meditation for MEN. (actually, for EVERYONE)
Why should men meditate?
I don’t think it’s necessarily about the need or should to meditate.... rather, everyone ought to. However, specifically with men, there are a great many benefits that can be had by picking up a regular practice (and I say regular because a few times just won’t do). Us men, well, needless to say when we’re right we’re right; when we’re wrong, err, we’re still right. - So says our Ego. Men typically have a competitive nature and it’s a blow to our self-esteem and ego when we seem to be wrong, OR when a situation may threaten our sense of place and security. Through regular meditation practice we begin to cultivate what is called dispassionate non-attachment.... or better but: a neutral, unemotional space between our consciousness awareness (the observer) and what is being perceived. This space allows us to assess what is being observed, be it our thoughts, feelings/ emotions, physical sensations or environment, without getting overly influenced by our immediate emotional reaction.
There are many instances, or situations is life that put is at risk of being overly reactive. (If you immediately rejected that statement, wasn’t that a reaction?) Our bodies have evolved with two sides of an automatic nervous system (anatomic/ autonomic nervous system) that does all of the complex things in our bodies. Which is great, because who wants to constantly be telling the body how to synthesize amino acids, regulate hormones, and contract 60+ heart beats a minute? So one side, the parasympathetic, allows us to do the normal things that keep the body healthy and running as optimal as possible. The other side, the sympathetic, keeps us safe from danger by putting us into a “fight or flight” response by shutting down that first side and rerouting our energies into getting us away from the threat.
Now, here’s the kicker, modern man is relatively young compared to our evolutionary history, with our desk jobs and complex social networks (Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter etc) holding only a fraction of our genetic history. So, when we are at work or chatting with friends, online or off, we step into situations that become highly stressful (not finishing a report on time, becoming the butt of an online joke etc) where we perceive dangers or attacks to our sense of self or the integrity of our being, our identity. Of course, these situations will not kill you but the nervous system doesn’t know the difference and, with this type of work and social stress happening daily, we find ourselves in a perpetual state of “fight or flight” that is taxing on the body, mind and soul.
Practicing a meditation technique to the point where the mind is calm, we can then practice contemplative meditation. This is that place, mentioned before, where space is created between the outside world, the things we identify with (our jobs, social status, situations, emotions, thoughts, physical sensations) and the internal conscious awareness. Over time, with regular practice, we begin to distinguish between the two, the internal and external, and our naturally confident, happy selves begin to emerge.
What benefits might one see at work?
What sports, or fitness, benefits?
How to start:
Now, it should be mentioned, however, that meditation is not the technique. Meditation is sustained concentration on a chosen object, where we are almost 100% focused (in the zone, the groove) and all other thoughts fade away. Concentration is sustained attention. We cultivate our attention and concentration skills by practicing a technique.
There are various online resources to get familiar with a few techniques; the oldest one is simply watching the breath, taking an even inhale to exhale (ex: 5 count in, 5 count out), or simply feeling the sensations on the tip of the nose. A special note for beginners: Don’t get discouraged, the mind will wander, just bring it back to the technique... remember, you are practicing sustaining attention (concentration) on a task which leads to meditation. Also, start small, 5-10 minutes a day/daily then increase to 20 minutes a day. Mornings are best (and if you can, early evening to help settle the stresses of the day).
Taking it further:
For those that would like to dive deeper and learn formally I recommend attending a meditation retreat. Nowadays there are a lot of people claiming to know meditation. Those that really know, or have experience, will be able to tell you the history of the particular technique or school of meditative thought. On that note, I recommend a 10-day Vipassana meditation course (https://www.dhamma.org/) because, with donation-based centers internationally, I have personally attended and experienced the benefits of this tradition. Another tradition, more spiritually focused, that I participate with is the Kriya Yoga tradition, popularized by the Indian Swami Paramahansa Yogananda, and currently being taught by disciple Roy Eugene Davis at the Center for Spiritual Awareness in Georgia, USA (www.csa-davis.org).