Those who think about their personal spirituality often believe that a specific belief system that is metaphysical must also be brought along with it. Of course while spiritual beliefs based in the metaphysical are one of the most ancient forms of spirituality, is there a way for purely agnostic or atheistic individuals to meditate? Or is it purely something to be enjoyed by those willing to accept spiritual practices on faith alone?
When taking an introverted look at the spiritual practice of meditation, one must examine the meaning of the word spiritual first. Even discovering the definition of this question in a quiet relaxing atmosphere can lend itself to a sort of meditation. Many schools of thought on the subject of meditation suggest that it is not merely a transferring of the consciousness to another realm, but entering a specific state of mind as well. Many atheists practice meditation and yoga with the express intention of quieting their mind and achieving a state of spiritual unity with themselves that does not require any specific external belief system.
In 2005, CNN interviewed a scientist with Harvard Medical School who suggested that meditation over time would actually boost mental activity and stimulate improved cognitive ability. The cerebral cortex is one of the most important centers of the brain, and is often attributed as being the source of abstract cognitive processing (governing skills such as mathematics and logical deduction) and when Harvard performed a study on individuals who meditated, they found a very strong correlation in the specific size of the cerebral cortex and the length of time an individual had been meditating. In other words, meditation directly has been shown in both spiritual and scientific circles to improve a patient’s ability to think and process information. But is it required that an individual meditate several hours a day? Several studies have shown that a single period of meditation either daily or several times a week can improve cognitive ability with a session as short as 20 minutes.
Personal meditative instructors have found combining this meditation with philosophical or religious intention to be stimulating, but this should not scare away those who don’t embrace external spiritual structures. If it’s good for you, then the results can be appreciated in the physical world as well. How does the average individual decide if meditation is right for them? The list of benefits is far too extensive to list in any one report, but studies have shown that meditation decreases respiratory rate, slows rapid heart beats from stress, improves stress management, improves the immune system, increases healing, and has been shown to give test subjects a better idea of the “self.” The self in this terminology is defined as the actual person as they would exist in a vacuum without having labels attached to them.
So is meditation a strictly metaphysical form of spirituality or can it be secular as well? Ask yourself this question and sit in a quiet room comfortably while focusing on your breathing and the answer may come to you. And you just might improve your health a bit while doing it.