As I tried to think of an effective way to begin this research paper, I had a bit of a hard time connecting a vastly abstract concept (mindfulness and meditation) with the sometimes-rigid world of advanced practice nursing. In her article, “Health Benefits of Emptying the Mind: Rediscovering Meditation;” Gloria Donnelly PhD, RN, FAAN, a fellow advanced practice nurse, begins by stating the following:
Emptying, cleansing, and replenishing are processes applied to many devices to keep them in good working condition.
We drain and replace the oil in our cars and have regular inspections to ensure good working order. Some have suggested that we take better care of our cars than our bodies. With respect to the body, some believe that periodic fasting enhances health and healing, giving the body a rest from the processes of digestion and, at least theoretically, eliminating toxins. (p. 261)
She then moves from the physiological confines of the body to the vastly open fields of the mind.
If we are able to empty the contents and replenish our bodies, shouldn’t we also be able to do the same with our often over-worked minds? If the basis of health truly revolves around the replacement of the old, stressed component with the newer, clearer variety, the removal of stressful and anxious thoughts while replacing with serene and positive images should improve the innerworkings of the mind. There are hundreds of types of meditation, predating religion, but differing in accordance to belief and culture
HISTORICAL BACKGROUND OF MEDITATION
The background of meditation is almost as vast and wide-researching as the practice itself.
The Positive Psychology Program has provided one of the most inclusive yet brief online compilations of meditation history (“History of Meditation”, n.d.). The earliest references for meditation arise from the Hindu scriptures, while other forms of meditation practice began to arise in China and India. Structured practice came about in India, going back more than 5000 years. Hindu and Buddhist meditators differ in that Hindus believe that meditation is a way to communicate with a higher power, while Buddhists believe it is a way to tap into one’s interconnectedness with all things. Japanese Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism also emerge with their own meditation practices. Meditation began to spread through the Western world much later than out Eastern counterparts, gaining popularity in the middle of the twentieth century.
Dr. Herbert Benson of Harvard University began to taut the benefits of meditation during the 1970’s in his best-selling book “The Relaxation Response,” encouraging Americans to introduce meditation practice into our theories of therapy and counseling. Edmund Jacobson, a practicing internist, psychologist, and psychiatrist; introduced America to “relaxation training,” a way to control the muscles and mind in a stress-reduction intervention. This idea birthed the concepts of biofeedback and hypnosis, along with other mind-body techniques. Most recently, Francine Shapiro developed Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) as a way to utilize meditation-like techniques to lessen PTSD and traumatic memories.
SPECIFIC CULTURAL COMPONENTS
Opinions differ in regards to the importance of culture to meditation. Halvor Eifiring, one of the better-known experts on meditation and culture, believes that meditation is best understood within the context of cultures that utilize the technique. In his book Meditation and Culture (Schedneck, 2017), he states:
Behind the stereotype of a solitary meditator closing his eyes to society, meditation, like any other human activity, always takes place in close interaction with the surrounding culture. The stereotype evoked here assumes that because meditation is an isolating activity, it must be outside of the world and its concerns. Instead, this volume and its many essays attempt to argue that meditation is not private and apart from society, but is actually closely connected with the culture in which one practices.
Kenneth Rose poses a different viewpoint, stating that meditation is a freestanding practice of the mind that can be studied separate from culture. He believe that all meditative text, no matter the culture, contain “contemplative universals” and “meditative landmarks” (Schedneck, 2017).
CURRENT STATE OF SCIENCE AND MEDITATION
With the indisputable evidence suggesting the effectiveness of meditation and mindfulness practices, we may wonder why a scientific rationalization is necessary. Researchers Øyvind Ellingsen and Are Holen declare that the intersection of science and meditation is necessary, because although meditation within a religious or spiritual context may be enough for some practitioners, viewing meditation within a scientific frame of mind tends to build trust (Schedneck, 2017). By placing measurable and logical scientific parameters on an abstract and seemingly unmeasurable practice, we create a tangible intervention, one who’s effectiveness can be scientifically validated.
EVIDENCE OF SAFETY
Because of the practice of meditation involves no strenuous physical, mental or emotional activity, it has become viewed as inherently safe. Meditation is being used as a technique to actually improve safety in both medical and non-medical settings. By reducing drifting attention and increasing focus, meditation is reducing errors and accidents, both clinical and non-clinical, by increasing awareness (Struth, 2017). In acute psychiatric units, medication and mindfulness is being sued to decrease nurse stress, errors, and caregiver burden, while reducing patient falls and aggressive incidents by patients (Brady, O’Connor, Burgermeister, & Hanson, 2012)
EVIDENCE OF EFFICACY
According to Daniel Bor, meditation is “be[ing] as aware as you can of as little as possible” (Donnelly, 2013). If this is to be the case, how then is meditation continually seen as successful? How, by doing nothing, can participants reap the benefits of this technique? It has been shown that long-term meditation may result in the improvement of multiple cognitive aspects of functioning (memory, alertness, and mental performance). How so can it impact physical wellness? Transcendental meditation has been shown to reduce blood pressure, increase emotional wellbeing in patients suffering with cancer, and decrease chronic pain in patients with arthritis and back or neck pain. Various studies have also found that meditation may alleviate vasomotor and menopausal symptoms, decrease anger in HIV-positive patients, reduce drug and alcohol use in incarcerated populations, enhance smoking cessation, and improve memory by increasing blood flow to the brain (Horowitz, 2010). Mediation in schools and prisons is helping treat a range of conditions by reducing stress and anger, while increasing coping skills and reducing substance abuse. Some victims of emotional and sexual abuse are finding a reduction in anxiety/depression symptoms with the sustained use of meditation and other mindfulness exercises (Horowitz, 2010).
There are many reasons why meditation should and is being more widely utilized in our current society. It’s wide-reaching effectiveness in the fields of psychology, psychiatry, and medicine are difficult to dispute. In a time of stress and worry, there are few techniques or practices that would help AMericans more than mindfulness and meditative practice. By taking some time to put down our cell phones, to slow down enough to check in with ourselves, we are granted the opportunity to redirect appropriate focus and appreciate the moment that we have been given. Be it within the context of culture, religion, or everyday life, meditation is an invaluable resource that is granting serenity and restoring health to novices and devoted practitioners alike.
Brady, S., O’Connor, N., Burgermeister, D., & Hanson, P. (2012). The Impact of Mindfulness Meditation in Promoting a Culture of Safety on an Acute Psychiatric Unit. Perspectives in Psychiatric Care, 48(3), 129–137.
Donnelly, G. F. (2013). Health benefits of emptying the mind: rediscovering meditation. Holistic Nursing Practice, 27(2), 57-58. doi:10.1097/HNP.0b013e3182837d64
Horowitz, S. (2010). Health benefits of meditation: what the newest research shows. Alternative & Complementary Therapies, 16(4), 223-228. doi:10.1089/act.2010.16402
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Schedneck, B. (2017). Meditation in and out of context: Contemporary perspectives on the study of meditation. Religious Studies Review, 43(4), 357-362. doi:10.1111/rsr.13204
Struth, D. (2017). Mindfulness Meditation Can Improve Safety in Your Practice. ONS Voice, 38(6), 24.