office is the same as doing the work.

When things correlate, your unconscious reasons, there must be an underlying cause.

Is that always true?

No.

But it generally pays to assume that it is.

So much of your reasoning about the world is hidden from you. Take the time to explore your logic – especially when it doesn’t serve you.

A lot of what we call ‘personal growth’ is unravelling these associations and forging new ones. If you associate money with helping people, you’ll earn more than someone who thinks of greed.

6 Health Benefits of Meditation

For hundreds of years, meditation has been used around the world as an effective way to deal with a lot of psychological issues and achieve relaxation. During the olden times, the Himalayan monks used meditation and discovered loads of benefits that it offers. Nowadays, more and more people are turning to this technique for spiritual purposes. Let’s take a look at some major benefits offered by this spiritual approach.

1. Management of Anxiety and Depression

According to many studies, meditation can help you deal with many issues, such as depression and anxiety. In a study involving more than 3500 participants, the researchers concluded that the technique was helpful in improving the symptoms of depression and anxiety.

2. Strengthened Immunity

Another study proved that breast cancer could be avoided if muscle relaxation exercises are done on a regular basis. One study done on patients over the age of 50 showed that these techniques can help trigger the lymphocytes that can make your immune system stronger. As a result, the body becomes stronger against tumors and viruses.

3. Management of Blood Pressure

If you practice meditation, you can reduce your likelihood of suffering from high blood pressure. A report released by the British Medical Journal showed that patients that mediated on a regular basis had normal blood pressure levels. The experts believe that this practice can make your body less responsive to many stress hormones including cortisol.

4. Achievement of Emotional Wellness

If you went through a tortured past, you may not be in a healthy emotional state. Fortunately, meditating on a regular basis can help you achieve your emotional balance. As a matter of fact, your health and emotional balance are linked with each other. If you are not in good emotional health, you won’t be able to do your best whether it’s your routine house work or office work.

5. Relief from IBS

IBS is short for the Irritable Bowel Syndrome. This disorder is one of the most common bowel disorders. Patients who have IBS show many symptoms, such as weird bowel behavior, cramps, abdominal pain and bloating, just to name a few.

It’s interesting to note that around 15% of men and women around the world have this disorder. In the United States alone, there are around 45 million people who live with this health disorder.

With routine relaxation techniques, It’s possible to reduce the symptom of IBS and lead a peaceful life.

6. Happiness and Overall Wellbeing

Maria Camara PhD, a psychotherapist, says that meditation can help you get in touch with your actual inner qualities. You can reach your true potential if you accept who you really are. Plus, this practice can help you work with your thoughts. So, we can say that mindfulness is associated with happiness and peace of mind. Without peace of mind, you can’t achieve anything in life. In fact, if you don’t have peace in your life, you can’t maintain your good health either.

In short, if you want to enjoy all these benefits, we suggest that you start your meditation practice from today. There are many techniques that you can give a go to in the beginning.

How Evolution Shaped Our Mental Power

Our inheritance as hunter-gatherers is something we carry with us.

Your DNA is their DNA. The world we live in is far removed from our prehistory, but genetics hasn’t caught up.

It’s funny to think that we built a civilisation that we’re not optimised for. Our bodies assume that we’ll walk most of the day, hunt and maybe know a few hundred people.

Then again, civilisation has its benefits. Most people would call it a fair trade.

This distance between who we are and what our bodies evolved to do is worth keeping in mind. It explains some of the more powerful ways to shape your unconscious mind.

For example, we have excellent memories for locations. Yes, even if you’re the sort of person who gets lost easily. You can easily imagine the floorplan of your home, office and favourite restaurant.

And you might not remember the address of your childhood home, but I bet you could mentally walk through its halls right now.

Before GPS, before cars, even before farming, humans had to navigate using what they knew. They had to know which tribes lived where, how far it takes to reach the lake and where the best vegetables grow.

You have an instinct for locations that is more powerful than you might appreciate.

And your unconscious mind doesn’t just store this as raw geographical data. Maybe one shore of the lake represents relief, comfort and safety. The other shore belongs to enemies, so anger comes to mind when you think of it.

There’s the grassland where you triumphed over a large deer – your first hunt – that fills you with a sense of power.

A tall, rocky hill that lets you see for kilometres in every direction. It’s a great place for scouting and for thinking about the future.

Nothing in your mind exists in isolation. Something as fundamental as landscapes attract many associations. One place becomes a symbol for so many things.

This is how your mind works. The more you pay attention to something, the more ideas, concepts and memories link to it.

Your mind always tracks where you are and where you’ve been.

Even when you don’t think about it.

Even when you’re lost.

And even when you’re asleep.

This feature keeps you grounded in a complex world. Once you know this, you can use it. However you access your unconscious, use landscapes that mean something to you.

