How to improve your meditation practice. Immediately!

The secret to better meditation. It’s much closer to home than you realise!

The influence of your physical environment on the quality of your meditation is an under-researched area. All the time that neuropsychology struggles to demonstrate what meditation is and how it works, the impact of your meditation environment will remain a secondary issue for scientists. But there is a risk that this creates a ‘catch 22’ situation in research, where failing to attend to the meditation environment contributes to inconclusive results. So let me draw your attention to the importance of your meditation space. Looking across the psychological evidence, there is every reason to assume, where, when and why you meditate are just as important as the method you use. Scientific studies from educational psychology have demonstrated that the place where you learn is correlated to your academic progress. As medicalised meditation has been reduced to simple mind-training, there is every reason to see this as a useful comparison with modern meditation and mindfulness.

On a practical level, I can tell you that when I created a calm and appropriate meditation space in my small house, the benefits from my practice multiplied. If someone has a very high or very low motivation to meditate, the room they choose to practice in rarely matters. But for the 95% of people who have ’normal’ levels of motivation, factors such as ambience, quality of method and teacher reliability become directly linked to the success of the practice. So what do you need to think about?

My first principle of meditation is to always to find a reliable teacher; someone who will be able to instruct you on all matters, including where and with whom to meditate. But there are a few principles that everyone working with meditation should consider. In all probability, few people have a perfect space to meditate in, so the chances are you will have to think about creating one. From the options you have available to you, where does your practice work best? From this starting point, you must pay particular attention to this space; it can be a spare bedroom or a corner of your own bedroom. Exclude all physical and mental obstacles to your meditation practice from that space. Create the best possible sensory experience, no bad smells, distracting noises or unpleasant images. Ensure you keep your mind stable whenever you are in the space, even if you are not meditating. In this way, you build up supportive embodied cognition; this means that when you sit down on the cushion there, your mind is already ‘in the zone’.

There’s a lot more material on this subject, if you have questions post below or send us an email.

Is meditation always good for you?

Whilst there is a general sense that meditation and mindfulness are always good for your health, it all depends on you.

Is meditation a god treatment for all ills?

One of the main weaknesses of the movement to medicalise Buddhist meditation is the creation of the myth that meditation and mindfulness are ‘one size fits all’ health interventions. To address the question, I have to separate meditation and mindfulness into two separate categories, traditional meditation and modern forms of mindfulness.

While mindfulness meditation is widely regarded as a cure-all, it has only been approved for clinical use in the UK for one instance, the use of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) for people in danger of a third relapse into clinical depression. That doesn’t mean that all other forms of mindfulness are not beneficial, just that they haven’t been proven so by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence’s (NICE) exacting standards. So if you’re thinking about practising mindfulness for a specific health issue, you’d be wise to ask the teacher what the practice will achieve and about the scientific evidence to support the claims.

Most forms of traditional Buddhist meditation haven’t explicitly been designed as health or wellbeing treatments. However, there is a presumed relationship between spiritual health, physical health, and mental health in many Buddhist communities. In the Mahayana Buddhist schools, there are literally thousands of different meditation practices; many are not suitable for beginners or as therapies for mental or physical health problems. However, most appear to be correlated with resilience; once we practice them regularly, we may be less vulnerable to life’s ups and downs. Several of the most popular of these meditation methods, such as some simple mantra or compassion meditations, are generally regarded as being safe for anyone to learn. For more information, you need to ask a qualified Buddhist meditation teacher, describing your needs and your meditation goals. It’s also always appropriate to ask a meditation teacher how a  meditation method works and if it is suitable for you.

A final point, Tibetan Buddhism also contains healing meditation methods; but these have rarely been investigated by cognitive psychology. Anecdotal evidence suggests these practices have great healing potential, but they are typically only suitable for practising Buddhists, an experienced Buddhist teacher will be able to give you more information.

How can meditation improve mental health?

Can meditation really help with Alzheimer’s dementia, depression, anxiety and stress? If so, how?

Should you meditate to improve mental health

This is the big question in meditation research, the short answer is yes, but it depends. It’s important to point out that meditation also protects you against mental illness in several different ways. But before you start your online search for a meditation cushion and some incense, there are a few qualifications you need to be aware of.

