One of the books I’m currently reading is a wonderful book by W. Alan Wallace, titled Mind in the Balance: Meditation in Science, Buddhism and Christianity. Wallace presents what he terms a multicultural view of meditation, not rooted in faith, that seeks to help one develop insight into the nature of mind and consciousness.
Among other benefits of mindfulness meditation is its aid in combating habitual tendencies that interfere with the mind’s ability to heal itself. Just as the body has an “astonishing ability to mend its wounds and cleanse itself of injurious agents from the environment, so long as we allow it to do so by “keeping a wound clean and bandaged, setting a broken bone, or surgically removing contaminated tissue,” so too the mind has great potential to heal itself, so long as it is settled in its natural state.
However, we don’t create the conditions that allow it to do so. Wallace writes
The problem is that when the mind is wounded – by trauma from a natural disaster, social conflict, or illness, by other people’s abuse, or even by our own harmful behavior – we often let those wounds fester. The mind obsessively churns up memories of the past or speculations about the future and we compulsively fixate and elaborate on them in ways that aggravate our mental afflictions. Psychologists call this tendency rumination, and it’s a way that mental wounds become infected, which obstructs the natural healing capacity of the mind.
There seems to be agreement that the human tendency to ruminate can be harmful to physical as well as mental well-being. Yet it is quite a common tendency.
Wallace likens mindfulness meditation to surgically removing infected tissue. The more we can keep our awareness focused on the present moment, allowing the mind to settle into its natural state in which we can observe without judgment and evaluation, the more we allow the mind to heal.
This is not to suggest that meditation is a cure-all and, certainly in the case of serious mental illness is not a substitute for therapy (although it may very well be a useful adjunct). But mindfulness meditation can go very far for many of us in helping us to better respond to painful and unpleasant experiences.