You have probably heard a lot about meditation and perhaps feel like it is something you “should” be doing – like working out or staying on top of your finances. Working as a coach, my clients often confess ( a little guiltily) that they do not meditate, as if I will judge them for that.
However, as with all important self-care practices, we mustn’t engage in meditation as a chore, with a sense of martyrdom or resignation, but intentionally and with an open mind. One way of adopting a healthy habit genuinely and appreciatively is to fully recognize what we stand to gain – then it stops feeling like so much of a sacrifice and more like a great investment of our time and energy.
Full disclosure: I have meditated off and on for years using different methods. You may gain a different perspective from someone who has consistently used one method.
However, I am more like the hummingbird person described by Liz Gilbert, who moves from one thing to another and is nourished by diversity. I learn about things best when I see it from many angles – in this case, I have learned about my own mind by using a variety of tools.
When I started to meditate, I was not calling it that, because I was studying Qi Gong. OK, we were standing still and focusing, trying not to get caught up in our thoughts, but as a 16-year-old, I did not know anything about meditation at the time, and I had no idea that was what I was doing. It was my first step towards a path that should be essential for any adult – consciously learning to work with our own minds.
Without training our minds are unruly, they think about whatever they like for as long as they like, they lack focus and direction and draw our attention away from the things they do not want us to look at. Such as developing mental discipline, for example. This is a big reason that meditation can be especially challenging – our minds do not always want us to do it.
You may be thinking, “my mind is not like that, I can focus for long periods of time,” and I would say a) that’s great and b) it’s because you have trained it to do that. Maybe not through meditation, but perhaps through study or work, and your mind has learned to get on board and help facilitate that aim. So anyone who has developed focus has cultivated some mental discipline. However, they may still benefit from meditation because that mental focus may be dependent on specific activities or frames of mind.
For example, I have written a couple of books, and it took many hours of consistent focus to do that. Being the space cadet I am, that was very hard for me, but I achieved it simply through forcing myself to do it for hours, and that has given me mental discipline and focus.
However, this focus is attached to being in either deep thinking, creative, or “critical editor” frame of mind. Therefore, when I want to use that same level of mental focus for studying, it may be hard for me, it may not be a completely transferable skill.
If, on the other hand, I am consistently meditating, it will make it easier for me to focus across all areas of my life. One reason for this is that my mind will be more used to me directing it, and there will be less of a struggle for dominance. Another reason is that meditation can make our minds clearer, with fewer “dead end” or repetitive thoughts, competing for our brainpower.
If I were to use an analogy, I would say that hours of writing have created a deep groove in my brain that with a little cajoling, I can get into and work quite nicely in for a few hours. In contrast, meditation is not about creating one specific groove but flexing a muscle that could then be used to help with any task.
In addition to finding it easier to focus on whatever task, thought, or person you choose to engage with, meditation will also help you to become more mindful. I find that phrase quite funny because, for me it is less about your mind is full, but open and clear so you can perceive the present moment with your whole self. But maybe we could see it as your mind being “full” of the present. For some of us, the concept of mindfulness may feel a bit too worthy, pious, or perhaps even frivolous. However, what it means at the core is that you are fully alive and fully present in the moment. This not only helps us to be aware of ourselves and the situation around us, it can bring us peace while also helping us to avoid sleepwalking through our life and missing it.
And mindfulness can have a different impact at different times. Sometimes it may mean experiencing joy while being present with something beautiful; at others, it may allow a deeper connection with another person. We need mindfulness in our lives because it used to come naturally to us, but devices are almost constantly stealing important moments from us nowadays. It is up to us to develop the mental discipline to decide consciously how we want to be and how we want to experience the moment. If you are anything like me, you will have looked up from your phone to find an hour or even two has passed in a kind of dream state. This scattering of our attention and addiction has extreme consequences on our emotions, mind, and health.
So, to sum up – I recommend meditation. Not as a chore, or something on your to-do list, but as a conscious reclaiming of your own power. Because where you put your attention is the deciding factor in what has weight and significance in your life, and how much-focused attention you can generate and maintain directly determines how much you can achieve and create an impact in the world. Something is always going to be steering the ship of your attention and mental state. With meditation, you can make sure that driving force is you.