“Suppose you read about a pill that you could take once a day to reduce anxiety and increase your contentment.
Would you take it?
Suppose further that the pill has a great variety of side effects, all of them good: increased self-esteem, empathy, and trust; it even improves memory.
Suppose, finally, that the pill is all natural and costs nothing. Now would you take it?
The pill exists. It’s called meditation.” Jonathon Haidt
There is a plethora of information on meditation these days. Type in a search for meditation on YouTube and 8,550,000 videos are on offer. Amazon sells 500+ different books on the topic. On Google there are 630,000 UK web sites offering some form of meditation facilitation from practical mindfulness to esoteric journeys to far away galaxies. We are spoilt for choice!
Despite the huge growth of meditation as an ‘industry’ and the array of options it offers, it is important to decide on your own personal type of practice and your specific reasons for doing it. Meditation is only an effective tool if it is practiced daily. And committed, frequent practice of anything requires you to have a strong reason ‘why’ you are doing it…or it is too easy to give up!
Jonathon Haidt, the US Professor and Researcher of Psychology quoted above gives us some sound reasons why we should meditate. Personally, I meditate daily to help me still my active mind, to receive the inspired and intuitive insights that quieting my mind gives me access to and lastly, to connect me to something vaster than myself that I call God. This supports my life experience and enables me to give creative ideas to my clients to help them on their chosen path.
Listed below are some of the other ‘whys’ behind meditation so you can be very clear why it’s important enough to you to devote anything from 5 minutes to 60 minutes per day practising:
- Meditation strengthens our minds. Quite literally it is like gym training for our minds, especially our attention muscles. As we train our attention, this enables us, in time, to place our attention where we want, when we want, for as long as we want. Daniel Goleman in his book Focus calls focused attention the ‘hidden driver of excellence’.
- It helps us develop the ability to choose our responses to the stimuli that come from our life experiences. Being able to train ourselves to step between stimulus and response is an essential tool to minimise stress and feel empowered. Meditation helps us notice the stimulus, observe our habitual reaction and then choose to carry it out, or find a more effective way of responding.
- Meditation has many physiological benefits including reversing the effects of stress. Importantly, it strengthens the immune system and enables us to be able to activate the relaxation response within the body, thereby allowing the body to recover from the fight or flight threat reaction.
- There are psychological benefits too. Meditation helps us improve our concentration and memory; balance the use of the left and right hemispheres of the brain; have more inspired ideas; feel more calm, relaxed and happier and better able to step aside from our negative thought patterns. And as we become more present, it enhances our relationships both with others and with ourselves.
- It connects us to something greater than ourselves: the Divine within. For many on the spiritual path, this is the main reason for meditating. And yet this awareness must be coupled with the optimising of our character so that our personality evolves in tandem with this Higher connection. As we develop the sense of this inner light of Divinity over time, we are able to shine it outwards into the world in service to others.
As you reflect on these reasons why you might want to start or augment your meditation practice, notice that they are mostly all benefits that you will gain in the long term. To be really effective as a motivator, your reason for meditating must also have some short term, immediate benefits. Again personally, I know my practice helps me feel composed, centred and connected within as I start my day. This makes me better able to deal with the challenges life throws at me (mostly!). It is also something I can return to as often as I need throughout my day to regain the benefits.
So what are the immediate benefits you want from the practice?
To conclude, meditation has many thoroughly researched, scientifically proven benefits. Knowing which benefits you most want from your practice will enable you to use meditation to enrich your life experience.
One final point: We are not meditating to become better meditators. We are meditating to become better human beings who carry the quiet, peaceful attitude and inner connection with them into every aspect of their daily lives.