The thing that hurts you most in life is your own untamed mind. The thing that can help you the most in life is a disciplined mind. When the wild mind is untamed, it can be very harmful. If we learn to tame our minds, then it can help us by reducing our suffering and misery.
On October 13, 1975 Time magazine’s cover was The Majarishi Mahesh Yogi and the title “Meditation, the Answer to All Your Problems?”. Today, more than 40 years later, it would be difficult to be alive on this planet and not be aware of meditation and how it can benefit your life.
So what exactly is meditation? What it is NOT, is clearing your mind of thoughts. What it IS, is an approach to training the mind. Our minds are thought generating machines and we have no control over what it will present us with. We must learn to detach from our minds default mode, with its’ strong tendency to become caught in thoughts with themes of the past (regrets), the future (worry), should haves, what ifs.
Meditation is the natural antidote to a “neurotic trance” fueled by substances, shopping, work, gossip, and social media to name a few. This numbing trance disconnects us from what is good in our lives. Exciting experiences, new relationships, achieving our dreams, buying “stuff” removes us momentarily from our dissatisfaction but once the novelty has worn off, our mind shifts back to its’ default mode.
Our mind on autopilot is a wandering mind most frequently resulting in unhappiness. We can learn to manage our attachment to unproductive thoughts and meditation is the training ground or “mental gym”. We exercise and eat healthy to keep our bodies in shape. We meditate to keep our minds in shape. Both exercise and meditation are practices to incorporate into our life’s routine and the benefits increase over time. Stop exercise you lose fitness, stop mediation and the minds’ slip back to its’ default mode.
With all the information available today about the benefits of meditation, what is getting in the way? There are a multitude of reasons but the primary ones may be not clearly understanding the benefits, expecting immediate results and giving up too soon, feeling unsure how to “do it right”, and feeling it is for those “woo-woo” people-hippies, yogis, new agers, spiritual junkies, and those without a busy life. It is easy to see the parallels between exercise, healthy eating, and meditation. The American fitness revolution began in the 70’s with jogging and aerobics and was practiced by a very small percentage of people. Now, 50 years later, most Americans have some sort of fitness routine, primarily because the results are undeniable. Meditation is hopefully on a similar trajectory.
One of the most important things we don’t clearly understand is that our minds default mode is not our fault. Evolutionary biology tells us that we are machines hardwired for the sole purpose of spreading our genes and that status, calories and sex are what is needed to make this happen. We might assume that if our biological imperative is to reproduce or at least attain the status, food and sex necessary to do so, that the result would be a sense of peace and fulfillment. What we come to realize is that satisfaction is fleeting and we are back to the hunt, a seemingly endless cycle. Really? Yes really, and this is because we survive and reproduce better when we are always on the hunt for more. This is why our untamed minds forever default to a place of dissatisfaction because our machine is programmed on an assumption that satisfaction will reduce the drive to survive, prosper and reproduce.
There has been a great deal of scholarly research at respected universities on the benefits of meditation. Here is a list from an article entitled “12 Science-Based Benefits of Meditation”:
- Reduces Stress
- Controls Anxiety
- Promotes Emotional Health including relieving depressive symptoms
- Enhances Self-Awareness
- Lengthens Attention Span
- Reduces Age-Related Memory Loss
- Generates Kindness
- Helps Fight Addictions
- Improves Sleep
- Helps Control Pain
- Can Decrease Blood Pressure
- Can be done anywhere and requires no equipment
If you are still skeptical, consider googling meditation and the name of a university such as Harvard, Yale, or Stanford. Among the articles, you will find that nearly every major university has been doing FMRi based research studies that show scientifically how meditation changes the brain. “What fires together wires together” is neuroscience’s way to explain that because of the neuroplasticity of the brain, when we use the mind in a patterned manner it can change the brain in either a positive or negative way. This is good news because even those who have been stuck in a depressed or anxious way of thinking for years can reverse the effects on their brain.
There are multiple pathways into meditation including mindfulness meditation, loving kindness meditation, body scan and progressive relaxation, breath awareness meditation, transcendental meditation and more. Most entry level meditation offered in the western world is a combo of mindfulness and breath awareness meditation.
There are multiple ways to learn and sustain meditation. In our modern world, phone apps are an easy and accessible pathway using guided meditation. Headspace, Waking Up, Daily Calm, Insight Timer are all excellent choices. Most have a free introductory period and Insight Timer is free unless you choose to take one of its’ many courses. If a face to face encounter is more your speed just google “learn to meditate” and your city or zip code and you should find multiple options.
There are a number of books about meditation. Recommended reading includes “Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality without Religion” by Neuroscientist Sam Harris, “10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works—A True Story” by Dan Harris of ABC News, and “Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment” by Robert Wright an Evolutionary Psychologist and Journalist.
Happy Meditation and Namaste’!
Please call our office to inquire about our life coach and yoga teacher, Jen Larsen, who offers personalized meditation sessions at our office or at her home studio!