Meditation is about developing awareness.
When was the last time you stubbed your toe? Or almost ran over a pedestrian? Or absent-mindedly dragged a Sharpie across a white T-shirt, ruining it?
Occurrences like these are signs that you are not paying attention. They are signs that something is distracting you, that you’re upset about something. Or that your thoughts have so consumed you, that you are no longer paying mind to the world in front of you. When you stub your toe, you’re gaining the opportunity to pay greater attention.
If you are a meditator, you know this. You know this because every time you sit down to meditate, you have the opportunity to get distracted; to hop on a train of thought and leave the practice. But that’s not the point. The point is to watch that tendency. And you get better at it. The more you meditate, the better you get at watching the way you try to avoid what is happening right now. And when you can pay attention to what is happening right now, you are less likely to stub your toe, bump into someone, crash your car, or get permanent marker on your new T-shirt.
Meditation is about developing discretion.
When you are continually tuning in to your interior, you begin to understand how you work. You begin to see that certain thoughts create tension in you, and others create joy. You begin to notice common themes in your thinking and behaving. You make sense of previously confusing storylines. You begin to sense what you are hungry for, and what makes your body cringe or feel sick inside. You notice the effects of how you sit or stand on the rest of your body. For instance, sitting while leaned slightly to the left or right, creates compression on one side of your body, and a cascade of numbness and pain in the corresponding nerve tissue on that side of the body. So you may relax the tendency to sit slightly to the left or right, and find that the numbness or pain you used to experience regularly on that side of your body begins to dissipate. You realize that when you go into worrying about a sick relative, or what you have to do at work, or your finances, your heart begins to beat faster. So you resolve to find resolution with that issue when it is applicable, and learn to detach in the meantime, resulting in greater peace.
The gifts of discretion are endless, and they all come from the regular practice of connecting with the subtle nuances of our regular, moment to moment experience. Not to mention that learning to still the mind relaxes it, making it sharper, and more able to make calculated, intelligent choices.
Meditation is about developing focus.
Focus is useful. If you are trying to complete a project, but you keep getting distracted by trivial matters, you are losing precious time that you could be spending doing activities you love.
If I want to write 5-10 pages in a book I am intent on finishing, but keep checking Facebook, surfing the internet, or checking my phone, it may take me all night to complete something that I could have finished in an hour. Not to mention that if this is my attitude to finishing a 5-10 page portion of the book, my chances of actually finishing that book within a reasonable time frame are fairly slim.
We all live busy lives, and focus is our life hack. When you have a full time job, an active social life, a side business, and a family, you understand that time is more than just about money. Time is friendship. Time is quality time with the people you love. Time is a moment spent hiking your favorite wilderness trail. Time is soaking an extra 10 minutes in the hot tub, or helping your kid finish their homework. Time is surfing, training for a triathlon, reading, or doing anything else that you enjoy doing.
Time matters, and when your mind can’t focus, you’re wasting it. Developing focus is one of the greatest ways to become a Modern Day Master, juggling a busy schedule without dropping anything or becoming overstressed. Through meditation, you learn how to breathe, how to continue with what is at hand, and how to release distracting thoughts.
Meditation is about developing tolerance.
When your body wants to scream, run or burst into tears, or the pain in your back is begging for you to find some source of avoidance, meditation gives you the opportunity to be with it. And you learn to stop fighting.
Once you stop fighting and avoiding, two things happen. You first embrace what you previously could not tolerate, and cry, feel the sadness or anger or release the need to run away. As a result, you begin to experience greater freedom, relaxation and peace. Next, you may realize specific actions you are not taking yet desire to take in regards to the feeling you just experienced. You may even discover that the emotional energy is your impetus to accomplish these actions.
