To understand meditation in a nutshell, go get a camera and take two pictures of the same thing.
For the first, hold your camera as still as possible, and take a picture.
For the second, shake your camera back and forth as fast as you can while you snap the photo.
The difference between the clarity in the two pictures is the difference in the clarity of a life with and without meditation.
If you’ve ever dreamt of becoming superhuman as a child, practicing meditation is probably the closest thing possible to experiencing it as an adult. Developing a regular practice leads to the creation of a virtual bulletproof vest for our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health.
Meditation means different things to different people. There are dozens of types, styles, and schools of thought surrounding it; including Samadhi, Vipassana, and Zazen. My intention for this post is not to compare the pros and cons of the different practices. What I’d like to do is give you a glimpse into what benefits can arise as a result of any method you choose.
One of the most important functions that has evolved for human survival is the ability to adapt and adjust to our surroundings. The brain and body are dealing with an unbelievable amount of stimuli in every single moment of life, and focusing on all of them at once would be impossible. So, the mind tends to shift as many familiarities as possible to the proverbial unconscious back burner. For example, you probably weren’t paying attention to the feel of your shirt on your torso until you read this sentence. Now that I’ve mentioned it, I’ve brought it back into your conscious thoughts, and you do notice it. Somewhere in the next few paragraphs, your mind will place it on the back burner again to be able to focus on understanding this article. Pretty fascinating, no?
Our minds do this to us constantly. We forget about the things and patterns that seem to be the most consistent, in order to focus on something new and unknown. Have you ever been extremely excited by the purchase of a brand new car, only to lose all appreciation for it several days or weeks later? This is the mind at play. This is also one of the many reasons why I don’t ever plan to buy an expensive car. It’s basic human psychology.
No matter what conditions we are thrown into, they eventually become commonplace with time. Our minds have the tendency to take the good things for granted, and focus solely on what we don’t have. To make things even worse, we eventually get used to all of the things we try to use to fill the void. This causes us to desire an even stronger dose. Left unattended, the mind can become a built-in misery creation device; or our own worst enemy. The good news: it can be befriended and tamed with the right amount of discipline.
For the purpose of simplification, I will describe a very basic type of meditation.
1. Sitting in a comfortable position, breathe in until your stomach and lungs are so far out that you don’t think any more air can fit inside your body.
2. Then breathe in a little more.
3. Hold this in for a few moments. Exhale slowly.
4. Enjoy a brief pause before inhaling again.
5. Close your eyes, and repeat this process again 5-10+ times. Don’t worry about keeping count, the number of breaths is unimportant. This will only serve to distract you from the true purpose of the meditation. Focus only on the breath, as if it were the only thing that existed in the universe.
Go ahead and do it now.
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Stop reading and do it! No cheating! :)
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How do you feel now?
Research has shown that deep breathing practices have tremendous benefits for stress reduction, self esteem, and overall health. It increases concentration and memory. If you are a public speaker, you will be more natural and calm in front of crowds. If you play basketball, your shooting percentage will go up. If you write or invent things, meditation is like steroids. It’s almost an unfair advantage.
This is just the beginning.
When meditating for longer periods of time (say 30-120+ minutes), that’s when truly amazing things begin to happen. In the deep silence, time slows to a halt. It can be seen for what it really is: a man-made invention that we all agree to use to simplify things, but something that doesn’t truly exist in nature. We begin to realize that our constant obedience to the concept of “time” has caused us to rush around through life, without ever taking breaks to be introspective. We end up overlooking important insights like these all of the time. Wisdom arises so much more easily; solutions to recurring problems become so clear that we wonder how we had never seen them before.
Without the constant judgment and influence of those outside, we are able to reconnect with our very own deepest truths. We remember what it should feel like deep down to live the way we were meant to live, to treat others the way they were meant to be treated. We look ourselves directly in the mirror, see where we are lying to ourselves, and rediscover what we know is right. We regain access to the inner compass that we have been too busy to look at, causing us to veer way off course. We reflect on the decisions and actions we’ve made. We become happy about the ways we’ve grown, and remorseful about the times we’ve stooped below the level of human decency and empathy we know we should be living with every day.
We unlock the capacity for healing deep scars, and moving forward with life. We experience compassion for others like we’ve never been able to before. A group of loud kids transforms from “a headache” into a group of young human beings playing and creating newfound joy together. A barking dog changes from being a nuisance to a great friend who wants someone to pet her, feed her, or take her for a walk. A homeless person on the street is no longer a worthless beggar, but a person who has faced extreme hardship, and needs care and guidance to find their way back to where they belong. A person ceases to work with the intent of extracting money from people, but instead to gain the satisfaction of knowing that the results of their creative process are truly bringing joy to others’ lives and reconnecting us with our lost humanity.
Meditation creates a greater capacity for empathy. It allows one to become a better friend, a better relationship partner, and a better person overall. It gives a person a silent radiance that draws others in; because we can all sense when someone is connected to something greater than themselves, and know that we could be doing the same.
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