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Answer: They, along with millions of others, practice a formal type of altered mental state known as Meditation.
IN THE BEGINNING...
Early archaeological evidence in central France points to the use of certain wall etchings by nomadic hunter/gatherers. Researchers found that the cave drawings depicting successful hunting scenes had been placed in such a manner that the setting sun during the late summer hunting seasons would illuminate the glyphs. Behaviorists speculate that the depiction, in the absence of artificial lighting, would then be the last thing the hunters could see before "lights out." Scientists theorize that the drawings formulated a sort of imagery stimulation that the primitives used to ensure a successful hunt in the morning light.
Later evidence of the early uses of meditation can be found in reference to the sleep temples of Egypt 45 centuries ago. That's 4500 years. That's a long time. (It's important to note that sleep is not meditation, nor vice versa. Many forms of meditation are practiced with the eyes closed and hence the appearance of sleeping.) The Egyptian sleep temples were used by the ancients to remedy physical, mental and spiritual maladies in all their manifestations.
While 4500 years is a long time, Vedic and Sanskrit texts from the sub-continent of India take the practice of meditation back even further than the sleep temples. Indeed, many Westerners associate meditation with Eastern culture more than any other.
Truth be told, one would be at a loss to find any seminal culture that does not in some way espouse or use a form of altered consciousness that can easily be likened to meditation.
To enter an intellectual and conscious discussion of something that occurs on a subtle and subconscious level (and deeper,) and to do so easily, requires the establishment of a paradigm. In considering the practice of meditation, it is helpful to describe the mind as having two primary levels of thought, though levels is not quite accurate for describing something that can function non linearly. Most of us are familiar with the distinction of conscious and subconscious thought. Often we refer to the primary parts of the mind as the conscious and subconscious. Each part of the mind is associated with the tasks for which we use it.
The conscious mind is seen as that part of the mind that primarily deals with the 3D world around us. It performs tasks such as balancing the checkbook, alphabetizing when we are looking something up in the phone book, effecting conscious, directed movement. The conscious mind also has that capacity to ramble on and on like a geyser of sometimes unconnected and sometimes randomly connected thoughts. Almost like a freight train rolling through the mind with no one at the engine, the conscious mind can sometimes take our thought process down tracks not exactly laid out.
The subconscious mind, on the other hand, carries out tasks that we don't even consider at times. The subconscious dutifully runs our bodily functions such as digestion, respiration, heartbeat, blood pressure and so on. It also acts as the repository of memory. It is widely acknowledged that any event that ever entered our sensorium is stored in memory in our subconscious. (Some even contend that the event need not have entered our sensory apparatus individually, but may also be accessed as a collective thought.)
There is no clear demarcation between conscious and subconscious thought. It is not crystal clear when it is that the act of absent-mindedly scratching one's head becomes a conscious, directed action as we decide to move our hand forward to scratch a particular place!
Becoming aware of the difference between conscious and subconscious thought is a more or less natural process and really need not be given much thought.
In meditation, techniques are used to allow the mind, primarily the conscious mind, to slow down the thought process, to quiet the ordinarily rambling thoughts, to allow a coherence to take place. In this stillness of mind, the body and whole being respond in many measurable ways that have been determined to affect our health and well being. The scientific evidence is extensive and goes back millennia.
Although meditation is a state of mind, its reliance is not on thought. Rather, it relies on the movement away from thought. If there is a goal to the technique of meditation, it could be argued that it is to achieve thoughtlessness.
In one interview about meditation and its relief of stress, Nebraska football coach Tom Osborne has said, "I've noticed...more focus and clarity in my thought processes."
GOOD NEWS / BAD NEWS
Meditation in the broadest of its definitions "works" because of one simple law: the immutable law of Cause and Effect.
In meditation a state of mind is achieved. The processes involved by various forms of meditation may appear different, but they all involve one final moving factor: the creative power of thought. In this final recognition, the order of Cause and Effect is acknowledged and the power of that fact is then evidenced in changes we evoke in the physical realm.
Meditation is just one of the inklings of recognition of the final form of the '90's buzzword, "mind/body connection." Cause and Effect are linked and the direction of causality flows from the mental or implicate universe to the physical or explicate universe. To deny that is to forever remain a victim in a malevolent/benevolent universe. To acknowledge that direction of flow is to accept at once responsibility and the wonderful power of change that goes with it.
Meditation has been known through the centuries in many forms. Prayer, chanting, contemplating a flame or navel, war chants, mantras, hypnosis, song and sound, visualization, body movement or non-movement, hooking up to electronic "bio-feedback" devices, breath control; all of these are just a brief listing of the ways mankind has used ritual to quiet the racket of the conscious, intellectual part of the mind and allow thought to do its perfect work. Many of the above-mentioned forms of meditation have become specialized in ritual but not in the basic understanding that Cause and Effect go in one direction only. Mind to body, never the other way around.
As the saying goes, "Well, the bad news is that it's all in your mind and the good news is ... that it's all in your mind."
LET ME COUNT THE WAYS
Let's get to the good stuff! Before we talk about the different ways that Heartlanders can begin to study meditation and learn how to take advantage of this law of Cause and Effect, let's see exactly what's in it for us! What are some of the benefits of the various forms of meditation that have been documented by some of the most skeptical and meticulous scientific facilities out there?
Hey, start with this: reverse heart disease. The Dr. Dean Ornish Program at Immanuel Hospital uses meditation (along with diet, exercise and lifestyle modification) to do just that. No surgery, no pharmaceuticals or other medical procedures are part of this program specifically designed for heart patients.
Meditation itself, or in specialized formats such as hypnosis, bio-feedback, autogenics and others, is known to relieve stress, lower blood pressure, relieve pain, reverse the effects of devastating diseases, alleviate diabetes, sinus problems, sexual dysfunction, ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, warts, allergies, reduce anxiety, eliminate insomnia and on. Put simply in the quote of Dr. Deepak Chopra in his best seller Quantum Healing, "There is nothing in the mental universe that does not leave tracks in the physical." In other words, everything in our life is affected by what we think, and most especially on the very subtle levels of the subconscious or deeper mind, the part accessed easily by meditational states of various forms.
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Michael Braunstein is Executive Director of Heartland Healing and certified by the American Council of Hypnotist Examiners in clinical hypnotherapy. He graduated from the Los Angeles Hypnotism Training Institute and was an instructor at the UCLA Extension University for 11 years.
Heartland Healing is devoted to the examination of various alternative forms of healing. It is provided as a source of information and not as medical advice. It is not meant as an endorsement of any particular therapy, either by the writer or by Heartland Healing Center, Inc.