Firstly what do we mean by mental health? From a psychological point of view, mental health is a broad term that encompasses almost every functional and structural mental disorder that a human can experience. If you take a look at the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM V), you’ll find over 150 conditions listed (I’ve included the main sub-headings and examples in a table below). Most scientific meditation and mindfulness research is linked to one particular condition or group of conditions. Therefore if you are looking for a meditation method to help treat a diagnosed disorder, you must take advice from an expert health care practitioner in that field. The idea that any one meditation or mindfulness method can be used to treat a range of mental health problems has no basis in evidence or anecdote. However, just as a walk in the open air or a visit to the seaside might make people feel happier, meditation can offer general support to many different people.

Lifelong happiness

We now have to consider a second qualification; there are profound differences between spiritual and medicalised (modern) forms of meditation. This is not surprising because traditional meditation seeks to offer a permanent, holistic cure to the more general issues we face in our lives. In contrast, medicalised meditation, at least those methods that have been scientifically validated, focus on treating a particular problem, not finding a solution. Without wishing to oversimplify, we see traditional meditation linked to improved overall mental stability, increased happiness, and subsequent benefits. Medicalised meditation has been developed to address quite specific psychological and physiological issues. Before you start any course of meditation or mindfulness it’s always good to share your goals with your teacher; they should be able to explain technically how the meditation works and what it is likely to do for you.

Resilience is the mental resource to cope with life’s problems; when we have good resilience we are much less likely to develop chronic or acute mental illness. This is probably the area where meditation is most useful, improving mental health and protecting us from illness. There is evidence that even a few weeks of meditation can help, but in all probability, only a lifelong meditation habit can deliver lifelong protection. For example, we know that meditation can create new brain structure in older adults with early stage dementia. So if you begin meditating in your 30s or 40s, you start to build the brain functions and structures to create resilience now and for the future.

Traditionally we associate meditation with happiness and joy. If you find the right teacher and the right method, regular meditation should be a pleasure that will offer a wide range of benefits for your life. Leading you to greater happiness and (probably) improving the quality of life of the people around you.

If you need advice on any particular meditation methods, drop me an email, and I’ll try to point you towards relevant resources.

The current categorisation of mental health disorders

CategoriesExamples
Neurodevelopmental disordersCommunication disorders, stuttering, autism spectrum disorder and Aspergers. Motor disorders, including tic disorders such as Tourette syndrome.
Schizophrenia spectrum and other psychotic disordersIncludes delusional disorder and catatonia.
Bipolar disordersBipolar I, bipolar II and anxious distress.
Depressive disordersPersistent depressive disorder.
Anxiety disorders  Agoraphobia, panic disorder, social anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorders.
Trauma- and stressor-related disorders  Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), acute stress disorders.
Dissociative disordersDepersonalisation and dissociative identity disorder.
Somatic symptom and related disorders  Chronic pain (inked to certain psychological conditions).
Feeding and eating disordersBinge eating, bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa.
Elimination disorders 
Sleep–wake disordersInsomnia, narcolepsy, hypersomnolence, sleep apnea and sleep-related hypoventilation.
Sexual dysfunctionsSexual desire and arousal disorders.
Gender dysphoria 
Disruptive, impulse-control, and conduct disordersPyromania, kleptomania, antisocial personality disorder.
Substance-related and addictive disordersGambling (addiction) disorder and tobacco use disorder.
Neurocognitive disorders  Dementia, major neurocognitive disorder and mild neurocognitive disorder.
Personality disorders 
Paraphilic disordersPedophilic disorder.

Meditation and New Year’s Resolutions

Meditation can support your New Year’s resolutions. This relationship also highlights the importance of motivation and perseverance in mind training.

Motivation is central to meditation success

As we approach the end of the year, the nights start to draw out in the Northern hemisphere, and we begin to look forward to the springtime. This is the time of year when thoughts turn to new starts and resolutions. The concept of making commitments for renewal and development at the turn of the year comes down to us through Babylonia via Rome. The Babylonians made solemn promises to make good debts; a practice echoed later by Romans who pledged to the god Janus (January) to make positive changes in the New Year.

From a psychological perspective, the idea of changing established patterns of behaviour on a particular date is challenging. If we seek to stop or alter activities that have become routine for us, a long-term approach is likely to be more effective than an ‘all or nothing’ New Year’s resolution. Behavioural patterns are based on structure and functions in brains; merely saying ‘I’m going to change’ doesn’t alter the long-term cognitive conditioning we are all subject to. This fact of neuroscience is the main reason why around 80% of all New Year’s resolutions fail within six weeks.

New year, new you?

