Understanding Meditation

Extract from “Understanding Meditation”

by Dr Michael DelMonte and Maeve Halpin

Understanding Meditation


Dr Michael DelMonte speaking at the launch of “How to be Happy and Healthy – the Seven Natural Elements of Mental Health”,Hodges Figgis Bookshop, Dawson St, Dublin 2, July 10th 2014.

Extract from Chapter Six, “Understanding Meditation”

 The practice of meditation has increasingly found a home in the West and is enjoying a surge of popularity at present, with many people using this approach to explore new ways of coping with stress and tension, while aiming to improve their quality of life.

The word “meditation” comes from the Latin “stare in medio” – to stay in the middle or mid-stream, i.e., to avoid the extremes. As well as promoting calmness and alleviating anxiety, meditation can bring a level of insight into our emotional reactions and thought patterns that heralds the possibility of profound inner change.

Meditating regularly has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety, facilitate emotional regulation, improve one’s immune response, reduce relapse into depression and so forth – even though the practice was not originally developed as a form of therapy per se. Meditation is not a “cure all” technique and generally is not suitable without competent supervision for those currently suffering from psychosis, mania, clinical levels of depression or very serious addictions (DelMonte, 2011). Nor should meditation be used to avoid contact with social reality.

How Meditation Helps

From a mental health perspective, the benefits of meditation can be related to the concept of emotional regulation. Emotional regulation refers to the ability to recognise, modulate and manage one’s own emotional experiences and responses. It includes the capacity to tolerate feelings of distress without becoming overwhelmed. Allied to this is the capacity to tolerate frustration and delayed gratification, an essential skill which enhances effective planning, communication and self-management.

How does meditation practice enhance emotional regulation? “Meditation is designed to cultivate continuous, clear-sighted awareness of subjective experience together with an acceptance of that experience” (Ortner et al, 2007). Controlling attention and fostering a relaxed state are the main mechanisms for the interaction between emotional regulation and meditation (Menezes et al, 2012). Sitting meditation involves the cultivation of moment-to-moment, non-judgmental awareness of one’s immediate experience.

The aim is to cultivate a stable and non-reactive awareness of one’s internal (i.e. cognitive-affective-sensory) and external (i.e. social-environmental) experiences. Developing stable and compassionate awareness of “self” and “world” promotes emotional balance, more positive self-judgement and better conflict management. Healthier and more mature behaviours emerge that are underpinned by sustained neurophysiological change (Kristeller, 2007).

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The chapter “Understanding Meditation” includes clear instructions for beginning a home meditation practice. Interested in learning more? Check out the book in its entirety here.  

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