by Carol E. McMahon, Ph.D.
(Colden, NY USA)
Meditation methods are many and varied. Some are vocal like mantra meditation. Others, like concentration on breathing, are silent. Some methods sit, some move, some are done alone, others in groups. At first glance they seem to have nothing in common, but a closer look shows they do. All methods work in the same way. All share the same ‘active ingredient.’ It is attention.
Attention: Meditation’s Active Ingredient
Attention is common to all forms of meditation. Whether focused on breathing, a mantra, a candle or bodily movement, attention makes meditation work. And how does attention make meditation work? It works by restoring awareness.
Awareness: The Source Of Meditation’s Benefits
Decades of research now document benefits. Meditation has power to heal the stress ravaged mind, body and spirit. These health benefits have their source in awareness.
How does awareness heal? Simply put, awareness makes us sane. Awareness by definition is contact with reality, and contact with reality is sanity itself. Full awareness is profound sanity – the enlightenment of legendary masters. Known in Hindu tradition as “perfect mental balance,” it is “a balance of mind never upset by any event under the canopy of heaven.”
In meditation, as awareness grows, mental balance is restored. Progressively, stress gives way to “a world of peace and ease.” But how can you be sure it will work for you? The answer here may surprise you.
Why Meditation Will Work For You
If you’re like most people, you feel you already have awareness. Most people would swear to being fully aware all the time. This feeling, though compelling, is mistaken. On average, awareness is extremely low.
I developed a series self-tests that measure awareness. These open our eyes to the startling truth. The following “Spot Test” (from Straight Line Meditation) is an example.
Test Your Awareness: The Spot Test
Have you seen spots at the movies? Next time you go to a movie, see if you can notice spots appearing periodically in the corners of the screen. These spots are clearly visible to the aware eye. They are placed there as signals to projectionists to switch reels.
Odds are you’ve never seen them and chances are you won’t see them even knowing they are there. How can you miss what’s right before your eyes? We miss these spots because we’re not fully present; not all there; not aware. Instead we are carried away by our thinking mind. We are lost in the movie.
In life, we’re lost in another movie – one of our own creation. We star in a mental movie that keeps us preoccupied and living in our heads. Rarely do we notice low awareness. We notice it only when we drive past our exit or when someone says: “I just told you that” when we heard nothing. We have as little as five percent of full awareness on average - just enough to get by.
You can be sure meditation will work for you because meditation restores awareness, and awareness is what you (like the rest of us) need. “Pure, pristine awareness” is our essential nature in Tibetan tradition. It is “intelligent, radiant, and always awake.” It is “hidden within our own mind, obscured by the mental scurry of thoughts and emotions.” But just as clouds can be shifted by wind, meditation clears our heads. It reveals “the shining sun and wide open sky – the light of understanding, meaning and freedom.” Awareness liberates, and such liberation is the source of the happiness we seek.
Awareness And Happiness: Why Awareness Is What You Need
Some who meditate report a strange realization. They describe “remembering they are happy.” The insight feels like waking from a troubled dream surprised to find you are safe at home and on vacation. This is how it feels to return to sanity: to become aware. Become aware and your eyes open to beauty, your senses to pleasure, your mind to truth and your heart to love. Become aware and happiness comes free.
Thus there’s a simple way to pursue happiness, simpler by far than we’ve ever known. “Having it all” is not what it takes. Awareness is all you need.
Return to Meditation Articles.