Meditators following traditional methods are continually working to change behaviours. Rarely does the practice of starting to meditate bring instant results. It is a continual and evolving process where progress occurs over time. It is these principles of motivation and perseverance that characterise the journey of a meditator. If we applied the idea of progressive change rather than a ‘win or lose’ mentality to our resolutions, we would see a greater probability of success (science and Buddhist knowledge concur on this point). Although researchers of meditation and mindfulness rarely consider motivation and perseverance, they are essential characteristics in the success of traditional meditation training.  

The New Year is a great time to take stock and make plans for the future; however, it is long term strategies that most likely to lead to lasting change. It’s unnecessary to start meditating if you just want to lose weight or give up smoking, but the knowledge accumulated in thousands of years of human engagement with meditation can provide useful help.  

Free online compassion meditation

How to practice compassion meditation, an explanation of how it works and a description of its benefits.

Some of the greatest health benefits come from compassion.

If you are looking for an introduction to compassion meditation but don’t know where to start, you might benefit from this brief guide. I recorded the video during the first lockdown in 2020. I created it for people who are newcomers to compassionate meditation or who want a primer to nondual methods. Although this practice is based on Buddhist mind-training, I have adapted it as a modern secular practice. In common with all the meditation methods I teach, it is consistent with reliable teachings and supported by the latest evidence from neuropsychology.

This is an introductory training video as well as a guided meditation. Here I offer explanations of what the practice is, how to start and what to expect. If this is your first time, listen to the whole explanation, when you are confident with the method, you can simply follow the meditation and cut out the preamble. Please note; for brevity, I have edited out long sections of my meditation. If you want to use this resource as a guided meditation, you can go straight to the meditation and pause the clip when the practice begins; restarting when you come to a natural break in your own meditation. To get the full health and wellbeing benefits of the method, you will need to develop a clear insight into how the mind training works.

From my personal experience and the accounts of my students, this can be a life-changing practice. But its full effects take time to emerge, three times a week, over three months is a productive medium-term meditation goal. However, you should get immediate short term wellbeing benefits from just one focussed twenty-minute session. Expect to feel uplifted, happier and calmer from the first practice.

As a nondual meditation, this is a preliminary practice; once the results are obtained you may wish to seek, more complex methods to develop further.  Always use reliable methods and the guidance of an accomplished teacher.

Early benefits that my students or I have experienced as a result of this practice are:

  • Significantly reduced systolic and diastolic blood pressure and a general feeling of increased well being.
  • Lower levels of stress and anxiety
  • Boosted energy levels, movement away from passive activities and lifestyle.
  • Perception of positive relationships and interconnectivity with others
  • Improved sleep
  • Increased self-efficacy, less uncertainty in professional and personal matters
  • Improved concentration and focus
  • Greater tolerance
  • A stronger sense of happiness and a more fulfilling experience of life

The key to compassionate meditation is to remember mind training is all about your mind. How you sit and breathe, where you meditation and who with are all secondary. The practice is about creating new and improve compassionate function and structure in your brain; you can’t fake it. A good teacher and/or method are essential. As always email us if you have any concerns. You are welcome to post your thoughts and experiences below.

Does compassion meditation work?

There is growing interest in compassion based meditation and mind training, but what is it and does it work?

Can compassion training support your health and wellbeing

From the perspective of cognitive psychology, the term compassion is poorly defined and chronically under-researched. So at the outset, a priority is to explain what is meant by ‘compassion’. For many years I have been using a popular definition linked to Buddhist meditation from the Tibetan traditions:

Compassion: may all beings be free from suffering and the causes of suffering

This explanation fits my understanding, my meditation goals and is consistent with what I have learned for the cognitive and neuropsychological evidence. A second clarification; I only practice the nondual forms of compassion meditation. There are other (dualistic) approaches that may be more appropriate or desirable for beginners. In this narrow context, and thinking in relative terms, nondual compassion is the wish that all (self and other) don’t suffer. The majority of medicalised meditation methods are dual, primarily focussed on self or other. I have extensive experience of compassion for other practice, with a reliable method and teacher they can be very beneficial. Meditation based on compassion only for self (self-compassion) is an approach I don’t have direct experience with, and it’s not something I would personally recommend.

In common with many meditation systems studied by psychology (including mindfulness), the scientific evidence for compassion meditation is mixed. However, this weakness reflects theoretical and methodological limitations in the way we understand meditation rather than the utility of compassion-based mind training. A recent strategic review of the evidence found that compassion meditation increased feelings of compassion, self-compassion, mindfulness and well-being. It also reduced the sense of depression, anxiety and psychological distress.1

From a personal perspective, I have experienced (and expect to see in my students) several changes related to regular (nondual) compassionate practice.

