The Looking Glass

The Looking Glass

The Department of Psychology

(A New Look at an Old Art)

Rick Rodriguez

In the past, when someone told you he/she meditates, you may have thought that the person was either a Buddhist, or that he/she is reliving the 60's, when the Maharishi was a Beatles fan. Today, however, people are more willing to accept cultural remnants from previous generations. Disco and bell-bottoms are back, and you will find that meditation has also made a reappearance. Though you may not read about it in Vogue or see it on MTV, you might be exposed to the subject at many college campuses, where students learn the art of meditation. I recently spoke to Dr. Bert Somers, a semi-retired Psychology professor, who shared some very interesting facts about meditation and how it benefits students today.

As a discipline, meditation has been practiced for over two-thousand years. It is not limited to the monasteries and retreats in Nepal. Instead it is widespread and it can have positive effects over long periods of use. Meditation is the art of focusing your attention on one thing at a time, and keeping it there. Of course, there are the inevitable distractions, but that comes with being human. Our minds are always bouncing thoughts back and forth, so it is impossible to block out every distraction. But to realize that you are distracted and to be able to return to your original focus, is the true measure of meditation. This is referred to as mindfulness, the first stage of meditation. This not only strengthens your ability to concentrate, but gives you the awareness that distractions exist, and therefore, the opportunity to do something about them.

The second stage of meditation is equanimity. This state allows you to view all things in neutral, as in not placing one thing above another, by keeping emotions, sensations, and thoughts at an equal level. When you reach this state, you can ease the effects of traumas and your inner dramas (control your demons instead of them controlling you). You will gain a sense of peace. An equation for meditation might be: mindfulness plus equanimity equals purification and insight.

The moment you witness the personal drama and turmoil you have created, you can, with the help of equanimity, decrease your pain and suffering. You can mend a broken heart more rapidly, ease the burden of tragedy, and reduce stress with meditation. This is a good way to calm an overworked mind. It helps you slow down, and take things at a safer pace. And, most of all, it helps you focus your attention on one thing. You will be less likely to wander off during a lecture or while reading a book. You can listen more intently to speakers and you can even study in noisy surroundings when you have mastered the ability of concentration through meditation.

Try this at home: Find a sturdy chair that you wouldn't fall asleep in. Sit down and begin by closing your eyes and taking three deep breaths. After the third exhale, begin to breathe normally. Keep your attention on the tip of your nose as you breath in and out. If you find yourself getting distracted, simply return your attention back to the tip of your nose and your breathing. If you have difficulty remaining focused, think "in" when you inhale, and "out" when you exhale. Concentrate on this for five to seven minutes. Take three more deep breaths and open your eyes. You will feel refreshed and relaxed. Practice every day, increasing the amount of time until you reach twenty minutes. From then on keep your time per session at a minimum of twenty minutes. You may not see any results for at least two weeks, but don't despair. Meditation is an art that requires patience. The rewards of persistence will, ultimately, outweigh your efforts. You will find the effects comparable to those of drugs or therapy, yet, you will be happy to know that meditation is both safe and free.

This year will be Dr. Somers last year for teaching his "Altered States of Consciousness" class. He has been teaching it for over twenty years here at Cal. State LA. Dr. Somers studied meditation for over fifteen years with Shinzen Young, Thich Nhat Hahn, Christopher Titmuss, Jack Kornfield, James Baraz, Carol Wilson, and other contemporary meditation experts. He conducts a meditation group, for beginning and advanced students, on Tuesdays at noon in King Hall D3084.


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