It’s late afternoon of a day that’s been mostly under my own power, and I still haven’t put in my hour today. My hour of meditation, that is. The thing I gently recommend to those who find themselves stuck, or stressed, or with racing minds that seem to run their lives. I believe so strongly in the effectiveness of it that it’s on my daily schedule. Problem is, it doesn’t always happen. Why is that?
I still don’t have a good answer. I think it’s partly the fear of having to justify what goes undone as a result of my ceasing activity for an hour. There’s resistance when I think of all the other ways I could “do nothing” for an hour – mindless television, puttering in the yard, tinkering with my beads or pottery or some other craft, reading a magazine, eating, napping, even staring at the wall and daydreaming. There’s a little voice whispering that it’s frivolous, selfish, self-serving. There’s also the voice reminding me of how miserable my sitting time has been lately – truly my mind has been the most annoying, talking monkey I could ever imagine. I can scarcely believe I ever had the peaceful, expansive, refreshing experiences that I once did.
So at times like these, it’s good to remember why we meditate. I do it to be a better coach, therapist, wife, neighbor, person. I do it for other reasons, too. For an entire treatise on the subject, pick up a book like The Buddha’s Brain or The Mindfulness Solution, but here’s the fact: meditation is training for life. It’s training the brain to respond in ways that are more purposeful, less driven by emotion, and more aligned with the flow of life. It makes us wiser, calmer, less ruled by thoughts and emotions, and more able to connect with others and fully engage in our lives. There’s even hard science that demonstrates meditating actually changes your brain and improves your health, but those of us who do it don’t need research to tell us it works. I notice almost daily now that my thoughts are less intrusive, less extreme, less in control of my moods and decisions. I marvel at the drip-drip-drip of my practice that seems to be slowly but surely filling me up with increased capacity for stillness.
Like many others, I originally started meditating with the intention of escaping it all for a little while, and then for various other goals: relaxation response, stress reduction, blood pressure effects, healing, visualization of goals. Some of those things may happen during my sessions now, but they are no longer the goal. The goal, as Elizabeth Lesser says in The Seeker’s Guide, is not to do it because we “should”. Instead we should let ourselves be pulled toward it, for all of the things we want from it – it is okay to simultaneously pursue goals of reducing immediate suffering as well as the long term goal of enlightenment so that we might suffer less to begin with. Lesser says that spiritual practice allows us to make friends with the never ending process of change. What goal could be better than that? Of daily practice she says, “always make sure your goals are your own, and that they spring from a healthy, loving place.” Funny how removing the “should” can give us clarity about what’s important!
If you’ll excuse me now, I have a timer to set…