Eastern! Taboo! Not for me!  With so many stereotypes surrounding the practice of meditation it’s no wonder why so many Americans find themselves questioning its true meaning, perhaps even doubting its purpose in the world.  At Senior Directory, we were intrigued to learn more about meditation and how it can potentially improve the lives of boomers and seniors in the today's world, so we sat down with five retired women who meet once a month and practice a group meditation in order to learn more about their personal experiences with meditation.

We asked each woman to describe in one word what they feel after meditating, and here's what they answered:

  • Lawrie Kimbrough - Peaceful
  • Pat Zarlengo - Peaceful
  • Susann Stubs -  Peaceful
  • Susan Patton - Loved
  • Andree Vetter - Relaxed

It was interesting that 3 out of the 5 women answered that they feel peaceful after meditating.  According to the Buddhist Centre, the practice of meditation offers a means to cultivate new, more positive ways of being.  This aligns with the groups belief that “meditation dramatically improves your quality of life" and that "it can only bring positivity”.  Whether the outcome is feeling at peace, loved, or relaxed, it’s clear that each woman had a constructive experience after meditating. 

In today's world of smart phones, tablets, and HD televisions, we are always one click of a button away from instant gratification.  Sick of watching commercials, just grab the remote control and change the channel.  Getting impatient waiting in line at the bank, simply pull out your smart phone and browse the web.  But for many boomers and seniors, perhaps there is something missing in today's world of technology.  Perhaps connecting to the world is best accomplished by momentarily disconnecting, and just maybe meditation is the gateway to accomplishing this.  It certainly has been for this inspiring group of women. 

To demystify some of the misconceptions surrounding meditation, and to learn more about how a beginner might start the practice, we sat down with the group in a circle and asked them several questions about meditation.

For starters, what exactly is meditation?

Meditation is a state of "thoughtless awareness".  On the surface the idea of thoughtless awareness might seem contradictory.  How can one be self-aware without having thoughts, aren't our thoughts what define us?  On the contrary, meditation advocates the exact opposite philosophy; that by clearing our mind and emptying our thoughts we are able to see the true nature of things, which helps us achieve self-awareness.   Self-awareness, according to wikipedia, is the ability to recognize oneself as an individual separate from the environment and other individuals.

"We all have moments throughout our daily lives when we enter a state of meditation," the group explains.  "You could be washing the dishes or taking a shower, and all of a sudden three, four, five seconds pass where you zone out into a state completely absent of thought.  That doesn't mean you've lost yourself in that period of time but rather you've just experienced a brief moment of meditation." 

What's the point of meditation?  What do you want to achieve through meditating?

There are various reasons why each individual practices meditation but the fundamental goal is that when you are finished meditating you will experience some sort of benefit, or a shift in consciousness.  After meditating some people feel relaxed, others an appreciation for life, some see a message or have a revelation, while others might not experience anything profound at all.  "Each meditation session can bring different results," the group elaborates.  "The key is that you don't want to go into your meditation with a pre-conceived notion about the results you want to achieve.  You simply want to clear your mind and let the pieces fall into place."   


How could a beginner start the practice of meditation?

As a beginner, the first step is to get into a comfortable position, or pose.  An easy position to start with is to sit in a chair with your spine upright and straight, and with your feet flat on the floor.  You certainly can cross your legs if you are sitting on the ground. Arms can be in your lap or on the arms of a chair or wherever they will be comfortable.  It is nice to have the palms facing up in a relaxed position.  “There are many different meditation poses you can experiment with,”  the group explains, “from sitting in a chair, to sitting cross-legged on the floor in a Lotus Pose, to even lying down, but the most important thing is that you find a comfortable position.  The last thing you want is to be distracted because you are not physically comfortable.”

The next step is to relax your body, usually starting at the feet first, close your eyes, and begin to take deep breaths.  You want to visualize your breath.  Breath in through your nose and envision the breath coming up through your nose and rising through the top of your head and then follow it down through your belly.  Just breath naturally and bring it to the stomach …then continue to follow your breath going up and down for the remainder of your meditation. Visualize the breath rising up and down in a very natural state.    “They key is to make a commitment to meditate, even for only 10 minutes,” the group states adamantly.  “A lot of beginners want to give up after a couple of minutes because they have trouble focusing clearing their mind.  In meditation this is referred to as “monkey mind”.  Part of the purpose of focusing on your breath is that it helps you clear you mind and relax your body.  You have to commit to not giving up right away in order for that to happen though.” 

There is no specific time of day that is recommended to meditate.  “It’s a misconception because when you start out it is recommended to meditate at the same time of day, whether that’s early in the morning, or at noon, or whenever it may be.  The reason it’s suggested to do so is because you want to develop a routine.  The one thing you do want to avoid is meditating when you are tired because you will end up falling asleep.”

What misconceptions would you like to clear up about meditation?

Many people of western descent think that meditation is only for those who practice Buddhism, Hinduism, or other Eastern religions.  This can turn a lot of westerners off because the biggest religion is in the western world is Christianity.  “While the origins of meditation lie in Asia, and some of the greatest teachers are of Asian descent,” the group explains, “the practice of meditation is not restricted to Eastern religions.  When you think of a person who goes into a chapel at a hospital, who is dealing with a stressful situation and sits down to decompress, that’s a form of meditation. And prayer is a form of meditation, it’s universal no matter what religion or lack of religion you have.”

What we learned…checking in by checking out!

Upon first deciding to interview this wonderful group of retired women, we honestly were unsure of what to expect.  Can this eastern art actually help aging adults in western society?  Is there a place for this ancient practice in the modern world?  After delving into the true meaning of meditation and stripping away many of the misconceptions surrounding it, it became evident that not only does meditation transcend all cultures and religions, but it truly is a catalyst for making us better individuals, and consequently a better society. 

Of course, in today's world of the internet and social media being "instantly connected" is an amazing phenomenon!  However, with every virtue come a vice, and perhaps the greatest danger of being instantly connected to the outside world is the potential to instantly disconnect from our inner self.  To clarify, today's boomers and seniors are experiencing something unique and unprecedented.  That is, for the first time in history they can log into Facebook and immediately peak into the lives of their friends, children, and grandchildren.  But what if you don't always like what you see…after all, you can't control what pops up on your homepage feed.  What kind of emotions arouse in you after reading Cousin Jerry's post that he is voting for the candidate you despise, or viewing photos of your grandchildren having a little too much fun in college?  

For the baby boomer generation and the new age of seniors, the practice of Meditation offers something that modern technology fails to provide… a chance to find self awareness.  And maybe, if given a chance, like this group of retired women, you too can find peace, love, and relaxation through a practice that is much older than the laptop or smart phone.     

Article written by Alex Milzer and Peter Gietl with Senior Directory, LLC