Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times
Even though I am a practicing physician, this article is not meant to be medical advice. It is just some interesting reading and viewing, like you would read any other author of your liking.
Who are the intended audience?
Some 36,000 Americans are likely to attempt suicide this year and the number is likely to be a million in our global village. It is to save their lives.
Some one billion people in the world are suffering from anxiety and depressive disorders and it is a free gift to them, especially the younger generations, who are more open minded and not fixed in their ways.
Drugs for anxiety and depression are a trillion dollar industry, what a break through it would be if we can achieve significant positive results through becoming proficient in meditation.
By many measures, Millennials (adults who were born between 1981 and 1996) are much less likely than their elders to be religious.
For instance, only about half of Millennials say they believe in God with absolute certainty, and only about four-in-ten Millennials say religion is very important in their lives. By contrast, older generations are much more likely to believe in God and say religion is important to them.
And this lower level of religiosity among Millennials manifests itself not just in what they think, but in what they do. Just 27% of Millennials say they attend religious services on a weekly basis, a substantially lower share than Baby Boomers (38%) and members of the Silent and Greatest generations (51% each). Similarly, a smaller share of Millennials say they pray every day compared with those in older generations.
But while Millennials are not as religious as older Americans by some measures of religious observance, they are as likely to engage in many spiritual practices. For instance, like older Americans, more than four-in-ten of these younger adults (46%) say they feel a deep sense of wonder about the universe at least once a week. Likewise, most also say they think about the meaning and purpose of life on a weekly basis (55%), again, similar to older generations.
Likewise, I am proposing that they may find benefit from practices like meditation to train their minds and find their spirituality.
Given the fact that a third of them are not affiliated with any specific religion, they are likely to be far more open to secular and interfaith ideas.
Recently, science has shown tremendous benefits from meditation in several different facets of life. It can provide solutions for insomnia as well.
Alice G. Walton, wrote an article for Forbes magazine, titled: 7 Ways Meditation Can Actually Change The Brain. She wrote:
Last week, a study from UCLA found that long-term meditators had better-preserved brains than non-meditators as they aged. Participants who’d been meditating for an average of 20 years had more grey matter volume throughout the brain — although older meditators still had some volume loss compared to younger meditators, it wasn’t as pronounced as the non-meditators. ‘We expected rather small and distinct effects located in some of the regions that had previously been associated with meditating,’ said study author Florian Kurth. ‘Instead, what we actually observed was a widespread effect of meditation that encompassed regions throughout the entire brain.’
A review study last year at Johns Hopkins looked at the relationship between mindfulness meditation and its ability to reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety, and pain. Researcher Madhav Goyal and his team found that the effect size of meditation was moderate, at 0.3. If this sounds low, keep in mind that the effect size for antidepressants is also 0.3, which makes the effect of meditation sound pretty good. Meditation is, after all an active form of brain training. ‘A lot of people have this idea that meditation means sitting down and doing nothing,’ says Goyal. ‘But that’s not true. Meditation is an active training of the mind to increase awareness, and different meditation programs approach this in different ways.’ Meditation isn’t a magic bullet for depression, as no treatment is, but it’s one of the tools that may help manage symptoms.
Prof. Mark William Muesse (born May 1, 1957) is an American philosopher, theologian, and teacher. He received a B.A., summa cum laude, from Baylor University and a Ph.D. from Harvard University. He has a wonderful Teaching Company video course, Practicing Mindfulness: An Introduction to Meditation. The first of these 24 half hour videos can be watched online in Youtube and beautifully describes the natural wandering state of our untrained mind.
- marked and lasting reduction of stress;
- increased ability to focus and concentrate, as well as clarity of thinking;
- freedom from detrimental patterns of thought and emotion;
- increased learning capacity and memory; and
- greatly enhanced well-being and peacefulness.
If practiced consistently, the results are real and very far-reaching. In the largest sense, meditation allows you to live in harmony with the realities of the world—to embrace life’s ever-changing impermanence, to live in equanimity with the inevitable ups and downs of being human, and to feel deeply connected to the whole of life.
Prof. Mark Muesse has the following to say about what to chant or make the focal point or anchor of our meditation:
Now, we are ready to begin the meditation. Our initial task is to establish a focal point, or anchor. What we wish to do is to let the mind settle down, like a jar of muddy water, allowing its mindless hyperactivity to subside gradually.
All forms of meditation use such an anchor, although the particular focal point varies from tradition to tradition. Some practitioners use a mantra, which is usually a short saying or set of syllables that the meditator repeats to him- or herself. Virtually anything—an object, a sound, a thought, or a bodily sensation—can become the focus of meditative practice.
We can chant any useful words from any scripture, our heroes or any philosopher of our liking. The words help us focus our mind and stay in the present rather than drift into the depressing thoughts about the past or worrying apprehensions about the future. The meaning of the chanted words can have additional benefit on our personalities by letting the message sink deep into our consciousness and unconscious mind.
The Bible is certainly one of the most influential books in the Western civilization. For the sake of an example, any of the verses from the Sermon of the Mount can be effective choices for chanting or as mantras for the desired effect:
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:7-10)
You could choose some other verse of your liking or choose those which you think your present state of mind is most in need of in your personal, social or spiritual life.
The famous German philosopher Goethe was voted the Greatest German in 2011, he had the following to say about the holy Quran:
As often as we approach the Quran, it always proves repulsive anew; gradually, however, it attracts, it astonishes, and, in the end forces admiration.
Before I suggest some possible chants from the holy Quran, may I take the liberty of suggesting a short article: A British Convert to Islam: ‘I found Qur’an mother of all philosophies.‘
One can choose to chant any verse from any scripture or the holy Quran, depending on the desired effect. Here are some suggested verses or segments of verses to chant, to build optimism and trust in the All-Loving and All-Powerful God:
All praise belongs to Allah, Lord and Sustainer of all the worlds.
Is not Allah sufficient for His servant?
Grieve not, for Allah is with us.
He said, ‘And who can despair of the mercy of his Lord save those who go astray?’
And he who submits himself completely to Allah, and is a doer of good, he has surely grasped a strong handle. And with Allah rests the end of all affairs.
You can find transliteration of the Quranic verses and Forty different simultaneous translations of the Holy Quran in English, online.
If you can memorize these short verses in Arabic that is the best, it not only would be concise, but will have a greater sublime effect on your psyche. As you chant the Arabic you could allow your mind to ponder over the meaning and commentary, but, if the mind begins to wander in other directions, especially negatively emotionally laden thoughts, gently bring the mind back to the focal point or anchor, the verse that you are chanting.
I have presented a broad outline here and Prof. Mark Muesse’s course linked above and a course by Prof. Ronald Siegel linked below will give you additional details, to best develop your insights and actual practice of meditation.
If any of the depressed and the anxious can be healed by this recipe and if some among the half of the world population, the Christians and the Muslims, come to better mutual understanding, won’t your time spent reading this article, be deemed a worth while investment?
- RVC Bodley. The Messenger. Double Day and Company Inc, 1946. Page 237.
- Al Quran 2:1/2)
- Al Quran 39:36/37)
- Al Quran 9:39/40)
- Al Quran 15:56/57)
- Al Quran 31:22/23)
- Prof. Mark Muesse. Practicing Mindfulness: An Introduction to Meditation. Course book of the Teaching Company course, 2011. Page 43.
— The Muslim Times (@The_MuslimTimes) March 23, 2017