Meditation For Godless Heathens

I gave up God long ago. Awhile after that I gave up spirituality and all things "airy fairy", like the idea of reincarnation, the concept of the universe having some kind of intelligence and connectedness, and the belief that "energy" was in everything and could be tapped and manipulated for healing and other magical uses. Now I use my skeptical powers and scientific wonder to evaluate new information. It gets much easier with practice.

One thing I never gave up was meditation. That's because I was never able to do it in the first place. Long ago I tried it and hated it. I was a dismal failure at it.

But, as a science-minded skeptical atheist, I love to learn about new research. For that I use keep an eye on Science Daily and Scientific American. Recently Science Daily reported that Brief Meditative Exercise Helps Cognition (see below for some of the report)

This intrigued me, because it said brief, not expert meditation. As a middle-aged woman, I find myself increasingly struggling to think clearly when it comes to reading or processing information. It's alarming and disturbing. So when I saw this study I thought, what the hell, that's something I can experiment with myself. Why not just try it and see if I can then think better?

So, based on the information in the report, I looked up Samatha Meditation and also found BuddhaNet.

So I tried it, just focusing on my breathing. I said I'd do it for 1 minute, just to see if I could. I read that doing a short burst of it often is better than trying to force yourself into a long session. So here's the amazing bit, I comfortably meditated, focusing on my breathing and letting thoughts go, for 10 minutes! I think I can do this! After I opened my eyes I felt refreshed and happy. I think I like it!

~Later: I tried another two times today. Once I meditated easily for 20 minutes which refreshed me as much as a 3 hour nap. A bit ago I wanted to wash dishes but my shoulder was burning (a recurring problem I've had for awhile now). Normally nothing makes it better, not painkillers, stretching, nothing. I thought, hey, what if I meditate for 10 minutes? I've heard that can help with chronic pain. I'll be damned 10 minutes later I was stretching and feeling pain-free. It came back but only after an hour and not nearly as bad. I think de-stressing and relaxing is very healthy for such things. :)


Here's the thing. The information I found was all stuffed full of "musts" about some god or other and mystical energy, and a bunch of other nonsense. Getting through all of that to get to the instruction on the actual meditation technique is a challenge.

It would be nice to find online instruction on mindfulness meditation from a secular point of view. Does anyone have any resources?

An excerpt of the report: research now suggests that the mind may be easier to cognitively train than we previously believed. Psychologists studying the effects of a meditation technique known as "mindfulness " found that meditation-trained participants showed a significant improvement in their critical cognitive skills (and performed significantly higher in cognitive tests than a control group) after only four days of training for only 20 minutes each day.

"Simply stated, the profound improvements that we found after just 4 days of meditation training- are really surprising," Zeidan noted. "It goes to show that the mind is, in fact, easily changeable and highly influenced, especially by meditation." The study appears in the April 2 issue of Consciousness and Cognition.

... The meditation training involved in the study was an abbreviated "mindfulness" training regime modeled on basic "Shamatha skills" from a Buddhist meditation tradition, conducted by a trained facilitator. As described in the paper, "participants were instructed to relax, with their eyes closed, and to simply focus on the flow of their breath occurring at the tip of their nose. If a random thought arose, they were told to passively notice and acknowledge the thought and to simply let 'it' go, by bringing the attention back to the sensations of the breath." Subsequent training built on this basic model, teaching physical awareness, focus, and mindfulness with regard to distraction.

Zeidan likens the brief training the participants received to a kind of mental calisthenics that prepared their minds for cognitive activity.

"The simple process of focusing on the breath in a relaxed manner, in a way that teaches you to regulate your emotions by raising one's awareness of mental processes as they're happening is like working out a bicep, but you are doing it to your brain. Mindfulness meditation teaches you to release sensory events that would easily distract, whether it is your own thoughts or an external noise, in an emotion-regulating fashion. This can lead to better, more efficient performance on the intended task."

1 comment:

  1. I once watched an episode of Scientific American Frontiers on PBS where Alan Alda (the host) was hooked up to EEG machines and computers and such and told to meditate by following his breath. It was all about the SCIENCE behind meditation and what it can do for your mental and physical health - no mention whatsoever of "spirits" or any of that airy-faerie junk - and it was fascinating. I don't remember the name of the episode but you can find all of them online at