Meditation: An Ancient Yet Modern Practice
Read time: 7 min.
The modern concept of health not only includes obvious physical aspects, but also includes the mind, body, and soul. This newfound holistic perspective has caused practices such as meditation to surge in popularity. With religious ties in ancient Egypt and China, as well as Judaism, Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism, and Buddhism, meditation has had a long and winding road to becoming the mainstream trend we know today.
Although frequently debated by archaeologists and scholars, the general consensus is that meditation has been around for roughly 5,000 years. The earliest documented records of meditation stem from the teachings of the Vedas in ancient India. Originating from the Vedas, mediation then developed in Taoist China and Buddhist India. After that, it took hold in Japan, and the first meditation hall opened there. Fast forwarding to the 18th century, translations of ancient Buddhist teachings and the practice of meditation came to Western scholars.
Ever since meditation came to the West, it has been steadily increasing in popularity and evolving in style. Meditation, although clearly an ancient tradition, is simultaneously very modern in the sense that it is highly personalized and readily available. With millions of books, websites, research, and videos available on what meditation is, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and confused on how to initially explore meditation and its benefits. Instead of looking towards confusing, verbose resources, I talked to members of the Fordham community who have hands-on experience with meditation.
To answer some of my questions on meditation, I turned to Milou Haskin, a Fordham junior. Haskin’s interest in mindfulness through meditation began when reading Nhat Hanh’s books. While Hanh’s books are what initially sparked her interest, what really led her to experience and understand meditation fully was practicing it. Her interest in meditation became a passion when she visited one of Thich Nhat Hanh’s monasteries in upstate New York. At the monastery Haskin met several young people who inspired and motivated her to dive deeper into her practices. After Haskin’s visit to the monastery, she got involved in Wake Up New York, a meditation group for young people, and the Meditation Club at Fordham.
In a high-paced, chaotic world, it's easy to forget to reconnect with our minds and hearts; meditation can be this source of serenity and reconnection. In Haskin’s words, “Meditation is grounding and brings us back to ourselves. It cultivates peace and mindful energy in a way that creates distance between ourselves and what is going on within us or around us so that we have the space to better handle and gain insight on the situation.” Not only does meditation bring insight and perspective, but it also brings peace and joy that radiates outwards. The internal peace and positivity meditation brings not only benefits you, but also emanates to individuals around you. This sharing of positivity consequently leads to healthier, happier relationships with individuals and most importantly with yourself.
Another benefit that practicing mindfulness can bring is thankfulness. Isha Khawaja, Vice President of Fordham’s meditation club, beautifully stated, “Meditation has made me more mindful and grateful for the little things in life. It has allowed me to pay attention to the water flowing into my belly when I take a sip of water and taste every spice of food when having dinner. It’s made me more appreciative of what I always take for granted.” This is what practicing mindfulness does- it focuses your attention on seemingly unimportant details that actually make up the beauty in life.
Hanh's Blue Cliff Monastery in upstate New York that Milou Haskin visited.
Taking a moment to revitalize through meditation leaves many hooked due to the positive shifts in their perspective, relationships, and attitude. Despite the endless benefits meditation can bring, many individuals don’t know how to implement and practice mindfulness in their everyday lives. Although some people who are very disciplined and routine-oriented can easily incorporate daily meditation, a large majority of young adults (including myself) struggle to consistently squeeze in a daily practice. Committing to any new activity can be difficult and that is why Khawaja and Haskin stress the importance of community. Meditating with a community of others is a great way to stay motivated until you feel ready to try it on your own.
Jessica Kammen of Fordham's Meditation Club during a weekly group meditation session. Shot by Spencer Krell.
Another common reason individuals stray from meditation, other than scheduling, is that they don’t know how to physically or mentally begin. With countless ways to meditate, it is important to experiment and see what works and what doesn’t. For Haskin, a typical meditation session beings in the morning sitting cross-legged facing her window. After getting into a comfortable position, Haskin focuses on her breathing by “imagining an infinity symbol connecting her breath in and out”. To personalize the session, a good idea is to pick a phrase or mantra and repeat it for focus.
When pressed on time, a good tip is to put in some earphones and use a guided meditation from the app “Insight Timer”. On days when you’re feeling a bit sluggish, you can always try meditating with that same app while lying in bed right before bedtime. A quick tip from Khawaja is to set small goals for yourself initially; “The best way to begin incorporating meditation into your life is to start with five minutes a day. Right before you walk out of the door in the morning, take a seat, play a podcast, and let your mind be still.” As these daily five minute meditation sessions go on, you will feel comfortable creating your individualized practice that makes you the best version of yourself.
Self-improvement is a common theme for us college students due to our constant evolving and exploring. This constant stage of change can be stressful and naturally attract conflict. Meditation is a fantastic way to become a better version of yourself and deal with the chaos and conflict of life in a way that brings the most happiness to you and those around you. JJ Meador, a Fordham junior who practices meditation regularly, explained meditation as, “Putting yourself above the clouds… it doesn’t make the clouds disappear, but you are above them and looking up focused on the sun. From above, you can look down at the clouds individually, and tackle them one at a time- but you can always see the sun”.
With all of the stress college brings, it is important to take a step back, relax, see how challenges can be overcome, and most importantly, stay enthusiastic about life. After learning so many simplified key tips on mindfulness, I feel more confident in my ability to craft and implement my own special meditation practice to stay above the inevitable clouds and always focus on the sun.