Meditation allows you to contemplate the ultimate purpose for your life—and what can be your incredible future.
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“Why can’t I think straight anymore?” While many have wondered this for a while, it was technology writer Nicholas Carr who brought the question into the public forum with his article “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”
The premise of the 2008 piece, which appeared in The Atlantic, was that the Internet may be “rewiring” users’ minds, making it difficult to focus for long periods of time, particularly when reading.
Mr. Carr’s hypothesis was quickly met with a wide range of responses: everything from hearty agreement to bitter dispute. But the idea that technology has affected the way society thinks has grown in acceptance over the last three years.
When the article first came out, then-Google CEO Eric Schmidt dismissed Mr. Carr’s idea, stating that people often voice similar worries after nearly every major technological development. Instead, he stated that “we’re smarter than ever.”
Almost a year later, Mr. Schmidt seemed to have changed his tone during a PBS talk show: “I worry that the level of interrupt, the sort of overwhelming rapidity of information—and especially of stressful information—is in fact affecting cognition. It is in fact affecting deeper thinking.” Similarly, he stated in an Agence France Presse article in 2010, “As the world looks to these instantaneous devices…you spend less time reading all forms of literature, books, magazines and so forth. That probably has an effect on cognition, probably has an effect on reading.”
But the effects do not end with thinking and reading. From the instant a person wakes up, he is catapulted into a “go-go-go” lifestyle, with little down time—there are schedules to keep, meetings to attend, emails to reply to, and cellphones to answer. A barrage of instant messages and text messages are also often thrown into the mix. Most of this occurs while constantly connected to the Internet, which allows access to many millions of websites, which themselves are continuously updated.
At work, the rat race can cause you to underperform. A number of studies throughout the United States have found that employees are interrupted about every three minutes. Yet it takes the brain about eight minutes to fully focus on one task to allow maximum creative input. Regardless, workers are expected to be high-alert multi-taskers at all times.
Edward M. Hallowell, an expert on the condition known as attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), notes that it is common for business executives to suspect they suffer from ADHD, when what they really suffer from is a type of “brain overload.” He explained in the Harvard Business Review that “studies have shown that as the human brain is asked to process dizzying amounts of data, its ability to solve problems flexibly and creatively declines and the number of mistakes increases.”
Welcome to life in the 21st century—with its “overwhelming rapidity of information” and “dizzying amounts of data.” For all of its positive benefits, the information age has left many feeling unproductive, “fuzzy” and scatter-brained.
All the while, many have a nagging feeling something is missing—a notion they are rushing headlong through life, with little say in how it progresses. Amid the busyness, days, weeks and months can breeze past without a person even so much as reflecting about how he is spending the 75-or-so years given to him.
So, what is the missing component in our lives? What is lacking in our hectic lifestyles?
Time to meditate.
For some, the word meditation conjures images of someone sitting cross-legged on the floor, arms folded, repeatedly chanting “Ommm.” Many have the idea that meditation is only practiced in eastern religions. Others believe that the purpose of meditation is to go into a trance to receive visions, achieve a “higher plateau,” or experience an “awakening of the inner self.” Still others feel it is idle daydreaming.
The definition for meditate from the American Dictionary of the English Language clears up the confusion: “to dwell on any thing in thought; to contemplate; to study; to turn or revolve any subject in the mind,” “to intend; to have in contemplation.”
Meditation is deep, serious, controlled thought. It involves reflection, contemplation, pondering, weighing, studying and imagining. This is exactly the type of activity high-speed lifestyles crowd out—making one feel overextended, frazzled and stressed out.
Not taking time to clear mental clutter can lead to health problems. Medical and scientific studies have found that a continually stressed mind will often become worried, anxious and apprehensive. This may, in time, contribute to heart trouble, cancer and arthritis.
Meditation alleviates these problems. It calms the body, which helps it to repair itself. This allows hypertension to recede.
Some studies have even shown that the risk of heart attacks and strokes are nearly cut in half in those who meditate. Improved memory, enhanced learning abilities, and increased concentration levels are other positive effects.
Yet meditation brings much more than health benefits.
Just as with muscles in the body, the brain must be exercised for it to function correctly.
“Research in neuropsychology and neuroscience shows that vigorous mental activity can lead to good brain fitness, which in turn, translates into a sharper memory, faster processing of information, better attention, and other improved cognitive skills,” Dr. Elkhonon Goldberg and Alvaro Fernandez state in the book The Sharpbrains Guide to Brain Fitness.
In this day and age—with all of its time-stealing gadgets—one of the most challenging exercises you can do is to actively control your mind. By steering thought processes, you can become the person you not only would like to be, but also the person you should be.
Consider the biblical proverb: “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he” (Prov. 23:7). Although the context of this proverb is slightly different, the principle still applies to the subject of meditation. Said another way, we are what we think.
Philippians 4:8 adds another dimension: “…whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”
A person who constantly focuses on negative aspects of life will tend to suffer physical and mental problems. On the other hand, a person who thinks positive thoughts will most often experience better health and overall life satisfaction.
