Growing up, my father always told me that if there's one thing I do in my life, let it be meditation. That always stuck with me, but only within the past two years was I able to truly absorb the message.
I've only dabbled in meditation, so by no means am I a regular practitioner. Therefore, I don't speak from a place of deep knowledge. Rather, my aim in this post is to convey some truths about meditation that have made it more approachable for me. My hope is that by sharing them, perhaps they paint meditation in a new light for you as well.
It's also worth noting that I speak solely about basic mindfulness meditation. There are a wide variety of meditations out there, but for the sake of practicality, I chose to speak about mindfulness meditation - that is, the nonjudgmental awareness of everything in the present moment, within us and around us - as it seems to be the most universal.
Each section below highlights a key insight that I've gleaned about meditation, and how that insight has made it more approachable for me.
Meditation is practice for the real world
Finding peace while sitting on a cushion in the comfort of our homes is all well and good. However, the rubber meets the road in the real world. You could wake up at 4am, meditate for several hours and attain the most blissful state. But when you head off to work, if a simple traffic jam ruins your day before you get to the office, you've missed the point.
Meditation is really just practice for handling the real stuff that life throws at us. You might ask, practicing what? Practicing being calm? Practicing being still?
In a sense, yes, but it's more than that.
It's about practicing being aware of the ever-changing conditions of your body, mind, and heart. The more we practice being aware, the more separation we allow between ourselves and the changing conditions we experience. Ultimately, the more separation that exists, the more room these unpleasant emotions have to pass through us.
We all know what normally happens - when we're so upset that we're not even conscious of being upset. We're so caught up in the emotions that we follow them everywhere they tell us to go. When we're stuck in traffic and want to scream, our meditation practice helps us to wake up in that moment, and reminds us to simply be aware of the urge to scream. When we're aware, we're now one layer removed from the emotion itself.
It's important to note that it's not about making emotions stop or saying, "feeling angry is bad, wanting to cause harm is wrong, so I better make it stop." The emotions will still happen, so any attempts at suppression will cause them to come up later in another, usually stronger way, as psychology can attest.
Mindfulness meditation is simply about watching our inner states as we experience this storm within.
We don't meditate to get something
If we think about meditation as something else we have to do to attain a certain state, we're going about it wrong. We don't "get" enlightenment. We don't "attain" peace. All of the states we're searching for are ultimately within us already, so we don't meditate to get somewhere.
Therefore, mindfulness meditation is not about changing our state or fixing the mess we have inside. It's simply about noticing it, being aware of the mess, and not trying to change it. That mess has to exist somewhere, and that somewhere is within your consciousness.
Noticing the changing conditions of your mind and your body helps the sensations come and go more freely. It's not about having a pain in your leg and then trying to eliminate the pain. It's about having a pain in your leg, and noticing the sensations and the accompanying thoughts that come with it.
So you see, meditation is never about getting, attaining, or becoming something. It's simply about being right here, right now, always.
We're not trying to get rid of unpleasant emotions
Fear, jealousy, anger, depression - these are all very uncomfortable to experience. I don't need to tell you this. But how do we know they're uncomfortable? Because we're aware, we're conscious.
Rather than eliminating the discomfort, we're really trying to understand it and the entire experience that stems from it. Unpleasant emotions are all very real aspects of being human, so we ought not to remove them. Meditation helps us investigate them, and realize that like everything, they come and go.
We can trust that awareness and take refuge in the knowing.
Meditation is not about forcing presence
If we try to force presence with our minds, it usually backfires. Using our minds to force presence is like a dog chasing it's tail. Presence cannot be imposed with thought. It can only be done.
I will admit, this one is quite tricky for me. I often find myself trying to "think" my way to presence, but it never works, as that thinking is just another thought. Presence just is. It just happens. If you catch yourself thinking your way to presence, try to notice the thinking. That noticing is awareness, or presence.
For example, if you look around the room, you don't need to think about what you're seeing. You just see it. Likewise, if you're in pain, you don't need to think about it. You just know! You're in there, experiencing the pain. Of course you know.
Well, that's being awake. You know, because you're conscious. Meditation starts and stops there. You feel an emotion. How do you know? Because you're aware. So just be that. Aware. Trust your awareness in the present to observe things the way they are. Meditation isn't about changing it. It's simply about being with it.
If your mind tells you you can't meditate, you can meditate on that
Some of us claim to be too busy, too lost in thought, that we feel we cannot meditate. I've even heard some people say that they're in such a good place that they're afraid meditation will take away their happiness.
If you feel you cannot meditate, you can be aware of that, just like any other condition that arises in the present moment. That awareness is meditation. There's really nothing that can't be witnessed with mindfulness. Whatever arises is fair game to be examined.
If you go off to meditate and come back only to say that you couldn't do it because your mind wouldn't shut up, congratulations! You were aware of your mind not being able to shut up. That's all meditation is.
Okay, now that we know what meditation is, why is it important?
I hope that in your own life, you've come to the realization that even when you're able to to control your external conditions so that they line up perfectly according to your preference, you still manage to suffer a great deal.
In other words, you could be having a perfect day with everyone you love, yet your mind could be giving you trouble. Meditation is a way out of this, as it helps us examine the ever-changing conditions of the heart, mind, and body, experiencing it all within our consciousness.
Consciousness is peaceful, and there is no suffering there. There's only suffering in our personal, conditioned mind. That's why meditation is important. It helps us to know, firsthand, the experience of peace. I can talk about it, but neither you or I know peace unless we experience it ourselves. The more we practice being aware, the more we fall back into that peace, and the less we get disturbed by daily occurrences.
I invite you to try meditation as a way to investigate your own inner experience of life.
Finally, as the title of this post asks, I also want to hear from you. Do any of the above points resonate? Do you have any additional insight to contribute?
Live with substance!