If your question is how to do that…

Well, I cover that in my self-hypnosis guide. It’s easy to create places in your mind full of whatever you want more of.

Whether it’s happiness, confidence, relaxation or recovery…

The Harry Potter School of Meditation

There’s a style of meditation that could have come right from the pages of fantasy.

It’s the closest thing we Muggles have to magic.

And, in the world beyond Diagon Alley, it’s the fuel for the most powerful magic there is.

It keeps people safe from things that should harm them. It even blocks unblockable spells – the ultimate power.

I am, of course, talking about love.

But not just any love. After all, that’s an emotion felt across the human species. If all a wizard needed was to feel something, everyone could use it.

Yet in the books, love-based magic is ancient and mysterious.

Intriguing, isn’t it?

And what does this have to do with meditation?

There’s a style of meditation called metta, also known as loving-kindness meditation. As the name suggests, you reflect on love. Not greedy love or possessive love, but kind love.

It’s a wholesome and pure emotion.

Most people feel this at times. There are those in your life who invoke something deeper than infatuation or admiration. We call these people our soulmates or brother/sister. And, because we know the words can’t convey it, we inject so much energy into the label.

There are “brothers” and then there are brothers.

You can practice this state of mind. Like any other thought, it gets stronger with time and attention.

It’s easy to start with the people who inspire you to feel this way about them.

Then you move onto people who know but don’t think about much. When you practice loving-kindness towards them, it frees you from the barriers you erect towards other people.

Once you can do that, you practice with strangers. Think of unknown people in distant lands who you’ll never meet. When you experience loving-kindness for a person who’s as much an idea as reality, it opens you up even more.

Then, the final stage. Feeling love and kindness to your enemies. Genuinely wishing people well, even those who have done you wrong.

Now, some people get offended by this idea. There are people who have done horrible, unforgivable things. They think that to wish love and kindness on them downplays every wrong thing they did.

Except, I assure you, it doesn’t.

This isn’t about saying that what they did was okay. It isn’t about welcoming cruel and evil people back into your life.

You forgive them for you, not for them. If they are the sort of people who would exploit that, then you can never let them know. Wish them love and kindness in the privacy of your thoughts.

This makes you strong.

Impossibly strong.

Because when you can forgive someone even as you cut them from your life, it releases their power over you.

It makes you impervious to the little things that other people can do. Would you even notice a moment of rudeness from a stranger if you’re capable of this much compassion?

A weak person curses their enemies. A strong person never wastes a thought or emotion on them ever again.

Easier said than done?

Becoming this strong always is.

That’s why Awakened Thought subscribers have access to a guided metta meditation. All it takes is disciplined listening.

I won’t lie – this exercise takes work. You could easily spend months on this, even with someone guiding you. You’ll have setbacks and frustrations.

If You Can’t Quiet Your Mind, Louden It

I hear so, so many people say they “can’t” meditate. And it’s usually for similar reasons.

They say they can’t concentrate or quiet their thinking. They think they can’t sit still long enough.

If you’ve ever said or thought anything like this, I politely invite you to snap out of it.

First of all, I’ve never played golf before. If I picked up a club tomorrow and went madly swinging across a course, I’d be terrible.

If I wanted to boost my skills and lower my scores, what would I need to do? Practice, of course. Intelligent practice, probably with some coaching, over months or years.

Meditation is the same way, only with an extra wrinkle. If I’ve never played golf, I have the advantage of starting from nothing. You’ve been thinking your entire life, though. You have to unlearn more than you need to learn.

You might need more time and more intelligent practice before you see results.

Which brings me to my second point:

Who says you need to quiet your mind?

Meditation involves focusing on a single thing in the here and now. Often that means you need to quiet your mind.

Or you can make your thoughts louder and focus on those.

In fact, you could think a single thought. You could make it so loud that it drowns out everything else. There’s no room for effort or distractions.

Why not? Once you understand the principles of meditation, this solution becomes obvious.

But if you are going to think a single thought, you should probably make it a good one.

This is where a mantra becomes useful.

A mantra is a word or phrase that is more than just a word or phrase. It captures everything you are and wish you could be. It speaks to your ideal self and tempts them into being.

Your mantra can begin with “I am… ” or “I will be… “

And it should tell anyone you choose to share it with everything about you.

What is it you truly desire? Who is it that you really are? What are you becoming?

Take some time to get your mantra right. This single thought will occupy your attention, so it pays to craft it well. That said, it doesn’t need to be perfect to begin. Find something that resonates with you and keep exploring.

You have outgrown many things – clothes, toys, hobbies. You can outgrow mantras, too. But only if you begin.

There are certain phrases that I repeat across my guided meditations.

Some of these I choose consciously. Others emerge on their own.

