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Meditation Therapy (SMT) and other styles of meditation

This page uploaded 22nd February 2013

By Pauline McKinnon
Principal and Founder of the Stillness Meditation Therapy Centre

The variety of meditation approaches appear to be almost endless – especially if you’re seeking information on the internet – and this can be very confusing for some people.  The question is often put to me ‘what’s the difference between Stillness Meditation and other methods’?  Here are my thoughts from over 25 years’ teaching!

Classical meditation comes from two major sources and is of historic origin.  Most systems involve focus, breathing, visualization, music or prayerfulness in order to discover stillness of mind.

Here’s an extract from ‘Yoga Concepts’ explaining their idea of Stillness Meditation in association with the Hindu form of meditation in this way:

‘This is the seventh limb in the eight limbs of yoga .The word Dhyana is derived from the root dhi, meaning ‘intellect”.  Meditation is a technique to stop the thoughts and still the mind, it is a deeper rest than relaxation and practiced regularly can generate profound change and experience of the true self beyond the trappings of the mind cultivating the witness consciousness through practicing and applying various techniques. When this state is experienced one goes beyond thought and reawakens the intuition, higher self or inner wisdom and greater energy in the mind to improve memory and general health. The state of going beyond the mind to identify with the enlightened pathway, living the life of the ordinary which goes beyond extraordinary. This is an essential state to develop in ones pathway to experience peace and happiness’. (sic)

The same organization offers a Stillness Meditation program described as follows:

‘This program offers the individual further self enquiry by reflecting more deeply within, with the aim of stilling the thought waves and connecting deeply with the soul. Many health benefits arise though meditation’ (sic)
Mindfulness Meditation, popular today, originates in Buddhist meditation.  In terms of Western understanding of mindfulness, the Vietnamese monk, Thich Nat Hanh, popularized this meditative concept when he published ‘The Miracle of Mindfulness’ in 1975.  He teaches the discipline of ‘following one’s breath to nourish and maintain calm mindfulness, even in the midst of the most difficult circumstances’.

One of his most well known examples of mindfulness is that of washing the dishes to wash the dishes; to be ‘completely aware of the fact that one is washing the dishes’.  Being conscious, being aware of one’s participation in life is essential to his teachings.  These involve letting go; and they also involve paying attention.

The Indian born Jesuit priest and philosopher, Anthony de Mello, taught the exercises of ‘Sadhana’ as a way to God but also as a mindful form of meditation for general wellbeing.  In his book entitled ‘Awareness’ published in 1990, de Mello expands on the importance of ‘waking up’ – the importance of awareness, the definition of which is self-observation.  

So the noble and historic principles of Hindu and Buddhist teachings are dominant in the history of meditation practices.

The mindfulness style that has become popular today from the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn is a contemporary version of part of the Buddhist philosophy.  It can be seen that its practice for the purpose of living well in the modern world is extremely valuable.  However, as a form of healing, this style of meditation can pose problems.  

In ‘mindfulness’, as its title implies and as described above, the cognitive mind is used. Mindfulness activity is a preliminary step to mindful meditation with a focus on awareness.  This is Professor Zinn’s definition of what he teaches: “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally”.

The aim of mindfulness is to assist people to manage their lives and to manage stress through the ability to appreciate the  present moment.   This approach particularly appeals to those people who find comfort in activity and therefore need a ‘technique’.  Technique can make meditation easier, but technique may also get in the way of really therapeutic meditation.

Here are the main facts surrounding Stillness Meditation Therapy (SMT).

  1. Of medical origin, SMT is the original therapeutic concept of meditation conceived by Melbourne psychiatrist Ainslie Meares way back in 1950’s
  2. It is unrelated to culture, philosophy or religion
  3. It does not involve technique
  4. Its primary purpose is to induce mental rest
  5. The meditator learns to experience ‘global’ rest despite disturbance of any kind
  6. All that is required is simplicity and effortlessness
  7. Repeated diligently, this simple approach re-trains mental responses from reaction to the serene response of living calm
  8. The primary outcome of SMT is anxiety reduction
  9. Naturally, health enhancement and physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing follow
  10. It was Meares who identified the now commonly recognised link between high levels of ‘stress’ leading to high levels of cortisol, leading to weakened immunity, leading to serious illness

Though SMT is essentially simple, it’s important to note how the skills of a trained SMT teacher primarily assist non-verbally, example, encouragement, guidance and empathy, especially as given through the use of a calming touch, are the essence of the teacher’s role.  So facilitated sessions will make a huge difference to the quality and understanding of this kind of meditation!

By contrast, at the Stillness Meditation Therapy Centre, we have observed that mindfulness can incite more anxiety in already anxious people.  Meares pre-empted his style of meditation from the view that too much thinking (i.e. over-stimulation of the brain) is the very reason for high levels of anxiety, tension and stress.   For those who are especially seeking healing, being ‘mindful’ in meditation can create a situation where rumination, often of a negative nature, becomes excessive.  So the situation worsens.  When anxious meditators are asked to pay attention, on purpose and in the present moment it must also be remembered that the present moment is not always pleasant for the anxious person.

A perfect example of this can be seen in Elizabeth’s story – you may wish to read Chapter 14 of my new book, Living Calm in a Busy World, (2011).
Conversely, there is no trying or training to be ‘mindful’ to reach Meares’ authentic stillness.  Stillness Meditation Therapy (SMT) doesn’t require the complexity of having to ‘do something’ sensory to find healing.  And interestingly, one of its many natural outcomes is the capacity to become mindful, anyway!  So SMT can offer healing, expanded consciousness and a wholly better life.  Simply, naturally and effortlessly.

As with all practices, the way each is taught and the competence of the teacher will play a significant role in the development of successful outcomes.

For further information on SMT programs

Please contact

The Stillness Meditation Therapy Centre
Ph: (03) 9817 2993

© Pauline McKinnon, Melbourne, Australia
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