What is it about meditation that causes people either to flinch and look the other way or to claim expert status? There’s not much middle ground when it comes to meditating. Some believe it’s some weird cultish activity that sensible people simply don’t need. Or, if there’s some curiosity, others will read one article, try to meditate once, and then give up, turning instead to other self-help modalities that promise a better life in shorter time.
Part of the reason meditation is so amorphous is that it can mean a number of things.
Here’s one definition taken from my computer’s dictionary: “To think deeply or focus one’s mind for a period of time, in silence or with the aid of chanting, for religious or spiritual purposes or as a method of relaxation. From the Latin meditari meaning to measure.”
“To think deeply” is different from “focus one’s mind.” “Religious” means something wholly different from “spiritual.” Relaxation is the antithesis of concentration.
So which is it? To relax or to focus? To become religious or to be more spiritual? To think deeply or to stop thinking altogether? And what in the world are we measuring?
Wikipedia has a much more thorough exploration of the term, stating up front: “The word meditation carries different meanings in different contexts.” There’s meditation techniques for nearly everything. Morning meditation, sleep meditation, meditation for anxiety, meditation for depression, and so on.
Therefore, the first thing to do is get clear on what you want to accomplish through meditation.
Though this is not a definitive meditation guide, here are a few possibilities:
1. Learn about/become intimate with the workings of your mind
2. Cultivate an ability to witness your thoughts, emotions, and/or sensations
3. Train your mind to put its attention in a specific direction
4. Move your attention away from the contents of your mind and onto something else altogether
5. Contemplate the origin of the Universe or the meaning of life
6. Contemplate the best business strategy for your company
7. Cultivate the mental drive needed to manifest your dream life
8. Become more loving and forgiving
Once you know your intention you can look at different meditation techniques to determine whether they will suit your goal.
For example, Zen meditation is great for #1 and #2. Mindfulness meditations would work for #3. Mantra meditation could potentially work for #2, #3, or #4.Visualizations would be great for #7, and so on.
Regardless of your choice, the only meditation teachers worth your time and money are the ones who underscore the need to do the practice regularly. For longer than a week. Or a month. Or — in most cases — a year.
Sorry. No quick fixes. They don’t exist. I promise.
I know. Who has the time?
If you have time to read this blog, you do.
Why bother? Who cares about inner workings, witnessing, or contemplating when there’s shit that needs to get done in my life and in the world?
So, here are some of the benefits of meditation that I’ve received, and then you decide if it was worth the bother.
I’m less driven by emotions and more capable of holding a calm presence when responding to interpersonal challenges or conflicts. Just ask my husband.
I have a deep relationship with solitude, silence, and stillness and am willing to prioritize time alone in order to resource myself and show up in the world with more and more heart. Just ask my clients.
Certain beliefs and emotional patterns have quieted and I’m generally less triggered by experiences that might have, in the past, caused psychological distress around being good enough or belonging. Just ask my BFF.
For you, there may be different results. It depends on what your objective is, what meditation method you choose, and the regularity of your practice. Meditation teachers often don’t describe their particular objectives or the intent of their method when they advertise a class. So you have to ask.
Ask good questions. Being willing to inquire and do your due diligence with all elements of your life makes for a better life. Especially your inner/spiritual/religious/mindful life. To be clear, I suspect that thoughtful and engaged inquiry is essential in these times. So many traditions, belief systems, and psycho-spiritual methods have infiltrated our modern culture that to discern what any one offers or has the ability to deliver becomes instrumental in you consciously choosing to participate in the direction of your life, ultimately impacting the lives around you.
Please reread that last paragraph.
Here’s what is at the heart of the slow movement and slow spirituality: It’s time to slow down and look closely at all the things we’re doing, why we’re doing them, what the benefits and drawbacks are, how we might want to tweak what we’re doing, and who/what can help us do this.
It’s a lot of work.
Takes a lot of energy.
However, doing life the way we are presently be doing it is also taking a lot of our life force energy.
Therefore, the deepest question is this: Are you getting the results you’re seeking from your present energy output?
This is a question you could meditate on for a while.