“Why am I doing this?”
It’s a question that I have asked myself on those days when meditation seems illusive and my schedule is crammed. But I’m lucky, in that I truly do know why I want to meditate so I continue to practice and I always will.
Meditation is trending. It’s in the news. It is the topic of many scientific studies. But most people ask me, “Why am I supposed to do it” or perhaps I’ll opt for the more important question, “What’s in it for me?”
Meditation hasn’t always had the best marketing strategy. It was brought to this country by wise men from India. They first presented their wisdom here in the 1920’s. A few state-side students got it and dove in, studying and truly understanding the practice, the tools and the goals and benefits. But if you weren’t there in the 20’s, or if you’ve never taken the time to read the teachings, study with a teacher or spend hours and hours and hours practicing, then likely you don’t get it. Most people think that meditation means stopping their mind. They try to do that once and can’t. Therefore, they determine that meditation is not for them.
In meditation classes, this is where I generally launch into my version of Meditation 101 but you can find that elsewhere in this site. Instead, I’ll try to answer just the question of why.
Your purpose for meditation depends on the individual and how long you’ve been practicing. Understanding the simple purposes or basic benefits of meditation might help you see that learning more might be helpful even if it is not your intention to don an orange robe and commit your life to the practice.
Staying in the moment to truly enjoy your life
We spend many (most?) moments of our life being upset over something that happened in the past or worrying about something in the future. When you do this, you are missing something very important. You’re missing now… your actual life as it’s going on moment by moment. Quite often if you can get your focus on this moment, you will find that right now, you’re okay. Likely you are fed, clothed, sheltered and not running for your life from a saber tooth tiger. We live in a world where moment-by-moment, most often we are just fine. Meditation encourages you to savor these moments of okay-ed-ness so our body isn’t always in panic mode… which isn’t good for our health.
Learning to pause when surprised
I think it’s a safe bet to suggest that all of us have moments where something unexpected or even a bit frightening happens and our response is immediate. We react. Later, sometimes we must apologize because our reactions might be loud and even unkind.
If reaction serves the purpose of getting you off the railroad tracks before the oncoming train arrives, then reactions are perfect. But if the incident didn’t cause harm but more scared or surprised you (“Surprised” is my new word for “pissed me off?” It’s interesting but I’ll save the chatter for another blog.) If you are reacting to ventilate fear or to make the other person feel what you’re feeling, then perhaps you might serve the world better by taking a deep breath, being grateful that no harm came, wish the one who surprised you well, and cruise on down the road.
Meditation trains you to practice pausing, taking a deep breath, slowing down thus giving yourself time to decide which emotion really needs expressed to help the world be a better place..
Finding a still moment between thoughts.
Whether you’ve practiced meditation for eons or have just started, sometimes it’s hard to calm your busy brain down. Notice I said, “calm your busy brain,” I did not suggest you would stop your brain from thinking. Your brain has spent most of your life thinking and feeling like it’s in charge so it’s not going to stop doing its job without some work. You may never stop your brain from thinking for any period of time. Rather, I suggest that an interesting goal is to notice the quiet moments between thoughts. A teacher once taught me to say in my mind, “I wonder where the next thought is coming from.” Then I was to wait and see if there was a momentary pause in brain noise before the next distracting thought arrived. The pause, maybe just momentary, is your goal. That’s your target, your intention, your golden chalice. Notice the moment, savor the moment and be grateful for the moment. In time, those still moments can expand into still spaces. Those still spaces are where I find clarity, wisdom, messages.
Listening for messages in meditation isn’t so strange or whoowoo as you might imagine. Often in the stillness, I get a brilliant idea. Hmmm, yep, those flashes of genius aren’t from my conscious mind but perhaps from somewhere deeper. Those are the sorts of messages I savor.
Sometimes I set an intention before meditating, something so lofty as what project should I work on next… is it time to start the new painting series… maybe I should get out and exercise even though it’s raining. I know my conscious mind (often lovingly referred to as the chatter box) has answers to all those questions. But my conscious mind has a tendency to grab at the first response it can find… like quick answers win some prize. My mind also tends to choose the easy way out, “Exercise or sit on my butt?” You get the drift. When I take my questions to meditation, I’m probing a bit deeper into the subconscious or some even refer to an unconscious mind, where time isn’t a factor… perhaps it doesn’t exist at all. When I can slow down a bit and listen, I get feedback that is often much more valuable and accurate for my longterm goals.
Often when I take my questions to meditation, I come back with an answer that makes me want to say, “Wow, that’s a great idea!” This is not generally my response to the sometimes endless litany of idea that pour from my chatterbox conscious mind.
So, why do I meditate? I do it because it works for me. I also meditate because I feel like it allows me to access a larger portion of my mind and perhaps touch a part of me that is much wiser that the chatterbox in my head.
So meditate because it’s a practical way to calm yourself, to keep your emotions on a more even keel, and it allows you to ponder questions or find answers in a deeper and more interesting way.
If none of these reasons appeal, I might also offer that meditation will often put you to sleep. Exercise or meditate? Zzzzzzzzz