Question: What is the power of a meditation practice? Who do people encourage me to have one?
Meditation is a way of coming to know our mind and working with it. By looking inward, we slow down the constant mental activity and quieten all the thinking and mind-chatter that we have constantly going on in our heads. By recognising what the mind is and the thoughts within it, the mind naturally settles down. As we look at its nature, the thinking process calms down, and we discover other aspects of our mind leading us to a clearer understanding of thoughts and emotions and how to work with them.
How does meditation make this settling down of thinking happen?
To understand the benefit of meditation, we have to examine how the mind operates. The thinking mind is insecure, clingy and always in need of distraction. It is the ego. It is like a constantly hungry pet we keep needing to feed and is never satisfied and requires constant attention. This is what the ego does to us. It makes us live with a constant feeling of either needing, wanting, or fear, rejection and dislike. Everything is based on a judgement of good, bad or neutral and what we can get out of it. This kind of thinking is devoid of altruistic thought. Having the ego rule our thinking and motivation in this way, we cultivate selfish, negative attitudes and feelings such as jealousy and competitiveness, leading to anger, aggression, and a generally unhappy state of mind. This ego mind grasps onto concepts and ideas which feed our insecurities, leading us down our usual path of bad feelings and dissatisfaction. If we didn't have this, then our true inner being would shine through. We would be more compassionate, loving and caring in all situations rather than defensive and closed, bringing us more lasting happiness. The more we are true to our nature, the more we will find joy and well being. We begin to see beyond our ordinary thinking, allowing our creative expression to shine through. Without this part of ego to tend to, we would be liberated and free to explore and enjoy being present in our world.
Meditation is a way of bringing ourselves back to our true nature. If we actually take time out, sit down quietly and just look at how our mind operates, we will notice that we are constantly generating a stream of thinking. We start to discover our thoughts are based on either past events or future ideas. Our thoughts will immediately lead any awareness of the present moment to the past or future, scenarios that we experienced or what we think will happen. We barely remain in the here and now. Have you ever noticed how your mind takes you away from where you are with some kind of commentary or judgement? Do you ever just take notice of your breathing or your heartbeat? We are far, far away from being in touch with ourselves at that very moment. We are not present.
Why is it so important to be aware of the present moment?
Suppose we don't learn to come back to ourselves in the right here and the right now. In that case, we are setting ourselves up to be susceptible to suffering and stress without peace of mind, as the thoughts take us away into the stories of our insecurities, prejudices and preconceived ideas of the world and other people. Our moods are generated from the thoughts running through our mind, thoughts lead to emotions, feelings and reactions, and we become lost in our own drama, losing sight of what the present reality is. If we find a way to rise above out of these cycles of thinking, we will be able to find our inherent goodness, which is healing and restores us back to being whole. We will no longer feel lost and dispersed by all our thoughts and emotions.
Your thoughts are like a mirage
When we first begin to meditate, we notice that thoughts are constantly popping into our minds. When we start to look at a thought, we start to notice that it doesn't really last very long. It isn't something concrete. We could say a thought is almost like a mirage. When you try to find it, it dissipates. We begin to realise the transient nature of our thoughts and therefore recognise the emotions and stories they create are also baseless. Realising this, we begin to let go of our belief system in them, and we can separate out who we really are and what is just fabricated by thoughts. When we meditate, we look at our thoughts rather than follow them, get totally swept away by them, and become fully absorbed in the stories they build.
We see the constant stream of thinking, how one thought leads to another, creating chains of thoughts and our own storylines. All this prevents us from experiencing the actual moment as it is. It is like being in a river where we are swept away in the currents of our habitual thought patterns. We begin to see how we continually reinforce our beliefs about the world through our thoughts. We are trapped and caged by our ego-mind. We are unaware there is another way of being as we are so habituated on relying on our thoughts, concepts and habits. We are used to living with the constant repetition of our habitual view of life and emotions. How often do we find ourselves saying, "This always happens to me?" We have been conned by our ego-mind, trapped by this reliance on our beliefs based on judgment keeping us restricted and, ultimately, not free.
