Recently a friend of mine asked me for some advice about meditation and this inspired me to make this list. There is a wealth of information out there on the web about this topic of course, so I will use this space just to share my personal experience and views on meditation.
1. Training the mind
Meditation is like going to the gym. At first you will find it hard and progress may be slow. But once a routine is implemented, it becomes much easier. But why train the mind in the first place? In daily life we often react to situations without much thought. Someone cutting me up in the car, I might respond with anger and aggression. By training to watch states of mind as they arise, I may be able to catch myself about to react in anger and instead choose to act in a more peaceful manner. Meditation gives me the choice.
2. Tension discovery
In these stressful times we live in, we carry much tension in the body that we are probably unaware of. And it is wasting much-needed energy and can be damaging to the body. For me this tension lead to the onset of RSI as I was practicing for an upcoming piano exam. Through scanning my body during meditation I noticed I often carry tension in my shoulders and neck. Now whenever I notice this tension during the day, I make an effort to relax. This seems to be helping my RSI symptoms and I am hoping will lead to better technique at the piano in future.
3. Allowing space for repressed emotions and memories to unearth themselves
This can be a little unsettling and I would recommend teaming this with a qualified therapist if you have any difficult or sensitive issues.
For me one issue I had, was that I couldn’t understand why I would become depressed and closed off when coming into contact with children who have severe learning disabilities. With a combination of CBT and retrospective meditation, I learnt that this depression was a result of repressed memories from my childhood experiences in hospital. Meditation helped me make this connection with the clarity of mind it can bring. Knowing this has empowered me and I am about to begin volunteering at a children’s hospice. These feeling may still pop up from time to time but I feel I am much better equipped to reason with myself having discovered the root cause.
4. Pain tolerance
I discovered this when I was on a 10 day meditation retreat. After about day 3 of many many hours sitting cross-legged with my eyes closed and perched on a less than luxurious cushion, it was a pain in the ass… And the legs. When there are no distractions and your mind has settled into a place of tranquility, you might start to notice your leg. And then gradually pain sets in and before you know it, it begins to feel as if your leg might explode at any minute. What can you do? Of course you could move, but where’s the fun in that? I found that if I paid close attention to the sensation of pain rather than the thoughts of “owww my leg” the sensation changed. The pain was still there but if felt like I was an observer of something apart from myself. And furthermore, the pained ceased to be a problem. Why is this useful? Anytime I feel in pain, where there is no immediate option of relief, I try to remember this experience and just observe.
5. Getting up on the right side of the bed
If you are like me and often wake up late and then frantically rush around trying to get to work on time, chances are by the time you get to work you will be agitated. This will often set the tone for the rest of the day. When I wake up I try to have a short meditation (or micro meditation if time is really getting on) to remind myself to breathe, be calm and remember how lucky I am to have all the things I have.
Studies have shown that gratitude is often one of the habits that happy people have. As mentioned in number 5, I try to dedicate a little bit of my morning meditation to reflect on all that I have been blessed with. Such as family, friends, health, shelter, musical instruments, the list goes on. If we spend most of our lives focussing on what we don’t have or not wanting what we do have, chances are we are going to live a somewhat dissatisfied life.
7. Cultivating compassion
In Buddhism there is a meditational practice called Mettã Bhavana. Mettã Bhavana comes from the Pali language and loosely translates to loving kindness. A loving kindness meditation may start with the meditator sincerely wishing themselves peace, happiness, health, freedom from ignorance etc. The meditator would then imagine someone they love and wish them the same. Then perhaps someone they dislike, then someone neutral, then perhaps humanity as a whole. This may sound airy-fairy or fanciful. But when you take into account neuroplasticity you are actually cultivating these compassionate thoughts and behaviours. And if there’s one thing that the world needs, it’s more compassion.
8. Relaxation and stress relief
This one is fairly self-explanatory. When I am stressed, I find my breathing is shallow, my body is tense. After focussing on breathing properly and relaxing the body, I find myself not quite as stressed as I was before. Jobs a good’n.
I kind of mentioned this earlier. Sometimes if something has really riled me up during the day, and I don’t have time to analyse it there and then, I will place it aside for further investigation. During retrospective meditation, I will replay the event in my head and allow myself to feel whatever it was that I was feeling and then explore why it provoked such a strong reaction in me. Sometimes I find that I am projecting a hidden aspect of myself onto this other person who has rattled me. For instance someone had angered me for being impatient. Why was this person in a rush? How selfish are they!? I could never be impatient like this fool. — Oh, actually I can, I just chose not to acknowledge this aspect of my personality and repress it down into the shadows of my unconscious mind. Choosing instead to focus on how important it is that I get served first in the queue. Carl Jung writes extensively about shadow personalities and shadow integration if you fancy a google.
10. Creativity and inspiration
During meditation, when my mind is quiet, I have on a number of occasions had flashes of inspiration. I think it was at a meditation session at New Buddha Way where as I sat there in silence I suddenly had this strong feeling that I should sell this Inner Pieces meditation CD that I had just created and donate the profits to good causes. Sometimes you have to shut off the inane chatter to allow the golden ideas to reveal themselves.
So there it is, 10 reasons why I meditate. Maybe you have your own reasons? Please feel free to write them in the comments section below or ask any questions.
Written by Andrew Ford 12/10/13