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What Meditation Does For Me: Part 1

Updated: May 31, 2023

I love to meditate; it is often the best part of my day. I don't follow a particular method or a teacher; over time I learned to simply be with whatever is asking to be experienced in my own way. More on that later. For now, though let me explain why I meditate. So much has been written about the myriad benefits of meditation, by researchers and teachers who are far more knowledgeable than I, so all I can really add to the conversation are my personal experiences and understandings. I didn't get into meditation for the health benefits (although they are significant) nor the stress relief (although that, too is powerful). I fell into it experientially, a story I will tell another day. For now, though, let me get right to it. You will notice I use the word "comfortable" a lot in these reasons. By comfortable, I don't mean always feeling good or loving or in control. I also do not mean you can keep the undesired away from you through meditation. I mean feeling a familiarity with yourself and your mind, more able to be open, observant, present and attuned to whatever is happening within or without you.


Here are 5 reasons I practice meditation:

REASON 1: To be comfortable with myself, expressed as thoughts and feelings


Meditation is a one of those experiences that defies description but whatever description I can offer points towards an atypical experience of self. I was conditioned to define my self by outputs, and how reality responds to those outputs. Meditation rewards the time put into practice with a sense of knowing: knowing that I am both a body/mind system that works and eats and argues and does stuff - and also more than that. In some ways, when I am meditating, it's akin to being in "the zone" creatively or athletically. Many athletes describe that they are aware they are in the zone, but aren't really consciously aware of their bodies. Musicians and artists echo that feeling of participating in an experience they prepared for, but then awareness/ego just goes somewhere completely inexplicable. The more I stuck with meditation, the more I was able hang out in "big me" space, and feel inspired and and in the zone in ways that helped "small me" with day-to-day life. I didn't know how I knew what to do (or not do), I just did. I wasn't "effort-ing" as much to solve problems, solutions were filtering from big me to small me because I kept that pathway clear through meditation. Even my negative emotions made more sense to me over time, as a body/mind in resistance with its natural wholeness. Then I got better at closing the gap between a "big" sense of me and a "small" me, so that a more authentic me shows up in life more and more frequently. And I suspect I'll keep closing that gap further until I die. Sporadically, I get big chunks of understanding when and where and how my big and small selves engage each other to create my experience of life.


The more I meditate, the more I realize I am but a fraction of who and what I really am. I am observant and cognizant of myself as a life force, an essence having an experience, and I can hover more and more between the big and small selves, leaning in and leaning out. Why does this matter? I find it's good information, that's all. I can easier see where what I believe is impacting my experience of life. I see patterns of reacting, expanding or contracting and how recurrent thoughts and emotions feed on each other. I also engage in (for me) fascinating personal inquiry into the nature of mind, and who/what/where is in control of your thoughts - an inquiry to which some masters dedicate their life, and cannot be summarized or concluded here in any responsible way. Suffice it to say, the day I woke up from my night's sleep and thought, "Wait a minute, who or what exactly is waking up right now?" was pretty mind-blowing. I started laughing. More and more I have a sense of what percentage of my suffering is self-generated, and over time, I've become aware of opportunities to shift that ratio more and more towards ease.


The commitment to self-expression through meditation can create space for insight, inspiration, even change. How things are "supposed" to be, judgments, failures, self-criticisms, fears and doubts eventually can be seen more and more for what they are: programming, or constructs of mind that observing life led us to believe. Over time, and with enough practice, these "shoulds" carry less weight in how you assess lots of things, including your quality of life.


In short, you know how you'd tell a best friend or a child, "I am here for you. no matter what?" Meditation signals your whole system that you'll be there for you, no matter what.



REASON 2: To be comfortable with yourself when you are alone


Many people I have worked with in the meditation space find being alone, particularly alone with their thoughts, very uncomfortable. It is important to understand the mind is conditioned to look for problems to solve and so we tend to slide into that space when we are alone, automatically looking for what is "wrong" and trying to figure out out how to make it "right." We get in a loop - memories, injustice, worry, a runaway train comprised of 70% of the same recycled thoughts. We judge personalities, intelligence, performance, habits, bodies, relationships - ours and others - all of which leads to undermining our value, our worth, and our very existence. We ask "WHY?" Why am I unhappy, uncomfortable, lost? Why do they behave that way, why can't I get out of my own way . . . on and on. In my experience, why is a dead-end. And then the "shoulds" come out, and then we try to override and numb the guilt and shame of the "shoulds". No wonder we don't want to be alone: we are sabotaging ourselves with our thoughts right and left! We tend to believe our thoughts as true and then subconsciously create resistance to them because on some level, we are aware they are not true, and definitely not the fullness of who were are. And so we have this internal tug-of -war going on, and we can't tolerate it and decide to distract ourselves or numb it because is all too much. The good news is that meditation creates a space to be aware of this automatic loop.


