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Susan Smalley, Ph.D.

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There's a Different Way to 'Meditate' For Everyone

Posted: 05/12/10 11:24 AM ET

The other night a husband and wife were asking me about meditation; the wife was a mediator and the husband was not. She clearly reaped great benefit from it and must have trying to get her husband to do it, but to no avail. I told the husband that I've been working to bring meditation to UCLA, in the medical school where our center is located (www.marc.ucla.edu), with a goal to teach meditation practices in a secular way, particularly in light of emerging research supporting its benefits on health and well-being.

I also noted that meditation is really a means of investigating the mind, something perhaps we can all benefit from in this very "outward" oriented culture. I could see that he was interested (despite his wife's facial expression of 'I told you so'). But he acknowledged that he has been very 'turned off' by anything that seemed "New Age."

It occurred to me how much I cringe at the idea of sounding "New Age" or of people, books, and programs that seem "New Age." I noticed how hard we work not to be seen as "New Age" in any way. But it's clear that these ancient practices of meditation, yoga, tai chi are emerging at a new time or a new age from their origins so that the term is, in a way, kind of accurate. But I know what I dislike about the "New Age" stereotype -- it's not the practice or exercises that are being taught -- but how they are being described.

A more New Age teacher might reference "spirit," "divine" or other metaphysical term while a more secular-oriented teacher would not. (The same practices taught in a religious setting would likely differ in description as well). Our Center classes provide tools for meditation using a framework of inward exploration, with experimentation and discovery the guiding framework necessary for practice.

Many people tells us that through practice they experience a sense of connection to something larger than themselves but prefer terms like "humanity," "evolution," the "universe at large" or "nature" to describe it. Others with a religious slant often describe that their connection to God is deepened through practice. Others note that they are happier, more content, and kinder to themselves, others, and the planet without reference to any other constructs.

I remember in our first classes at UCLA overhearing someone in attendance say, "I always wanted to learn to meditate and now that UCLA says it's okay I'm going to do it." That made me pause and think how the setting within which we learn something can be deterring or supportive, but it certainly it plays an important role.

The husband I met was seeking a tool or means of inward reflection but steered away from meditation because of its New Age clothing. As science dresses it anew, (described in secular terms with research around it) perhaps he can try it on again for size. There is some technique for everyone - whether that is walking in nature, sitting in a lotus position, meditation to music, or practicing calligraphy (among many, many others). There are clearly many ways to explore the mind.

(For free guided meditations go to www.marc.ucla.edu and click on mindfulness meditations).

 

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