“The way most of us live our lives today means our minds are horrendously busy,” said Dr. Jeff Soulen, an Ellicott City psychiatrist and founder of the Howard County Dharma Group. “Thoughts can be unruly and all over the place because so many distractions are vying for our attention, and often we’re not even aware of it.”
For Soulen, the members of his group and many of his patients, the answer can be found in regular meditation, which he describes as “cultivating the capability to put your attention where you want to, when you want to, for as long as you want to.
“There’s a misconception that you have to clear your mind in order to meditate,” he added. “Meditation is about clearing the mind. It’s about achieving a state of mindful awareness of what is going on around you without judgment so you are observing it rather than getting caught up in it.”
The National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine acknowledges meditation as a “way to become mindful of thoughts, feelings and sensations and to observe them in a nonjudgmental way … to result in a state of greater calmness, physical relaxation and psychological balance.”
Meditation exists in many styles and has numerous places of origin. And while it has roots in spiritual growth and enlightenment, many of today’s practitioners use it simply as a tool for relaxation and stress relief.
In Howard County, residents have many options for learning or practicing meditation, from in-depth courses to informal meditation groups to machines that help train the brain to relax.
“Meditation can be nothing short of life changing, and the irony is, you sit down to meditate with no purpose, just a powerful trust in the process,” said Mark Fradkin, a Dharma member.
‘An amazing clarity’
When he was in his 40s, Soulen, now in his 50s, found himself wondering about life beyond what was in front of him every day.
“I was raised in a very scientific household, where faith and belief were downplayed,” he said. “But I’ve always been interested in questions about the spiritual realm.”