Back in the day, enlightenment seekers hide away in caves for years on end seeking liberation. The wisdom they sat in stillness to find was profound and complex. Move forward 2000 years and hippies took on the trend too. Meditation for them was less about profound cave practices and more about peace on earth and love for all. Today, when people think about meditation, they associate it with an impractical, flimsy practice of turning off the mind and flouncing about in life.
Well, I hate to tell ya, but the facts are in and science has now confirmed that meditation is a must. This isn’t about becoming weak, sensitive and losing yourself in the clouds. But if you wanna succeed in life, the fact is, you gotta be willing to connect with the present moment and know what’s going on in your mind and body.
First things first, I’d like to clear up a few misconceptions about meditation, what it really is and who should be doing it. It seems like it’s PR reps have been doing a shit job at keeping people informed about what’s what.
People often think that meditation is about achieving a blank mind or eliminating all your thoughts. Well, forget that idea. Your mind is designed to think. No amount of zen master teachings will change that.
Next, ever since I first became a yoga teacher a few years ago and started talking to people about yoga and meditation more often, I found that 94% of people responded the same way.
“Oh that stuff isn’t for me, my mind is just too busy for that.”
Sorry dude, your mind isn’t busier than anyone else’s. Everyone’s mind is busy. We live in a world where we are trained to have especially busy and productive minds. Our overactive minds are products of our impulsive, overactive, productivity-obsessed societies.
Finally, this idea that meditation is for touchy-feely, emotional folks who just wanna sit around and weep all day is complete nonsense.
Although I’m not gonna lie, I do enjoy a good cry. But so what?
When did we decide to label anyone who knows how to feel their emotions in a healthy way as weak or lesser than? Thanks again patriarchal society!
Years and years of having men dominate the world has left us with a society that devalues the ability to feel and express emotions in a healthy way as not only unimportant but stupid.
Fuck that, guys! You spend some time connecting with your feelings and allowing yourself to feel some of those tough emotions, and you’ll see just how much strength, courage, and cojones it takes.
We no longer are regularly having to fight lions. So, being honest with yourself about pain, misery and sadness has been bumped up to one of the great acts of courage of our time.
About meditation and what it really is
Meditation is about learning to quiet the mind chatter. By using a specific point of focus (which varies depending on the practice), you teach your mind to be still and focused. By doing this, you learn to act, speak, be and feel more honestly, consciously and compassionately.
Instead of freaking out because someone cuts you in line, the spaciousness created by meditation allows you to consider that maybe he didn’t cut you in line because he’s a total jerk. Maybe he’s in a rush to pick up his kid from daycare, or maybe he just didn’t see the lineup. Either way, it doesn’t matter. The fact that he’s cutting you off in line, is not a real issue. If the point of your life is to be fulfilled and happy, realistically, why does it matter that he cut you off?
Meditation creates space in the mind to arrive at that conclusion quicker and more directly than you would otherwise.
Our brain works by creating neuropathways based on habits. If you get pissed off every time someone cuts you off in lineups or in traffic, eventually you become programmed to automatically get pissed off about it, every single time it happens.
What happens your stress levels get too high and your body can’t handle the constant stress of traffic or lineups anymore? Or you realize that it’s completely ridiculous and counterproductive to get upset about this, day in and day out?
You gotta reprogram the mind so that it doesn’t automatically react with aggression and hate to situations that have always automatically brought up these emotions.
Meditation is the tool to help with the reprogramming. By regularly sitting in stillness, you develop the skill of not letting your mind indulge in overdramatizing the thoughts or feelings it has. This is done by regularly and repeatedly focusing on the present.
Learning to be present
Many meditation practices use the breath as the connection to the present moment, or as the main point of focus.
Paying close attention to the air moving in and out your body and using that motion as your base, you watch your mind as it constantly tries to go elsewhere. Inevitably, you’ll wind up thinking about the gum under your shoe, your favorite day of the week, or how itchy your chin is. But then, eventually, you’ll realize that your mind has deviated from its focus, the breath, and you can bring it back there.
