Meditation was once something that only monks and long haired guys wearing tie-dyed shirts did. Over time though it has become more and more popular amongst everyday people. Athletes, business professionals and others looking to find peace within the chaos of daily life use it as a tool for calming down, becoming focused and self-reflection. Science has also begun to support the benefits of meditation, but I still feel that a lot of confusion and flowery language surrounds the practice. Many people are confused about what they should be doing when they meditate and what is actually taking place in their brains. An incorrect understanding here can actually leave meditators more stressed than those who watch my kitchen rules every night instead.
I began meditating about 10 years ago after reading some spiritual texts while looking for answers about life. This journey led me to attend silent meditation retreats and consistently meditate for 20 - 60 minutes every day. Over time I came to realise that it doesn’t need to be complicated and you really don’t need to be sitting in the lotus position wearing a loin cloth to get the benefits. You just need some basic instruction, as well as a clear understanding of what is taking place in your brain.
The truth about meditation
While I certainly don’t claim to be an enlightened Zen master, I have mediated a lot over the years. That experience coupled with my study of psychology and psychotherapy have led me to understand meditation from a slightly different perspective. To me, meditation is simply a relaxed state of awareness where the individual has come to be intensely focused on their internal and external environment, coupled with an overwhelming acceptance of reality. Our filters and belief systems begin to operate on a more subconscious vs conscious level. Our conscious mind activity is all focussed on our environmental sensory input. The cognitive commentary reduces and eventually we reach a state of deep focus and acceptance. Being in this state feels really nice. We have few concerns at present and feel more excepting of whatever noise, smell or sensation we feel. We are, for a moment seeing reality more clearly. Seeing things as they truly are with less reaction and mental commentary.
During this process, there is an amazing opportunity for growth. Any positive benefit is somewhat temporary unless we can permanently grasp the understandings that allowed us to view our environment in such a peaceful way. We need to use the feedback we gain during meditation for further contemplation and investigation.
eg. Notice what thoughts keep popping up during your meditation. What are you thinking about and concerned about?
What in your environment are you resisting? What do you think should be some other way? Why should it be some other way? Could it really be some other way? Where are you holding tension in your body? Are you able to breathe fully. etc etc
During the meditation simply focus on accepting your environment. Listen with your whole body. Thoughts and resistance may come up at times. Let them be and bring your attention back to your body and your environment.
Once you finish meditating take some time to contemplate what you were resisting and what thoughts kept coming up. These are likely deep rooted or current concerns that need further reflection as described in the above example. Ideally, write them, discuss them with a wise friend, or better still a wise group of friends.
Meditation is not about....
A) Trying really hard to make your mind quite. This is a futile effort. The mind is always active on some level. It just becomes more focused and excepting of reality with practice and understating. While it may feel like your mind is completely silent at times, still your brain is active. If it wasn’t you wouldn’t be able to mediate, or know when to stop, or know when to breath. Forget about this silent mind crap. Instead, focus on listening to you internal and external environment with your whole body.
B) Enlightenment. That big sexy word. Many people meditate hoping to become an enlightened Buddha like individual. The truth is that enlightenment comes through learning and understanding reality. It's a process, not a destination. Learning is taking place while meditating but it’s also taking place while your playing call of duty with your mates.
C) Sitting in the lotus position and being a spiritual hipster. You can literally meditate anywhere while doing anything. There are no special requirements and anyone can do it. It’s just being more focussed on the present task and being more accepting of your environment. You can do it while washing the dishes, driving, making love or break dancing. More on that in a post coming next week.
Meditation is awesome and it changed my life. I become a more present and grounded person through practice. But I have come to understand that the real growth took place through the realisations I had and the overwhelming acceptance of my environment that developed over time. That acceptance came through learning and understanding more about life, not some kundalini, chakra aligning reconnection horse shit.