In meditation I have gotten to know the fullness of what I am. I loved really understanding - not intellectually, but in my gut - that thoughts are just thoughts. Some days you can settle down and some days you can't, but you get better and better at hanging out with whatever is going through - notice the term is going through - the mind. I heard this described once as the train of thought comes into the station but you don't have to get on. I love that. I started to recognize a tendency to create tension by taking some thoughts so seriously and wanting to conquer the, defeat them, show 'em whose boss. Other thoughts were easier to let go - why? It's always interesting to see what gets stuck on repeat in my mind and what just floats through. Meditation gives me a solid foundation from which to pull back my perspective, observe what is happening, do some discerning and not treat all these thoughts - that are not me, remember, they are byproducts of reacting to existence - as the bulk of who I am. I am a being having some thoughts. And you simply witness them, be curious about them and let them be what they are. Thoughts. If you are meant to act on them, it will be clear. If not, thank them and let them pass by like a train that is not going to your destination.


REASON 3: To be comfortable with yourself no matter where you are


I have used my well-practiced meditative breath and awareness in many situations. As radar to decide if someone is good fit. To calm and focus myself before public speaking. To actually hear what the doctor is telling me is going on with my severely ill child. To keep from screaming back when a mentally ill person went ballistic on me, allowing me to find useful words and the right help. To assess the right alley to walk down in the middle of the night in the city. To really listen with all of me when being criticized or getting feedback. To sit with people in grief and distress and accompany them instead of needing to fix things. When entering very uncomfortable situations of all kinds, from meeting intimidating people, going into unfamiliar areas, being lost in foreign countries. To understand if I do want to do it or don't want to do it. It's proven much more useful than both experience and my ego in helping me navigate life.


REASON 4: To be comfortable with yourself no matter who you are with


For some of us, being alone is hard; for others, to use an overused quote by Sartre, "Hell is other people." We might feel quite solid and stable on our own, and then the minute we get in company, we compare ourselves to others, want to use them to feel better about ourselves in some way, or as evidence that life and people stink, or we want to protect ourselves from them. Big self doesn't need people to agree - or disagree - it just finds joy in expressing itself in a multitude of ways. The more aware I become of my selves, and what other people agitate or fulfill in me, the more I can respond to others with presence and clarity. Meditation offer me a way to fill my cup enough so that I don't need to numb out or always overly complain or always blame others or circumstances for how your feel. Doesn't mean you won't ever engage in those behaviors, but you'll be more aware of it when you do. And there's a power and peace in that awareness. We have the potential to operate from an inside-out sense of what motivates us, not from rebellion and revenge, but a solid sense of shared dignity. You trust yourself to know your full "yes" and your full "no" and act from that. You can be angry, but pull it back to yourself, as in, "I am angry because of X," or "I am sad because of X" as opposed to automatic, unthinking drama, victimization, accusation, gossip, confrontation, bullying, superiority, or inferiority muddying what it is that is being asked to be experienced.


REASON 5: To be comfortable with yourself no matter what is going on

What I find in the meditative space will not be what you find. It is personal and intimate and one of the few things you can truly claim as your own in life. I have found meditation has allowed me to become my best friend, a best friend that does not allow a complacent, static and rigid self- definition. A friend that knows that the point of life is not 24/7 ease and contentment, zest comes from engaging with life and being open to new opportunities to learn. Say I am an individual committed to my identity as a shy introvert who can't handle crisis. In meditation that identity gets challenged, as you realize that you are much more than that. So then

a crisis comes along and I manage it just fine and realize, oh, that self-definition is no longer true, that was small me who decided I can't handle crisis because of something that happened years ago. Maybe I'm not shy, I'm just private. Maybe I'm not so much an introvert as selective. All kinds of beliefs get injected with a little air and light over and over again. It is a continual transformation, not a quick fix. This is why meditation is referred to as a practice and a journey, the learning is life-long, and we are always confronted with new opportunities and new challenges to take to our meditative space. I have used my meditative training to calm myself and others during a panic attack brought on by terrible news. I have used it to navigate tricky situations of all kinds, where the most important question is, "What is really going on here?" I have used it to tune into my physical body in an inquiry about chronic pain and symptoms. I have used it to speak publicly, keep myself centered as a parent, and listen, really listen, during many, many crises. I have used it to just remind myself that right now, in this moment, everything is ok.


IN CONCLUSION

As the saying goes, "no matter where you go, there you are," so you might as well make a home within yourself. Consider the possibility of being at home within yourself before you start looking for others to fill it - or decide to live in theirs. Meditation shows you where you need to give yourself some healthy attention. It shows you options, like you can sit with feelings you want to avoid, and not do anything about them, and they might pass through you leaving a little gift of wisdom or insight or creative inspiration. Or, in meditation, an action might become crystal clear. Meditation allows you an opportunity to check-in and, potentially, become clear and really comfortable with how you want to show up in your life. That has been my motivation to meditate and it has made all the difference.


butterfly perched on pink flower
Meditation as Pollination


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