with Dr Graham Williams

There are three completely different ways in which you can use the incredibly versatile tool of meditation, and they have very different goals and outcomes. Firstly, over the last 30 years or so, meditation and mindfulness have been shown to be very valuable complements to therapy when used skilfully and wisely. For example they can be very effective in the treatment of stress, anxiety, insomnia and pain and have also been shown to have definite benefits in maintaining physical health.

Secondly, you can use meditation and mindfulness for your own personal development. And thirdly you can use them for your spiritual growth. In the public domain the main focus for the use of mindfulness meditation has understandably been for therapeutic purposes. However, I think confusion exists because the goals of the three different ways of using meditation are not clearly understood.

This can result in unintended and counterproductive outcomes when therapists lead their clients, either intentionally or unintentionally, into spiritual experiences for which they are not prepared. Therefore it is important to understand these different contexts and the goals they are setting out to achieve.

The therapeutic goal
The American therapist, Marsha Linehan, says that, in a clinical setting, the goal is to develop a more “effective way of transacting with yourself and the environment”, and that clients simply want help for their problems.

To this end, meditation provides the foundation of calm which gives people a secure base to be able to observe their thoughts, emotions, physical sensations and behaviour patterns and free themselves from being caught in them. It provides a reference point which they can access whenever they choose, and takes them out of the waves of emotional turmoil, bringing them to “the beach” – that still, calm, open space of mental and emotional balance which is a place of security in their mind.

To my mind, all psychological therapy is to assist someone attain a healthy sense of identity so that their personal stories give them a sense of continuity, confidence and well-being. They can then have clear boundaries between their sense of self and their subconscious mind, and communicate with their world with confidence.

The goal of personal development
Personal development is still within the realm of the personal, and so it involves the development and exploration of your sense of identity. Its goal is self-fulfilment, and a sense of identity which is secure in its independence. This means that you have the freedom for self-exploration.

In fact, once your physical and emotional needs are met it is a healthy thing to want to get to know yourself better and fulfil your potential. You might take the opportunity to explore interests and talents that you didn’t have the time for when you were establishing your career or your family.

The psychologist Carl Jung placed opening to and knowing your “shadow” – those hidden areas of your psyche – at the centre of personal development, because within this lies all the potential for broadening your understanding of yourself. This is particularly where meditation is so valuable.

And so personal development is still self-focused, even though our understanding of our sense of self has changed radically since Jung’s time. He thought of it as a deep structure in the mind, however the view of modern psychology is much closer to that of the meditation tradition. This is that our sense of self is constantly changing and is created in our relationship with others, our language and how we organise the events of our lives into stories.

Personal development can then lead to a much broader, more flexible, healthier and more fulfilled sense of self.

Spiritual growth
Spiritual growth is where the goal and the outcome depart radically from the previous ways in which you can use meditation. Its goal is to go beyond your sense of self, to realise its limitations and boundaries, and allow them to dissolve, and for this meditation is essential.

Letting go is the key idea here. The goal for both therapy and personal development is to build – to build a healthy, independent sense of self. The goal of spiritual growth is to understand that this is limited and ultimately creates our sense of separation from everyone and everything else. Naturally, this is exactly what our sense of self is designed to do. And so spiritual growth is based on the understanding that the only way to free yourself from this limitation is to let go of the boundaries which separate you. And these boundaries are created by your personal identity.

Therefore spiritual growth is the process of going beyond your identity, beyond the stories which you have constructed to create your identity – letting go of them. It means giving yourself to something bigger than yourself, opening up and being vulnerable to the people and the world around you.

It is the process of opening and deepening – opening to the infinite nature of the human mind and deepening your experience of the human heart.

Dr. Graham Williams has over thirty years’ experience teaching both meditation and mindfulness, is the Director of The Lifeflow Meditation Centre and an adjunct lecturer in the School of Medicine at Flinders University. He has written two books, Insight and Love which is in its third edition and Life in Balance. They are both available online. The Lifeflow Centre provides regular meditation courses in their city studio and retreats in a relaxing hills setting.
P 8379 9001
W www.lifeflow.com.au