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Viewpoint: Meditation can keep you on track

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Posted on: April 11, 2024

By DR. DONNA CHACKO

Stress, anxiety, depression, suicide, addiction and violence are too common in our world. Sadly, many of us have first-hand experience with some of these. Suffering like this can make us feel distraught and helpless.

I learned from my decades practicing medicine that some problems are bigger than we are, and too often there is not a simple solution. What we can control, though, is how we let the woes of the world affect us personally. Meditation is one way to keep ourselves on track in a world that sometimes seems off the rails.

Meditation is the general name that describes an intentional, usually silent, practice that is done in different ways and for various reasons. Buddhist and Hindu meditation practices have deep roots in philosophy, spirituality and religion and seek things like balance, clarity, happiness, calmness or detachment. Transcendental meditation, or TM, is described as a journey to inner peace, clarity and wellness. Christian contemplative prayer, like all of these practices, involves intentional silence, but its intention is closeness, and even oneness, with God. Nature meditation is loosely described as simply resting in silence while outside in nature, savoring the peace and healing it offers. Other types of meditation include guided, loving kindness, breathing and movement.

Each of us can take a valuable first step to healing ourselves and our world by introducing silence into our days. The 17th century mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal presciently said, “All men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.” Science has confirmed that spending time in silence improves mental and physical health.

My husband values sitting silently in the yard for an hour or more, at peace just watching the birds, squirrels and clouds. Others, like me, need a structure or method for beginning a practice of silence. Meditation offers this.

 I learned of Centering Prayer, a Christian contemplative prayer practice, when studying the science of meditation. The mental and physical health benefits from meditation are extraordinary. Research done on long-term meditators demonstrates reduced stress response, less reactivity to pain, faster recovery from stress, and enhanced ability to process emotions and live in peace. The amygdala, the part of the brain that processes emotions, is less active. Inflammation and blood pressure are lower. 

These health benefits motivate many people to meditate. My personal reason for starting Centering Prayer was to open myself to the healing presence of God. The benefits I’ve experienced are a bonus. I gradually started to feel more calm, less stressed by traffic and less reactive to others. I thought I was becoming a better listener, which family members confirmed. My meditation practice has brought me great joy, satisfaction and peace as I’ve surrendered my time in this way to God. It’s helped me realize how much time I’ve spent in my head worrying about the past and trying to plan the future. The practice is helping me let go of these thoughts so I can stay in the present moment.

What type of silence or meditative practice beckons you? You may want to learn more before you begin. 

I suspect you’re thinking you don’t have any time to be silent or start a meditation practice. You are fretting about the things you will not get done if you devote time to meditation, like completing your to-do list or sleeping more. But if we are honest, we all know we fritter away many minutes during our day. The hardest part about a meditation practice is making the decision to do it. I’m convinced doing so will bring you many rewards and help you engage with our messy world in a mindful and healing way.

 Can you set your alarm 15 minutes earlier? Or pause in your car or office for a few minutes of quiet time before starting your day? Or meditate while you walk?  Dedicate a specific time every day for precious silence, even if it’s only 10 minutes. You spend way more time than that scrolling on your phone, watching TV or playing computer games. Borrow just a little of that time for yourself.

 It could be the most important thing you do all day.

University Park resident Donna Chacko is a retired radiation oncologist and family doctor. A blogger and author, Chacko participates in Centering Prayer groups on Wednesday morning at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in College Park and Monday evening at St. Mark’s Catholic Church in Hyattsville. Contact Chacko at se*****************@gm***.com.

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