After reading this, you will never see praying five times a day as a chore again.
Some topics trend in science. After such topics have been researched “to death” from all angles, researchers move on to something else.
One of the trending topics now is mindful meditation.
Benefits of mindfulness
Mindfulness changes our physiology. In his book, 10% Happier, Dan Harris reported a Harvard MRI study, which found that the gray matter got thicker in the areas of the brain associated with self-awareness and compassion among those who practiced mindfulness for eight weeks.
Further, the study found that areas of the brain associated with stress shrunk.
Overall, research has found that mindfulness meditation improves decision-making. And life is all about the decisions we make – minor or major.
In addition, Professor Jon Kabat-Zinn argues convincingly that mindfulness increases creativity. That is, you are more likely to find novel ideas and solutions to problems when you practice it.
It also helps with disorders like depression, anxiety, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder.)
Mindfulness is immersing ourselves fully in the present without reacting to our impulses; and meditation increases our mindfulness.
That definition does not say much, but full meaning comes from how it is done. Many authors have varying views of what you should do during meditation. Author of “The Surrender Experiment” Michael A. Singer said you should focus on your breath. Andy Puddicombe, author of “Get Some Headspace” said you should focus on one sense, such as sense of smell. Others argue that while focusing, you could intone a word.
However, the one I find more practical and doable is the instruction that says one should focus on a place in front of you – or, to stare.
For instance, Peter Kuijper, on Feb 4 2015, gave a TED Talk (TEDxLeiden Holland) where he said:
“Start with one minute. One minute to stare at something. One minute to start a life changing experience … staring help us to relax and [relaxation] help us to eliminate unnecessary impulses and it also brings the recovery of a full day. Choose an object; a book, a newspaper, your cat – it can be really anything – a plant, a bush, some nature and then focus on it.“
We can extract two insights from Kuijger’s message: you can do mindful meditation starting with one minute and you can do it by staring at an object or a spot.
When you ask Muslims where do they look when standing in prayers, they would tell you that they concentrate on one spot: where they are going to put their forehead during prostration.
They stare at this place to maintain khushshuh (tranquility) a major requirement during prayer. Personally, I’ve found that when I focus on this spot, it’s difficult to get distracted when praying.
If this is how to do mindful meditation, then Muslims (who pray by concentrating in such fashion) have been doing it – many of them without knowing it.
This also means that they will get the benefits of mindfulness, which is calmness through de-stressing, compassion, good decision making, loving others, being kind to others, etc.
These are attributes of a good character. And Prophet Muhammad (P) said he was sent to perfect character. This means you have to treat people (including animals) well – whatever their beliefs- and establish good relationships.
In addition, the Qur’an says Allah does not like the quarrelsome person. He prefers servants who walk on Earth with humility and when they meet people who disagree with them, they “say something of peace.” (Q25 V63)
Mindful meditation (prayer) keeps you mild and calm – it prevents you from quarrelsomeness.
However,there is a limit
Although there is permanent effects of meditation, experts say doing mindful meditation once a day is not enough to keep you sane throughout the day. In a world full of stressors, some irritants can bite you so that you lose all your calmness.
What to do?
Meditating/praying more than once a day is a way to recharge so that you maintain your cool throughout the day.
What is the evidence for this?
We can turn again to researchers, especially the psychologist and science journalist Daniel Goleman who has done considerable work in this field.
Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence and Altered Traits, in an interview with Big Think said:
“If you practice mindful meditation ten minutes a day or ten minutes three times over the course of a day, something remarkable happens to your attention.”
He also said, “if you practice 10 minutes in the morning it would wane through the course of a day, but if you do 10 minutes at lunch and 10 more minutes at midafternoon , it helps you through the day to stay concentrated… it [even] works for beginners in terms of stress.”
This means that for non-Muslims to enjoy the full benefits of mindfulness you should do it several times a day. For Muslims, praying many times a day will give the same effect.
In summary, in addition to spiritual benefits and the requirement to show our obedience to God by praying, the aforementioned are the benefits of praying many times a day. A major benefit is to be a servant whom God likes. And who’s that? Someone who is humble, mild mannered and treats the creatures with kindness.
Indeed, if you are going into a stressful situation, such as an interview or high stakes meeting, it would help to meditate/pray for 10 minutes as described here.
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