As a species, human beings depend on meaningful connections. We need only look at one another to observe this: we crave contact so much, that our deepest connections have become those that we make with screens and technology, as stand-ins for a human touch. In a natural quest to be and become more, increasing numbers are turning towards meditation to bring meaning to their lives; but what is this meaning? What does it mean to search for meaning? Ideas about this are various and multifaceted, often defined within a particular cultural, social and economic context.

A group of yogis, 1880. Part of Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck collection.

A group of yogis, 1880. Part of Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck collection.

Western values, for instance, construct a particular definition for the meaning of life, and it is interesting to witness a popular turn to the East, for what might be a blueprint of this quest. Among others, this is due to the allure of the concept of retreat from the stresses of modern Western life, but can we be sure to solve this problem by appropriating solutions and practices from other social and cultural contexts, often not knowing their source, nor fully comprehending their substance?

Contemporary chant artist Krishna Das believes that those who engage in the practice of japa (ritual chanting or singing of the names of God) do not need to know what these mean. “We ripen ourselves [through these practices],” he says. As modern life becomes more and more complex and intense, we need something to quieten our minds and come back to a place of calm and a sense of peace.

Meditation practitioner and chant workshop leader Megan Selby began sharing her practice in 2010. She firmly believes in the importance of mantra: “Singing Mantra together often brings the most beautiful sense of connection, resolve, openness and bliss. It moves us beyond our daily understanding of the world and, perhaps more importantly, ourselves and allows us to experience and release emotion without having to cognitively understand the process.’

Cultural respect, however, should not be sacrificed on behalf of personal benefits. In my experience, being aware of the roots, history and mythology that surround any particular meditative practice makes for a deeper commitment to and connection with these practices. For others, it might be enough just to know that there is a part of each one of us which exists beyond the hustle and bustle of modern life, and further intellectual examination is rarely necessary.

A still from Markus Klindo's performance art piece, titled Meditation, 2012.

A still from Markus Klindo's performance art piece, titled Meditation, 2012.

Those who turn to meditation for the sake of improving their mental wellbeing may not always be aware of the deeper meaning behind these practices. Equating meditation with the search for meaning is one way of making sense of the practice in Non-Eastern contexts. Increasingly, children are being encouraged to learn yoga and meditation, with reports from various sources of beneficial effects on grades, behaviour and student wellbeing. It can be argued, that beyond the positive spiritual consequences mediation produces, it also contributes to tangible improvement of one´s personal and professional performance.

Integrating a meditative practice into daily life can put you back in touch with yourself. The degree to which this happens might even be uncomfortable for some, but we all seem to need a fertile space to reclaim and explore our identity. If this is the end, the appropriation of means by which we reach it is, by many accounts, justified.

Words: Casey Bottono

Copy edited by: Elena Stanciu