Meditation: A Brief History

Before we begin to explore the process of meditating, it's good to have an overview of where it comes from, how it has developed within eastern and western cultures, and the influences behind the practice.

A good way of identifying some early human patterns and behaviors is by looking at art and wall paintings. In the Indus Valley, archaeologists discovered painted images portraying meditation dating from as early as 5,000 BC. The images show people sitting in meditation postures, with crossed legs, closed eyes and hands resting on their knees. In terms of written documentation on meditation, Indian scriptures have been found dating back 3000 years that describe the process and techniques.

As the centuries passed by, many of the world’s main religions began to adopt the basics of meditation and it has become one of the most important components within spiritual development.

It is believed that the Hindu’s were the first to fully embrace meditation, but between 600-500 BC, the practise was recorded in Taoist China and Buddhism within India. This, over time, spread to other cultures in the West and influenced religions such as Judaism and, eventually, Christianity.

The word ‘meditate’ actually comes from the Latin word ‘meditatum’, which means, ‘to ponder’. This really does underpin the soul of meditation and it's universal purpose across all faiths.

Meditation was introduced to the United States early in the 20th century, and in the 1960’s there was a significant increase in interest.

In Judaism, Kabala has become hugely popular, and this in a nutshell is a meditative study. Islam discusses meditation also. The Qur’an refers to it as “Tafakkur” which is contemplative reflection upon the universe. Buddhism is likely the largest investor in meditative practice, and can include Zen, Tibetan and Theravadan approaches in order to achieve enlightenment. Christianity isn't so commonly associated with the method, yet is actually quite prominent within the religion. Scholars point out statements in the Old Testament that read, “Be still and know that I am God.” Many interpret this as the importance of quieting the mind.

One of the biggest names associated with meditation is the Buddha. The Buddha is known for his amazing journey, which started in superficiality and riches, and progressed through fasting, solitude, meditation and inner exploration to achieve enlightenment. He developed a strong following, focusing on the ‘self’ rather than a God or supernatural influence. He taught followers to look ‘within’ rather than outwards.

As the West began to adopt the techniques from a variety of religious sources, the impact it had on health and well being were widely noted by those in the medical field, especially in areas where medications were not working, or ideal for a patient.

In 1979, the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program was formed in the United States, which promoted meditation techniques to help treat patients with long term, chronic diseases and pain. Within the UK, mindfulness meditations are commonly prescribed by GP’s to help deal with anxiety, pain or stress. In 2013, a medical journal ‘Frontiers In Human Neuroscience’ published a paper on the medical evidence supporting a decrease in depression, stress and chronic pain upon the application of mindfulness meditation exercises.

So, as you can seem it no longer has to be associated with an established religion or devoted entirely to spiritual enlightenment, but can be adopted by any person of any faith (or lack of) to maintain a healthy mind and body.

Traditionally, the meditation ‘pose’ is to sit cross legged with palms lightly relaxing on crossed knees, and the index finger and thumb pressing each other on each hand. In more recent years, it's common to alter this stance to any comfortable sitting or lying position.

You can practice meditation in the comfort of your own living room, or join a community meditation group. Either way, history shows us the benefits and long-established importance of the tradition for us to work with.