For instance, you may realize that you feel sad because you have not spoken to a dear friend who you love. You had a disagreement, and although you each apologized for your respective parts in the disagreement, you have not spoken since. While meditating, you realize that you want to reach out to them again. As you realize this, your sorrow begins to dissipate and instead turns into buoyancy and gratitude, as you remember how dearly you love this friend and how sorry you are for letting something trivial come between you.
As you develop tolerance for your own interior, you find that your tolerance for others and for various life events increases. You don’t find yourself flustered when you have to wait in a long line at the grocery store. You aren’t bothered as greatly when someone cuts you off. You are connected with your own interior, so when these events occur, you realize that someone cutting you off isn’t so bad. Either them cutting you off was not that dangerous, as you both were not driving too fast, or you think to yourself “Wow! That was a close call. Aren’t I lucky?” We may even realize that they had their blinker on for some time and we did not let them into our lane. As a result, we may decide to pay more attention to others and make sure to leave ample space in front of our vehicle on the road.
Once you begin to develop real tolerance, gratitude, peace and an abiding sense of happiness and satisfaction are the result. You are no longer a weathervane batted back and forth by the storms of life. You are a leaf in a stream, flowing along with the currents and the eddies. You may gain more friends, or your existing relationships may improve. All in all, you experience greater love and peace in your life, as you are developing detachment from the dramas and pains that previously caused suffering.
Meditation is about developing forgiveness.
When you sit in meditation, you learn quickly that carrying anger and resentment toward yourself or another human being is painful. Almost too painful to bear. So you begin to learn that if you want peace, you must forgive. Either you continue to meditate and forgive, or you begin to fight your practice until you are ready to accept this person or aspect of yourself, forgive and release your anger and feelings of resentment. When you meditate, forgiveness becomes something you do more and more readily, because at its core, forgiveness and acceptance are two of the most natural, self-loving things to do. As a bonus, as you forgive, you gain greater perspective. You realize that others never meant to harm you, and you begin to see them in expanded ways. You may gain insight into possibilities for their behavior you did not consider before, and become more empathic, resilient, and kind.
Meditation is about gaining your own trust.
As you sit down every day, you focus your attention on the one person you are always with: Yourself. Through this commitment of coming back to the practice every day, you begin to recognize that you are always there for yourself. And the byproduct of true, whole-hearted commitment is trust.
You begin to come back to yourself, and realize that there is never a time when you are not there for yourself. Even when you are in a work meeting with everyone buzzing or arguing around you, or at a soccer match cheering for the home team, or even on the floor of the New York stock exchange, you begin to realize that a deep sense of peace is always available to you. You begin to realize that kindness, patience, gentleness, and joy are the cornerstones of who you are deep down. And you begin to really, truly, fall in love with your own heart.
The more you meditate, the more you show yourself that you are willing to pay attention to what is within you. The more you meditate, the more you show yourself that you are willing to weather your own storms, and that you will still “hang in there”. Through this willingness to return to listen to the whispers of your own interior, you develop a presence with yourself, a sense of self love, and a sense of trust that you “have your own back”. As a result, you may open up to yourself in ways you never before knew possible. You may realize dormant dreams, forgotten hobbies or humanitarian callings. You may connect more deeply with your humor, curiosity and kindness. You may recognize that you are pretty fun to hang out with, and stop hating your time alone. As a result, you cease to feel lonely, and begin to enjoy your own company. You let go of punishing habits that brought you misery in the past, like overeating, drinking or watching excess TV. You become more pleasant to be around, because someone who likes being with themselves, is generally pretty great to spend time with.
As you become someone who is pretty great to spend time with, you begin to affect the world in interesting ways. Because you make space for yourself, there is more room for others to investigate their own interior, and begin to find the same peace you are discovering in yourself. As this happens, they too may begin to meditate, either formally or in their own way, or be inspired to take up hobbies or forgotten callings. This in turn has an effect on the people that are in their lives as well, and so on.
This, my friends, is why we meditate.
This article has been re-published on the site Elephant Journal, and can be viewed here.