Sunday, September 20, 2009

So now what?

When I began my "spiritual search" in earnest about a year ago, I had this idea that I would find something, settle on it, and that would be it. I would just live out my life according to that system's principles. But that certainly hasn't been the case! Freethought has definitely been more of a beginning than an ending for me.

So if there are no (or at least very few) hard and fast rules, what constitutes a life well-lived? Among the so-called New Atheists, Sam Harris attracts a lot of criticism for his interest in Eastern religions. However, as he explains in this 2007 speech, he's interested in finding a philosophy where personal happiness doesn't depend completely on personal circumstances. Harris also expresses interest in the potential transformative quality of the experiences some people have in meditative or contemplative states.

Your friendly neighborhood library probably has access to scientific journal articles through sites like PubMed or EBSCOhost. If you can get that access, you'll find that a lot of studies have shown that meditation in general has some benefits. No one method stands out as being superior, but almost all of them have been shown to reduce stress and improve mood.

Instead of aligning your chi or your chakras or whatever, there's probably a perfectly natural explanation for these experiences and the benefits people find in them. So how is it that meditation helps so many people? I don't claim to know the answer, but I think it's a question worth asking. It's certainly not a settled question, as there are many people who freak out at the mention of meditation. I'll discuss my own experiences with meditation in a future post.

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