The Most Ancient Meditation Practice on Earth

Buddhism is about 2,500 years old. It’s an oppressive amount of time. A hundred generations (give or take) have lived, shaped the world and died during that span. No empires and few cities have survived since then.

Looking back in time a fifth of the way there brings you to Leonardo da Vinci’s day. Going back halfway puts you in Charlemagne’s Holy Roman Empire.

It is an old style of meditation.

But it’s not the oldest.

There’s a school of meditation that’s still alive today. It stretches back much, much further.

Forget 2,500 years – we’re talking tens of thousands of years. It might be as old as the culture that created it, which goes back 40,000 years.

If not more.

It comes from the people native to the Daly River region in the Northern Territory of Australia. They call this practice dadirri and it is breathtaking.

The Aboriginal people describe it as having a silent awareness. Meditators sit for hours among nature, listening to the wind and water.

You might think this sounds like mindfulness. It is mindfulness, with a twist.

Buddhism teaches you to be present with the experience. Whatever your senses detect is for you to process with your full attention. No distractions, no judgements, until you lose yourself in your awareness of now.

Dadirri teaches you to listen to nature. Experience the senses – again, without distraction or judgement – with silence and full appreciation.

It’s a subtle distinction, but an important one. Listening in this way is active and interactive. You don’t just observe nature. Instead, you learn everything you can from her.

Meditation improves your problem-solving abilities, even more than simply thinking about the challenge. Why? Because meditation opens your mind to new patterns of thought. If the solution doesn’t lie in your conscious mind, then it must lie in your unconscious.

I haven’t seen any studies on this, but my guess would be that dadirri beats regular mindfulness.

When your mind is open and you pay attention, you realise that nature can teach you a lot about your solution. The wind, rain, rivers and earth hold your answers.

Do I mean that literally? Or am I speaking metaphorically and that spending time in nature inspires you?

It doesn’t matter. Just know that if this idea sounds like fuzzy hippy nonsense, then you need to go deeper in your meditation trances. Your brain won’t speak to you in words but in metaphors. If you need determination like a river, flexibility like the wind, intensity like the sun or stability like the earth, then that’s how it’ll speak to you.

And if you don’t get an answer, all you’ll have done is reconnected to nature deeper than you have in your life. That alone makes it worth learning.

Forms of meditation and hypnosis appear across time and space. The human race keeps rediscovering ways to explore the mysterious landscapes inside of us.

It allows the elders to heal without medicine, do therapy without psychology and lead without a business plan.

If You Enjoy Freedom, Then Meditate

What role does meditation play in Buddhism?

That might seem like a strange question. It plays an important role, certainly. It’s one of the key pillars of the faith.

But what, exactly, does it do?

In Christianity, the purpose of prayer is to connect you with God. Some see it as literally talking to Him, while others see it as opening yourself up to receive what He has to offer.

There are elements of this in Buddhism, sure.

It’s also completely different.

Meditation is nothing short than the pursuit of freedom. I’m writing this a couple of days before the United States celebrates the 4th of July, so maybe freedom is on my mind. I stand by it, though. The practice offers nothing short of total liberation.

Freedom and liberation from what, though?

The world holds many temptations, lures and distractions. These aren’t all bad things. For an altruist, helping people in need is deeply rewarding.

Virtue is a vice when it’s something you can’t ignore.

Then there are the real distractions – what most people think of as vices. People chase these things, even if getting them won’t help them.

Think of someone desperate for a promotion so they can move from a suburban box to a larger suburban box. This goal might consume years of hard work and frustration. As soon as they get it, they feel unsatisfied. They start looking for the next bigger box to acquire.

Ambition and commerce have their place. Things go awry when people believe that they’ll be happy once they reach the next milestone.

They work for years to build themselves a prison.

Maybe you don’t own a house. That doesn’t make you free if your prison is made of other pursuits.

For some, they must keep up with the latest fashions.

Others buy gadgets they don’t want or need.

Still others drudge for 11.5 months of the year to afford a brief holiday.

If these are what give life meaning, they’ll always feel less than fulfilled.

There’s always something new to chase. So what would happen if they stopped chasing? What if, for a moment, they ripped their eyes away from the distant horizon and looked around them?

The moment they find themselves in the moment, they begin to feel free. This might be for the first time in their lives.

What happens next is up to them. Maybe they’ll still pursue the promotion, only this time they do it with both eyes open. They don’t defer satisfaction to some future event outside their control. They seize their attention and bring it to the present.

In a world where everyone looks forward or back, being present is true freedom.

When you train your mind, things change for you. Some of those are easy to explain, like having more emotional control, energy and creativity.

Others are harder to explain.

It all adds up to one great big ball of freedom, though. Your own thoughts can be the most insidious prison. They can also free you when everything else is restrained.