  • Lower levels of stress and anxiety often reflected in physiological changes such as lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure and a general feeling of increased well being
  • Increased energy levels and a greater sense of one’s potential
  • Awareness of positive relationships and interconnectivity with others
  • Improved sleep patterns (not necessarily longer but definitely better)
  • A greater sense of self-efficacy in professional and personal matters
  • Better levels of concentration and focus
  • Increased tolerance towards and concern for others
  • A greater sense of proportion, unimportant matters tend not to increase stress and anxiety
  • A stronger sense of happiness and a more fulfilling experience of life

The key to compassionate meditation is to remember mind training is all about your mind. How you sit and breathe, where you meditation and who with are all secondary. The practice aims to create new and improve compassionate function and structures in your brain; you can’t fake it. A good teacher and/or method are essential.

As always email us if you have any concerns. And please post your thoughts and experiences below.

Notes

  1. Kirby, J. N., Tellegen, C. L., & Steindl, S. R. (2017). A meta-analysis of compassion-based interventions: Current state of knowledge and future directions. Behavior Therapy, 48(6), 778-792.

Does meditation help you sleep better?

Meditation and mindfulness can help to improve your sleep, but don’t allow them to hide or minimise an underlying problem.

Mindfulness and sleep, it’s all about balance

Sleep-related problems are frequently a reason why people start meditation classes or ask me for advice. The reasons why our sleep is disturbed are many and varied, and although it’s hard to give general advice, regular meditation often leads to improved sleep. The key term to note is ‘improved’ rather than ‘longer’. We know that almost half of people over 50 experience some kind of sleep problem; for many a chronic sleep condition can lead to a range of physical and mental health problems.1 The good news is that meditation has been shown to help, but it does depend.

As a general principle, improved relaxation is correlated with better sleep; we all know that restlessness and agitation, particularly at bedtime, can make it hard for us to ‘drop off’. So at this most fundamental level, some regular meditation is likely to lead to a more relaxed state, and when the practice is established, better sleep patterns. But one of the critical differences between medicalised and traditional forms of meditation is the notion of ‘cure’ and ‘treatment’.

If you’re not sleeping, it’s often linked to other factors, such as an underlying health problem, stress from work or relationship issues. While meditation can make a difference, the actual solution to the problem might also rest in some clearer thinking. So the first question for you to resolve is why aren’t you sleeping? If you can go some way to answering this, it will make a big difference to the kind of meditation practice you should use. For example, if work-related stress is a root cause, you might want to tackle this as well as meditating for better sleep. Similarly, if you have a health problem that’s limiting your sleep, tackle that issue as well as thinking about meditation. Don’t use meditation to mask other issues.

Based on the feedback I receive, meditation usually helps people get better sleep, but there are typically several issues at play. For example, after undertaking an evening practice, I encourage students not to spend too much time on social media or watching TV. If you discover that engaging with social media at bedtime limits your sleep, you might wish to change that habit in addition to meditating.

In traditional meditation systems, there are practices linked to sleep and dreaming, but their role is to support the meditator in personal and spiritual development. It’s also not unusual to see more experienced meditators have less hours but better quality sleep, from the physiological perspective this makes sense although there are few scientific studies in this area.

As always email us if you have any concerns. And please post your thoughts and experiences below.

Notes

1 Black, D. S., O’Reilly, G. A., Olmstead, R., Breen, E. C., & Irwin, M. R. (2015). Mindfulness meditation and improvement in sleep quality and daytime impairment among older adults with sleep disturbances: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA internal medicine, 175(4), 494-501.

Meditation and long lasting happiness

Can meditation increase your lifelong happiness? The answer is yes but some methods are more helpful than others.

Happiness is dependent on how you view the world

Throughout the Western industrialised world, we have more psychological data than ever before, yet many nations are experiencing declining levels of happiness, particularly among young people. In the UK, as many as 25% of young women demonstrate signs of clinical depression. In the USA happiness scores, have been on a downward trend for decades. However, despite the importance of happiness, psychological understanding of the concept is limited. In particular, a paradox exists between our individual experience and scientific models. Experimental psychology uses objective measures to establish levels of happiness/unhappiness in groups of people. In reality, the happiness of everyday life is a unique and personal phenomenon. Several scientific studies have demonstrated the potential of modern mindfulness to influence happiness, but there’s almost no replicated evidence that the effects are permanent or long-lasting.  Conversely, many traditional forms of meditation do not have the inbuilt paradox because there are not based on a dualistic world view; their goal is to address the long term causes of unhappiness rather than just the symptoms.

