Why would you Meditate?
People who are interested in learning meditation for a variety of reasons, such as “I just want improved relationships,” to “I want to witness a kaleidoscope of amazing colors,” or “I have been told that experienced meditators can read minds!” The problem could be a boatload of suffering, such as gut fluttering anxiety, bottomless drinking or explosive tirades, Some folks want to continue accelerating to being that saintly person they destined to be.
There are no bad reasons to learn to meditate, however one’s expectations of interstellar flight will be quickly dashed. For most, meditation does not come easy, but liberation from suffering and an incredible life is worth it. A lot of folks come to meditation practice because they feel as if they are missing something. These folks may say things like “it is never enough,” or “I just don’t seem to fit in.” They can sense the lack of meaning in day to day activities. I call this a lacking pattern. A chronic persistent feeling of something not quite right. Meditation helps us to accept this condition, and the path is includes seeing that everything that we need is within. Love, connection and good will are in reach and there is a such thing as supportive loving community.
So here is a metaphor from the prolific teacher S.N. Goenka. Meditation practice is like surgery. You are given the tools to perform the surgery. Surgery for what? The surgery is to remove the tumors, the defilements. And what is the defilement? In Buddhist psychology it would be the seeds and development of greed, hatred and delusion. In Christian teachings that would be called the seven deadly sins. And what are the tools, the scalpels? Meditation is a very important scalpel, of which there are numerous techniques. For this discussion, we focus on a non sectarian technique called mindfulness meditation. It is important to note there are many meditative techniques, such as Christian based centering prayer, that lead to similar results.
So one benefit is mental purification. Among the long list of other benefits is improved relations with others. When I was a new student of meditation my teacher would say “just observe, just watch, just notice.” Another teacher taught me the value of non reactivity. As we begin to watch, perform the surgery, we see our own challenges, our own mental formations. Meditation trains the mind to be dispassionate towards our mental shenanigans. When we see these mental formations like clouds across the sky, we just don’t take our mental state or narrative as personal. We are less apt to be harsh with ourselves, substituting self denigration with softness. We start to cut ourselves some slack. This training in gentleness gets reflected to others, and life in community becomes more harmonious.
And about reactivity. We cause so much misery to ourselves and others by a lack of awareness and not knowing our motives. Most of us are clueless about what or whom is directing our choices. Modern neurology continues to confirm that our reactions are based on a perception and feeling grounded in previous experience. The surgery has to do with awareness of our particular bearings, which we most often do not question or investigate. Just because we feel a particular way does not mean that I should behave or think a particular way. Meditation helps us to become aware of these inclinations of the mind and make kind well informed decisions. One of the fascinating things that occur is that our choices are much more likely to benefit others and community. More thoughtfulness and love!
Another incredible benefit is intimacy. This intimacy is an interesting expression, leading most of us think of romantic relationships including sexuality. In meditation practice we expand the meaning to include closeness and richness in our daily experience . With training we find richness in even the most mundane of our experiences……such as walking or scrubbing the toilet (am I going too far here?) We experience how this mind of ours is often in the default, checked out mode. Every moment is so rich, every ounce of life is to be cherished. Meditation sharpens the mind to see the subtleties, the nuances, the microscopic movements and tendencies of the mind body system.There are so many amazing things occurring in this mind and body when we walk or scrub. In the beginning of practice, the mind is just too dull or preoccupied to see this. The training is about intimate non reactive awareness. Continuing to bring oneself back to this rich space leads to a natural inquiry to the depth of experience.
One of the most common reasons people come to meditation is for tranquility, peace of mind. This society is filled with distractions that are seem engaging, attractive and fun. Three of the distractions are electronics, entertainment and media.These entities can also feel comforting, familiar, and exciting. Most of us are aware that they are insubstantial. They often keep us checked out and dissatisfied. What these activities do is to keep our nervous system in a state of hyperarousal. This hyperarousal so epidemic in western countries, it affects lot of people’s sleep and contributes to anxiety.This state of hyperarousal makes it difficult, if not impossible to accomplish the mental training necessary to remove defilements.
For the last few years I did not attend to the news.My intention was a commitment to cultivate tranquility Those years I can recollect a warm sense of peace. Since this recent presidential election, I got hooked on the drama. I noticed more anger, more sense of separation from others. Recently I recommitted to no news. I feel cleaner, lighter, more concentrated. Despite not attending to the news, I still discvoered the flooding in Houston. Compassion for my brothers and sisters in Houston feels a lot better and less deluded than anger and resentment because of political beliefs.
There are many more reasons to meditate. Meditation training is about mental purification. Making a commitment to a code of ethics and morals stabilize the mind allowing for an intimate awareness and a gentle peacefulness. From there we can further purify the mind through become dispassionate about mental contents, which naturally allow for our essence, love, compassion and good will to express itself.