I have been meditating fairly regularly since October this year. Following my shoulder surgery, and therefore forced to take a break from sports, I turned my attention towards my mind. And it’s been a long, hard, interesting journey that continues to fascinate as much as frustrate me. At first I read a lot of books and wrote some blog posts here. Eventually, I started wondering about meditation, curious to find out what on earth I could get out of watching my breath for 15 minutes. I had had a few false starts in this realm, having read some books about mindfulness and spirituality a few years ago. I remember coming away from those readings with the distinct impression of a group of people who had very little to say, especially because of what seemed to me an elaborate effort to intentionally use language that was vague and lacking meaning. As a straightforward affront to my empirical sensibilities it only succeeded in pushing me away from this constellation of ideas. That is, until recently. Despite being a complete amateur in my meditation practice I can already see a few concrete uses for meditation. That is why I’m writing this blog post. And because I’m a complete amateur I can jot down its uses in straightforward language that doesn’t invoke the life and trials of the Buddha. So here are three ways in which meditation helped me:
- Breathing is a boringly repetitive action. And no wonder the task is performed automatically without the intervention or even conscious knowledge of the mind. But precisely for this reason, it becomes interesting to bring to this simple and uninteresting action, awareness and attention. The logic is that if I can manage to bring my mind to carefully pay attention to something as boring as my breath, then paying attention to anything else in life becomes entirely trivial.
- Meditation brings awareness to my actions and behaviors during the day. What am I doing and why? And how? At first it simply makes me see everyday things that escaped my attention before. Then, it makes me wonder, and ask myself if I’m starting to see a pattern emerge. In this way, meditation is a meta-strategy. It allows the possibility to first observe, and then possibly change, unhealthy patterns of behavior.
- Actions and behaviors are merely outcomes of a deeper set of processes: thoughts and emotions. Through meditation I find myself more aware of my own thoughts and my emotions. Sometimes this awareness is brings me closer to the emotion that I’m feeling. Often I can associate particular feelings with specific parts of my body. I then pay attention to why I’m feeling a particular way and don’t try to ignore it or hide it. Other times the awareness also allows me to separate myself from my thoughts and emotions. In those instances, when perhaps a feeling is unwarranted or irrational, that is to say, that it is the product of a fertile but flawed imagination of how things can go wrong in the future, I can take a step back and distance myself from these processes. I see this process as the rational forebrain soothing the animal hindbrain. Usually though strong emotions appear for good reason. There is such a thing as a gut instinct after all. Failing to acknowledge these emotions or constantly rationalizing away our feelings or never understanding why we’re feeling a particular way often leads to the imposition of longer-term emotional states of the same kind, also know as moods. Meditation, through awareness, is useful to preempt this unfortunate chain of events.
All three benefits are simply different aspects of the same virtue of “being present”. Presence is beautiful to experience, and beautiful to share. That I think is the basic reason everyone should start meditating. A simple meditation practice only involves setting aside 15 minutes everyday, sitting down in a comfortable, yet alert, position, and repeatedly bringing your attention back to the breath. Honestly, it’s really simple.