At this point, the word meditation shouldn’t be foreign. You’ve probably seen it everywhere.
The Buddhists got it right thousands of years ago. The Hindis figured it out in the course of the last few centuries. Enlightened individuals like Thich Nhat Hanh (a very well-known Vietnamese Buddhist Monk) and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (founded the Transcendental Meditation technique), have brought meditation and enlightenment to the mainstream.
It’s been touted to help reduce stress, reverse some physical ailments, help with mental clarity, and provide peace and calmness amongst our busy world. Almost too good to be true, you’re told that simply sitting down for 20 minutes a day and clearing your mind will open you to a whole new realm. Sounds awesome, right? As in, what are you waiting for? Sit down, shut your eyes, shut your mouth, and breath.
Here’s the hard sell – it’s not that easy.
Before you label me as some pessimistic excuse of a human who enjoys telling people they’re wrong (I think the word is contrarian or supercilious; or maybe schadenfreude?), let’s set the record straight: while it’s not easy, it actually works.
It’s no shocker that everyone should meditate, simply because everyone can receive benefits from it. And while there are a lot of fancy terms thrown out surrounding the practice, including the different types of meditation, it’s wise to throw all that out the window. At its core, meditation is the idea of sitting still and focusing on the present moment. Mantras, Ashrams, Chakras, Dharma, Mudra, the list goes on with the elaborate terminology. If you’re just starting out, don’t focus on them. Focus on the idea behind what meditation is. Even those who’ve been meditating for years ignore the terms and receive the exact same benefits. If the veil of “spiritualness” and some “mystical wonder” is taken off of the healthy practice, it would help introduce it to millions more. Let’s be frank: the typical individual (especially a man), who has never had any kind of spiritual undertaking, will see the terms and stigma surrounding it and start packing their bags faster than finding out your mother-in-law is coming to town.
While it sounds easy to sit down and be quiet for 15 minutes, 20 minutes, even 30 minutes, it’s a guarantee that if you’re just starting out, you won’t last three. And in those three minutes, your mind will be spent racing for all but 15 seconds of it, even if you’re told to focus on your breathing and count to four in your head. But if you can begin a process of repetition, just like any habit, you can improve.
Meditation by itself won’t radically change your life in some movie-like 180 degree turn-around. In fact, you probably won’t even notice much change after being consistent with it for months, and likely will start questioning yourself as to why you even picked this “habit” up. One piece of advice: keep it. And here’s why: you will improve. It won’t make you become some guru overnight, or in a year. Or even a few years. But what meditation can do for you is improve the quality of your life in a measurable way. So you’re probably now asking, “well how can you know?” The answer is simple, and works with any healthy habit you’ve incorporated into your life. It requires stopping, looking back, and seeing how far you’ve come. Want an even easier way? Get yourself into a situation that used to throw you into a complete tizzy before you began meditating, and see how you react differently now. There’s a well-known book that illustrates the idea that meditation is not a cure but a helpful tool in your arsenal, and it’s called “10% Happier”, by Dan Harris. You guessed it – no 180 degree turn, replaced instead by the idea that you can lead a happier life.
Truth is, you will probably never reach a level of enlightenment demonstrated by the famous names attached to it. People like Deepak Chopra are a league of their own. Not to say you shouldn’t strive to be on their level. Everyone should, trust me. This world needs it desperately, and all you need to do for confirmation of that is turning on your local news station. There is a lot wrong in society, but there are also people who stand out as shining lights and deserve all the recognition they’re receiving. So yes, please do strive to be on their level. Even though you may be far off, it’s a never-ending goal that should be given earnest effort.
So let’s say you’ve been meditating for quite awhile now. You’re going about your daily life, and something happens that triggers you and you react poorly or let it consume your mind. Here’s a mind-blowing reality: yes, you will still do really stupid shit after you meditate regularly for a long time. Yes, your wife or your boss will probably ruffle your feathers more often than you’d love to admit. And yes, you will battle bouts of anger, sadness, frustration, and anything in between as life throws their best wrench directly at your face. As George Costanza once said in The Marine Biologist, “the sea was angry that day my friends!” Think of your life as a body of water. Above the surface of that water is your life and the things that happen within it. Some days may be windy, causing the surface to be somewhat choppy. Other days, a hurricane moseys on through, causing chaos on the surface of the sea. Here’s where the daily practice of meditation makes all the difference. Before meditation: you’re a boat on the surface, just hoping to ride out the hot mess. After meditation: you’re a submarine 100 feet beneath the surface, calmly chugging along towards your destination or goal in life. Sure, even at 100 feet below the surface, if the storm is bad enough, you’ll feel some effects where you’re at. But as you can imagine, it’s nowhere near how you’d feel on that boat right above the surface.
One piece of advice: start slowly and build upon your habit. If you try doing 30 minutes, or even 20 minutes, all at once every day, you’ll get one result – you won’t be meditating for long. So, suck it up, close your eyes, sit still, and over time watch the magic happen.