“The quieter you become the more you can hear.” – Ram Dass
In our normal, everyday consciousness, our mind is filled with a constant flow of thoughts. It can become quite noisy and even sometimes overwhelming. I often refer to this as the hamster wheel inside my head…that is a hamster wheel with an ADHD hamster hyped up on too many espresso drinks! These continual thoughts can be about the past or the future. We might be replaying events and conversations in your mind (dwelling on the past). We might be thinking about what’s going to happen at our next meeting, activity, or event. We might create fantasies about what life will be like when our dreams are fulfilled (aka future tripping). Or we may conjure up scary scenarios about our worst fears coming true (good old-fashioned worrying). It is very seldom that are we sitting still in the present moment.
In meditation, the goal is for your awareness to move from the noisy activity of your mind into the quiet “gap” between your thoughts. This takes practice – you don’t just sit down and clear your mind of your thoughts the first time you try it. I liken it to learning to play an instrument. You can’t pick up an instrument for the first time and expect to play a complex piece of music like a master. You have to start with the basics and practice (and practice and practice), slowly improving your skills and learning increasingly challenging pieces of music. Similarly, meditation is not something most people are able to master when they sit down for the very first time. It takes practice to reach that gap between your thoughts and stay in it for any length of time. Some days will be better than others…some types of meditation will work better for you than others will. But sadly many people expect that they will quiet their mind in their first or second attempt and when they don’t they declare that they can’t meditate or that meditation doesn’t work, and thus they quit. I have seen that happen so often. People give up due to incorrect assumptions or understandings or as a result of unrealistic expectations.
But consider this story from India in which the mind is compared to the trunk of an elephant, which is naturally restless and undisciplined (just like our minds). When an elephant walks with his trainer through a village during a special celebration or event, his restless trunk swings from side to side, knocking over things, impulsively grabbing things, and wreaking havoc wherever he goes. A wise, experienced elephant trainer will give the elephant a short bamboo stick to hold in his trunk prior to walking through the village so that the elephant’s trunk has something to hold on to and is focused and calm. He is no longer distracted by the sights and sounds in the village market because his trunk has something to hold onto…he has something to focus his attention on.
Likewise, when we meditate, we need to give our minds the equivalent of a bamboo stick – something that will anchor our attention so that our mind doesn’t trample through our consciousness, being carried away by inner and/or outer distractions. There are a variety of options to choose from (different types of meditation offer different “bamboo sticks”), including focusing on the breath, tuning into the sensations in your body, and using a mantra. The best thing you can do for yourself is to try a variety of meditation techniques until you find what works best for your monkey mind.
When you meditate, you experience the silence of the mind when it is not stuck in the past or the future. By its very nature, meditation calms the mind, and when the mind is calm, the body can relax as well. This relaxation is extremely healing for the whole mind-body system. People may come to meditation for many reasons, but it usually includes the ability to reap some of the many benefits of meditation, which include:
- Lowered blood pressure and heart rate
- Decreased inflammation
- Reversal of aging at the cellular level
- Reduced feelings of stress
- Increased feelings of relaxation and peace
- Expanded experience of healing emotions (i.e. love, compassion, joy, equanimity, and gratitude)
- The ability to respond consciously rather than reacting in a conditioned way
- Increased focus, memory, and ability to learn
- Better sleep
- Decreased addictive behavior
The benefits of meditation can be both immediate and long-term, but either way they are numerous and powerful. Meditation is truly one of the best things you can do for yourself both personally and professionally.
Adding meditation to my daily routine has been the single most important thing I have ever done and I cannot recommend it to others enough. Invest in yourself – take some time to explore the various types of meditation in order to find what works best for you and then make meditation a part of your daily routine. Whether you meditate for 3 minutes or 30 minutes, the benefits you will reap from implementing a consistent meditation practice are totally worth it.