Meditating will also help you learn to think before you act, instead of allowing your body to act before you think. You will become known as someone who is able to prevent himself from acting on impulses—which evidences a high level of self-control. This also reflects on your character. Consider: “He that has no rule over his own spirit [self] is like a city that is broken down, and without walls” (Prov. 25:28). In ancient times, a city without walls could not protect itself from outside forces. It was defenseless, and could easily be overrun by invaders or even animals.
Since meditation is controlled thinking, best results are obtained when there are minimal distractions and interruptions. Any tranquil, peaceful area is suitable. For many who live in large cities, leaving the constant hum of activity is most beneficial. Going to a calm lake, a forest or serene farming area helps. If this is not an option, then a quiet park within a city may suffice. Even a still room in your home is suitable for meditation.
In the Bible, we read the example of what one of the patriarchs did: “And Isaac went out to meditate in the field at the eventide” (Gen. 24:63). In such a setting, free from distractions, he could quickly adjust from dealing with daily irritations and enter into a reflective mode.
Meditation of some length is best done daily. Begin with short periods and gradually extend to longer sessions of 20 minutes or more. Use time in meditation to plan out your day. Set small goals. Think about these later in the day, perhaps during the car ride home from work. Be sure to turn off any music. This will help you concentrate. You may also want to keep a pen or pencil nearby to write down thoughts.
Carefully pondering daily questions will yield positive results. Consider: “A prudent man foresees [considers and discerns] the evil, and hides himself: but the simple pass on, and are punished” (Prov. 22:3). Analyzing a situation and its possible outcome will allow you to stop and think before acting. It will give you greater perspective about how to handle a situation, which will most likely benefit you and those around you.
As you grow and develop in your ability to control your thoughts, you will receive great encouragement. Your life will take on new meaning. For the first time, you will feel as though you are in control of your life—not the world around you.
As contemplating smaller tasks becomes a way of life, you can also start to meditate on other sections of your life—which involve the “big” questions. Your long-term goals. Your family. Where you want to be in a number of years.
This will naturally lead you to other questions that revolve around your existence: Where is the world going? Why was I created? What is my purpose?
Nearly everyone has certain short-term and long-term goals they hope to achieve. For some, it is to improve the quality of their lives—health-wise or financially. Others hope they will become famous. Many desire to make this world a better place to live, while some aspire to travel to space. The list is endless.
One of the many benefits of meditation is that it helps keep goals in sharp focus. It also enables us to understand the differences between right and wrong goals, as well as differentiate between worthwhile, attainable and achievable goals, and mere “pie in the sky” dreams.
Goals define where we want to go. They give structure to our existence. However, for numerous individuals, goals are often vague and hazy. As a result, certain objectives are never fully realized.
What about you? Do you ever think about where you want to be in five, 10 or 20 years? Do you think about where your children and your family will be? Do you ever wonder about the purpose for which you were born—and what happens when you die? Contemplating such questions will become a driving force in your life.
But keep it simple. Thinking about deep questions does not need to become overly complicated. Pondering life’s looming questions does not mean you need to become a philosopher.
There is one source you can turn to that will help you further understand your purpose and lead to greater and deeper questions—the Bible.
As we strive to reach our goals, we need direction and guidance. The analogy of a modern-day airliner leaving New York for London, England, serves as an example. Although the correct destination is known, unless the aircraft’s guidance system continually makes adjustments and course corrections, it may land hundreds of miles away from its intended destination!
Our lives are no different. Without direction and guidance, the chance we will arrive at our “destination” is hopeless at best. Therefore, if we are to have a successful “journey’s end,” we also need assistance.
The Bible is the only guidebook that can steer us in the right direction on life’s most important matters. Carefully studying and meditating on its instructions will assure a safe course whereby we may reach our goal. King David understood the importance of this, stating in Psalms, “Your word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (119:105).
Undoubtedly, the greatest goal anyone could have would be to live forever—to attain immortality. And unknown to most, this is exactly the goal our Creator has for us. In fact, it is the very reason we were created! If we meditate on His Law, this can be our destiny. Notice Psalm 119:97: “O how love I Your law! It is my meditation all the day.”
God’s Law teaches us the right way to live—and leads us to understand more about God Himself and the Master Plan He has established for the world.
Speaking about humanity’s ultimate destiny, the apostle Paul wrote “…Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for them that love Him” (I Cor. 2:9).
In his book, The Awesome Potential of Man, David C. Pack expounds on this concept, “Most assume that God is trying to save the world now…But because the masses have no idea why they were born—why they were put on Earth—they also do not understand why man cannot find peace, happiness, health, and abundance on his own. The whole world has been deceived about salvation and the most important questions and answers of life.”
True meditation—the kind that involves controlling your thoughts and focusing on your purpose in this life—God’s ultimate purpose for you—will lead to the reason you were born—and your incredible future.
To learn more, read The Awesome Potential of Man.