Thursday, January 22, 2009

Why Meditate? v2

When I'm asked to give a reason for meditation, I often falter, because it's a practice that explores territory beyond language. But a few points to consider (all with a healthy amount of salt):
  • Focus Up! Concentration improves. You can finish writing an email without getting distracted by a blog. You do less multitasking, and efficiency increases. The mind stays calm because it's only doing one thing at a time.
  • Live Vividly: As awareness becomes more steady and subtle, you're more able to appreciate a moment - a fine meal, quiet afternoon sunlight, a moment of intimacy - because you don't get caught up in analyzing, worrying that it will end, wishing it was different. You enter the experience fully, taste the subtle flavors, and then watch it fade away without clinging. If you do start to think about something else ("this yoga class is good, but what will I have for lunch?"), you more quickly recognize what you're doing, let go of the thought, and bring your focus back to what's actually happening. As a result, you experience more of your life. In a sense, you live a longer life, because you're aware of more moments.
  • An Open Hand: Your "letting go" muscles get stronger. As you learn to sit and just let sensations and thoughts roll by, you become less reactive. Thoughts become less powerful. It's easier to sit in aggravating, stop-and-go traffic without getting irritated. It's still annoying, but it doesn't cascade into a raging inner monologue full of evil thoughts about other drivers. Negative thoughts can be like mosquito bites. If you don't scratch at them, they don't last very long.
  • Who Am I? You study yourself in the most direct way possible. You watch your mind at work. You see how your the mind filters experience to match your expectations. You see how these filters can make you blind to what's really happening, and can lead you to make self-harming decisions. You realize that you have a choice about what thoughts and feelings you will amplify, and which you will let go and therefore diminish.
  • Open the Doors of Perception: We have so many ways of experiencing the world besides our usual linear/rational/self-involved mode. Meditation loosens the dominance of the thinking mind, allowing us to explore and cultivate others qualities of mind: creativity, proprioception, intuition, lovingkindness, deep listening, humor, improvisation, deep rest. Why not develop our full multi-dimensional potential?
  • Being Here Now: We come home to the present moment. Nothing to be done in the future. No worry about what happened in the past. It is a profound relief to rest attention in the present moment. The deepest tension of all - our struggle to stop things from changing, to make things different than they are - has a chance to relax. We develop a sense of contentment with life as it is
  • Satisfaction: After enough time watching the mind pursue pleasure, obtain the object of desire, then immediately want more, it starts to dawn on us that "more" may not be the path to happiness. More money, more security, more love, more sensory pleasure... none of these will ultimately satisfy. The awareness that we cultivate in meditation allows us to see this truth first hand. Gradually, desires start to lose their potency.  They become less able to pull us off center. When pleasure does come, we can appreciate it without getting attached and therefore inevitably disappointed when it ends. Simply to be alive, to be awake, becomes a source of great satisfaction. What more could be added?
Updated January 22, 2009.


  1. I'd like to add a very practical benefit: handling the MRI experience! When the staff asked if I was claustrophobic, I said no, but when they went to wheel me in to the chamber, I had to have them stop so I could sit up and take a deep breath first. It was harder to deal with than I expected!

    The Sama Vritti (even breathing) technique was especially helpful to me as I tried to calm my mind and wait out the experience with some other reaction than dread and fear. Twenty minutes ended up passing more easily than I would have expected, thanks, I think to the bits of meditation practice I've been accumulating over the past few years. Thanks Nick!

  2. But I LIKE multitasking. It's natural. And such a big payoff when the six or so tasks all get wrapped up at once!

    Is "lovingkindness" REALLY a word?