Traditional meditation is essentially nondual in nature; it allows an individual to mediate their own happiness. Medicalised or psychologised forms of meditation are dualistic, aggregating individual experience and thus categorising the world’s population into archetype models of human behaviour. Although this dichotomy is a limiting factor in meditation research, it’s not new to psychology. William James raised the question over a century ago; noting that observing a psychological phenomenon is not the same as the experience of that phenomenon. Meditation research is still wrestling with this problem; how can individual experience be understood using generalised measures? The obstacle of generalisability occurs because of the ontological nature of psychology; it is based on positivism, which is dualistic. It allows the artificial separation of people from their lived experience. Traditional meditation methods are generally nondual, so it seeks to address the problems encountered by people without reference to abstract, generalised models.

If we continue to emphasise treating symptoms rather than causes of unhappiness, there is a risk that chronic unhappiness will become normalised. Such a process might lead to sections of the population fluctuating between chronic and acute sadness for their whole lives. For people experiencing critical mental health problems, immediate action is necessary and desirable. But if we don’t attend to the underlying causes, we risk creating a treadmill of relative despair. For thousands of years, meditation has been used as a life-changing technology rather than a psychological bandaid. Despite the rise of meditation interventions within psychology, there are almost no operational models of traditional meditation describing their theoretical frameworks. This lack of understanding means that we still don’t know how traditional meditation works despite the publication of over 7,000 scientific studies during the last 80 years. Therefore the curative potential of spiritual types of meditation is still hidden from psychology.

Traditional meditation typically seeks to cure problems, to offer permanent solutions. By comparison, medicalised forms of meditation target a symptom rather than a cause, allowing new symptoms to manifest over time. These ideas of permanent and temporary solutions are central to the differences between nondual and dual forms of meditation. In psychological sciences, we tend to think about people from an objective perspective, even though we know mental health and human consciousness are, by their nature, subjective.  Trying to understand the personal subjective experience by generalised objective measures is problematic on many levels.

Researchers have been aware of this issue for several decades. When Ruut Veenhoven considered if happiness was relative in 1990s, his conclusions suggested that processes may have commonality but individual circumstances play an important role.

Happiness in the sense of life-satisfaction depends only partly on comparison, and even standards of comparison do not fully adjust to circumstances.

Veenhoven, Ruut. “Is happiness relative?.” Social indicators research 24, no. 1 (1991): 1-34.

Unfortunately, psychology is still a long way from understanding what happiness is and how it is regulated. Medicalised meditation methods generally fall within this paradigm. Earlier this year Jennifer De Paola, Wolfgang Wagner, Anna-Maija Pirttilä-Backman and Josetta Lehtonen published a study researching understandings of happiness among Finnish Women. Their findings reflect some universal truths about how psychology evaluates human behaviour. Observing happiness is not the experience of happiness; this is an area of contrast between traditional and modern understandings of the mind. The failure of science to recognise the real-world importance of the subjective is visible in medicalised forms of meditation.

The two take away points from this short discussion are i) psychology’s understanding of happiness is at a preliminary stage and that, ii) traditional knowledge systems have a much more holistic appreciation of the human experience. It is precisely for these reasons that I usually recommend traditional meditation methods for people who are looking for solutions rather than treatment. Modern methods could harness the health and wellbeing potential of Buddhist forms of meditation. But first meditation scientists need to take a more systematic approach to the study of Eastern non-positivist models of meditation and mind.

As always email us if you have any concerns. And please post your thoughts and experiences below.

Trump, Biden and meditation: staring the nondual in the face

Politicis is in crisis, polarisation is leading to harmful unproductive divisions. Nonduality is the only solution

Trump and Biden cannot both be always right or wrong, so what’s happening?

By the time you read this, the US 2020 election will probably be over, but it is only after the crisis, the battle, where taking stock can begin. In most of the polls I saw, support for Biden and Trump was almost wholly polarised. In America as elsewhere, we face a political landscape where as much as 90% of the voting population holds opposite views on the same subjects. This reality, of course, defies all reason; polarised sectarian views can never represent the full potential of any situation. I guess most people realise this already. The reality of this level of partisan discipline is that at times, people are advocating policies which are against their own best interests. Such behaviour can only be fully understood from the perspective of human consciousness. External conditions, extraordinary people and times, cannot be entirely blamed for the way we create reality. It is at the intersection of the external world, and our consciousness that meditation technologies are of most use, both from curative and heuristic perspectives.