The incredible thing is that meditation not only helps us settle our mind, but it also leads us to another part of our mind behind all the thinking. This aspect of the mind we have is incredibly powerful. It is vast like the sky, radiating love and compassion naturally. We are unaware and not in touch with this aspect of ourselves because it is covered, obscured by our thinking, chatty mind. It's almost like being in a state of deep sleep, thinking we are awake, yet there is a surface bubbling of mental activity. Still, it is actually this thinking keeping us from being truly present and fulfilling our true potential. This mental activity keeps us from finding the inner depths of our mind, which is totally free of all biases and discriminations. We get so involved with all these thoughts. Our judgemental mind has become so solid that we are unaware of the essence of who we are, loving, caring, compassionate beings full of wisdom and creative potential.
Meditation is like shooting an arrow
We can compare our usual state of mind to a grey sky on a cold, dull, rainy day. All we see is the thick grey clouds, no blue sky. This is like our general state of thinking, how our mind is most of the time. The thick clouds are like all the thoughts, feelings and emotions that carry us through the day, weeks and months. Meditation is like shooting an arrow, high above the clouds into the clear sky beyond all the thick clouds, into the blue sky and brilliant light of the sun. We put our awareness on the end of the arrow, shooting it through all the mind's busy thinking, the dark heavy cloud-like thoughts, and open it up into the clarity and space of our true being. From this space, we can view the cloud-like thoughts from a distance and no longer identify with them. As we become more used to meditation, we begin to dissolve the thinking mind, and we can rest our minds more in the clarity and space of our wisdom being. We discover this treasure within us. We don't have to seek it. We already have all the goodness within us. All we need to do is uncover it in the present moment by breaking through our strong habits of thinking and reacting. We begin to loosen our identity linked to the ego-mind, no longer imposing its way of seeing things in our world and in that clarity of open space, we see each situation freshly, without bias.
Without ego we no longer judge
As we use meditation to understand ego and how it rules our lives, we begin to identify with the sky like aspect of our mind and not the cloud-like thoughts. Within our vast, spacious mind, we begin to discover our creativity and our capacity to love and care for others. Without ego, we no longer judge. We accept things as they are in the present moment and apply our inner wisdom rather than reacting with negative thoughts and emotions.
The practise of meditation is like watching a river from the riverbank rather than being in the river of thoughts carrying us away in the current. When we meditate, we aren't caught in the current of thoughts. We are looking at them. As we observe them, The impact of the thoughts becomes less and less as we start to awaken our awareness. This awareness is who we truly are. It is the quality of knowing and perceiving. Usually, this awareness is used by the ego to formulate opinions and ideas. These then form an entangled web of stories and concepts we create about the world, fuelling our emotions. The awareness itself is free from this whole process, it is the part of our mind which acknowledges the present moment, but we miss it. By practising meditation, we learn to release our awareness from the bonds of our web-spinning thought processes and allow it just to be, to just know, just perceive the present moment.
Meditation gives us a glimpse of our inner treasure
We can rest in this awareness as we begin to quieten our thoughts. In this awareness is the richness of who we truly are, and we become free. We are no longer held hostage by the stories and ideas we have created. Meditation gives us a glimpse of our inner treasure, like an opening of a cloudy sky revealing the blue sky. As we begin to discover the fullness of our mind, we experience a different way of being, which is authentic and true to our inner nature. It helps us break through all the mental activity that keeps us constantly engaged in our dualistic thinking mind and allows us to look within our depths. It is a means to freedom, inner freedom.
The benefits of using meditation as a tool in our daily lives impact in many ways.
We are more able to deal with difficult situations as we have slowed down our reactive thinking, so instead of being consumed by our emotions of anger, jealousy etc. We have space in our thinking, and the chemical and hormonal reactions that usually precipitate from these thoughts no longer happen, and we find inner calm. We can apply the wisdom which we have uncovered within ourselves. We respond rather than react, and we can then come from a place of love and understanding. We no longer react emotionally at the slightest provocation, like angry dogs released from their leash.
With meditation, we begin to look at the situation with more clarity and understanding. There is space to notice, look at a problem calmly, and look at our mind instead of allowing all our insecurities and defensive reactions to flood our being. If we are less affected by circumstances, we will be releasing fewer stress hormones. Our general health and well-being will improve as we are less likely to overload our physiological reactions to stress. Meditation brings us to our authentic selves, the best friend within ourselves. The need lessens to grasp onto things outside of ourselves to make us happy as we develop an inner contentment. We become free of our insecurities and clingy habits, and we simply radiate truthful unconditional love.