Without realizing it, many of us spend a lot of time living in the past or the future. We regret and ruminate about past events and dream, plan and fear what will happen in the future. But the ridiculous thing is that neither of those moments is even real?
The past is a memory or our perception of what happened before and the future could be drastically different than anything we could ever imagine.
In the present, everything you sense is completely real. You hear the ambulance siren, smell the cooking lentils, and feel the screen of your iPhone. But give your mind 5 seconds with those sensations, and it’ll analyze the shit out them, even after the stimuli have gone. All of a sudden, you aren’t smelling the lentils anymore, but instead, you are thinking about how your mind judged the smell of the lentils, even though you’ve left the kitchen. See the difference?
The judgment about the smell of the lentils is a fabrication of your mind, a memory about the past. Only while you are in the kitchen with the smell of the lentils is that a real sensation. So, we train our mind to be with real sensations that are happening now.
The benefits of meditation
These are all the scientifically proven benefits of meditation.
I’ve been meditating for over 5 years now, and I personally can attest to it bettering my life. For me, the main obvious ways it has changed me is that it’s helped me:
- become less impatient
- develop compassion (for myself and others)
- be less antsy
- connect with who I really am and get to know who that is
- lessen the grip on my views and identity
- become less reactive
- become more aware of what I’m feeling
- live in the present and recognize it’s beauty
- become less uncomfortable with pain and discomfort (physical and emotion)
- capable of calming myself down when I’m stressed or anxious
If you’d like to read a bit more about my journey with meditation, check this article out.
How it’ll help you find your way in life
As my focus is always about doing things to help you choose your path in life more consciously, I want to specifically clarify how meditation will help you do that.
The main problem I see in life is that it’s become too easy, or even the norm, to just go through life on cruise control. We casually drift through days and weeks without even noticing it’s happened. We are all so busy that there’s often no time to stop and make sure we’re going the right way.
It’s like when you’re running late to get somewhere, but have gotten a bit lost. It’s only once you’re completely lost that you stop and look at the map. Until then, although there might have been a thought at the back of your mind that you were lost, you tell that voice to shut up, because you don’t have time to stop and check. Because you were in a rush, you didn’t prioritize making sure you were going the right way.
That’s how we’re going through life. As though we are always chasing time. Our to-do lists are huge, we have extremely long working days, and with the little time we have left, we have to manage families, our partners and friendships, stay in shape, go buy groceries, do the laundry and at the end of the day we’re supposed to make meditation fit in there too?
Meditation helps turn that autopilot off. This way, you get to jump into the driver’s seat of your life. By developing more present moment awareness, you become more capable of living each moment consciously. This helps you take each step with care and consideration.
How to start meditating
Here’s a very brief super-simple step-by-step guide for how to start meditating right now.
- Sit comfortably on the ground or on a chair. Make sure your back is straight, but not rigid.
- Bring your attention to your breath.
- Find a place in your body where you find it especially easy to feel the breath coming in and out.
- Sit and pay attention to that.
- As soon as you realize that you are distracted by other thoughts, bring your attention back to the breath. Don’t beat yourself up about it, just gently bring your attention back to the breath.
- Sit for as long as you like.
To start, you can sit for 5 minutes a few times per day. As you start practicing more often, have one or two longer sessions per day.
If you prefer the idea of doing an actual course to learn how to meditate, I highly recommend this beginner meditation course. The guy who teaches it is super knowledgeable.
Who meditation is for
The title of this article said I’d talk about who meditation is for, but I’m hoping that you’ve realized that it’s for everyone.
Meditation isn’t just for hippies, monks or super yogis anymore. Businessmen and women, housewives and husbands, kids, driving instructors, factory workers, police officers, students, cashiers, government workers and anyone else looking to create an awesome life for themselves.
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