Let’s be clear; the object of this short article isn’t to promote any particular political position. I, of course, have my views about politics but that’s not an issue here. If we can agree that it is irrational to support a course of action that leads to harm for ourself and others, then the concepts of duality and nonduality may be useful to you. If you devolve your thinking, your rights, your self-determination to a politician (of any persuasion) you might want to look away now. The simplest way of understanding the extreme polarisation present in much of world politics is duality.

In terms of human consciousness, we constantly fluctuate between dual and nondual states. From our perspective, this presents as a completely normal and natural state. However, many philosophical and spiritual traditions have understood that the tendency towards dualism correlates with several problems, including mental conditions of unhappiness and suffering. There is a deal of neuropsychological evidence that supports this basic premise, particularly in terms of intrinsic-extrinsic network correlation. But there is a much simpler way of understanding the increasing duality present in public life; the metaphor of gods and demons. The idea that one politician is the complete problem or solution to complex issues is naive in the extreme.

Although I concede that some public figures appear to act out of self-interest and pursue agendas very different from mine, how can I imagine that they are always wrong and I (or my politician of choice) is always right? The polarisation that is influencing many people is ultimately self-generated. External conditions matter in the creation of duality, if you surround yourself with concepts of ‘enemy’ ‘evil’ ‘threat’ and ‘harm’, dualistic brain networks are likely to be more active. Alternatively, if you protect yourself from such extremes, maintain objectivity, your ability to make real choices is much greater. I’m not suggesting compromise or capitulation to the aggression of others. Instead, the best option is to keep the freedom to choose the most appropriate response in every situation.

Many of the most reliable traditional meditation methods target harmful dualistic mental processes. A desire to reduce tendencies to hate and division is not an attempt to create an impossible utopia; it is a concrete movement towards reducing suffering and harm—both for ourselves and others. I’ll repeat again; this is not a manifesto for inactivity and compromise, quite the opposite. Nondual training, in its fullest sense, leads to the abandonment of refuge in concepts such as political parties and institutions, concepts we know are flawed. What remains is reason and the ability to distinguish what is meaningful to us beyond simple partisan mantras.

Harm does exist; governments produce damaging polices. The lessons of nondual meditation are that until we address our own harmful and damaging tendencies, we may struggle to do more than simply react by entering the downward spiral of polarisation.

As always email us if you have any concerns. And please post your thoughts and experiences below. For a simple introduction to the nondual, try the nondual podcast.

Nonduality and the health benefits of meditation: an introduction

Despite 7,000 scientific studies over 80 years, psychology still hasn’t understood the health benefits importance of duality.

Binary code over a human face.
Duality or non-duality, that is the question

For over two decades I have been meditating, initially to support my day to day life, improve mental and physical health and build resilience. But later, as a Buddhist, my goals evolved, and my understanding of health and wellbeing changed. Having tried secular meditation first, coming to Buddhist practice later, I developed an early, comparative experience of the strengths and weaknesses of the different systems. An understanding of the similarities and differences between secular and spiritual methods has taught me much about the curative potential of meditation and mindfulness.

My development as a meditator owes much to the teachers and teachings I encounter in those early years. But my progress has also been constructed on an experiential understanding of nonduality, something a teacher can only suggest to a student. Even though most conscious human experience is built on fluctuations between the dual and nondual, it is a challenging idea to get to grips with. Let me be more precise; it is easy to recognise duality in others, each of us does this every day; to see it in ourselves is the problem. You will find many spiritual and philosophical teachers willing to describe the nature of non-duality, but few can talk about it from the level of experience. However, from my research as a meditator and neuropsychologist, I am confident that nonduality is the key to unlocking the full health potential of meditation.

Meditation is a human technology, a brain training tool that can be used for multiple purposes. No one has a monopoly on what meditation is. But, most medicalised meditation that is used by psychology has its roots in traditional spiritual practices, typically Buddhism and Hinduism. Science has been conducting experiments on meditators for at least eighty years. In that time the full health potential of traditional forms of meditation has rarely been seen in replicated medicalised equivalents. There are many reasons why spiritual practices do not easily locate to the psychological sciences; one of the most important and least discussed is the role of nonduality.

To be continued…

As always email us if you have any concerns. And please post your thoughts and experiences below.