“Don’t meditate to fix yourself, to heal yourself, to improve yourself, to redeem yourself; rather, do it as an act of love, of deep warm friendship to yourself. In this way, there is no longer any need for the subtle aggression of self-improvement, for the endless guilt of not doing enough. It offers the possibility of an end to the ceaseless round of trying so hard that wraps so many people’s lives in a knot. Instead, there is now meditation as an act of love. How endlessly delightful and encouraging.”
– Bob Sharples, from Meditation: Calming the Mind
What is this practice doing for me?
After starting a meditation practice or practicing for a while, we often wonder, “Is this working?” Or, “What is this doing for me?” First, we do not practice meditation to simply get better at meditating. Although meditation can provide a wonderful refuge from the busyness of our lives and a wonderful means to reduce stress, the deeper gifts of meditation are really in helping us get better at living our lives fully and authentically.
Meditation is what we do on our cushion. Mindful, conscious or awakened living is what we are learning to do in our lives. The changes you experience from your meditation practice may seem quite small at first, but they can result in quite profound transformations in your life. As you deepen your meditation practice, you begin to notice small changes in how you respond to the world around you. Perhaps you notice that you don’t react at all in a situation where you would have previously responded in anger. Or, you find yourself speaking out because you know something needs to be said when in the past you would have decided not to voice your opinion. You find you have a deeper understanding of what really matters to you and a clearer sense of what is important, and you see more clearly what is not worth spending mental of emotional energy on. You have less drama in your life. You find more moments in each day to embrace the world around you. You find ways and opportunities to connect to people in a true and authentic way, You are less judgmental. All of these changes come in small moments, but their effects on how you live can be profound.
Knowing What’s Working and What’s Not Working
Instead of being stuck in patterns of behavior that cause unease or suffering, meditation also helps us awaken to how we are living and see our patterns of thought, behavior, and reactivity more clearly. We notice where we are placing our attention, what our minds are busy with, and how our bodies are feeling. In this process of awakening to our experience, we begin to better understand what feels good and right and, in contrast, what feels wrong or causes us suffering. Then, we gain the incredible freedom to choose how we want to respond, react or ‘be” in our lives. In this way, we get “unstuck” from our deeply ingrained patterns. As we dive deeper into our meditation practice, we begin to experience more moments of clarity and a greater freedom to choose how we want to walk through our lives and respond to the world around us.
The Art of Non-Doing
In our culture, a great premium is placed on constantly thinking and doing. There is nothing wrong with either, but as we explore the art of being through meditation, we realize that we are often thinking out of pure mental habit and acting unconsciously or on auto-pilot. We may be stuck in the “shoulds” of doing or doing things because we simply don’t know any other way. As we become much more aware, we can choose instead to do things that feel right, that come from our hearts and that feel more authentic to who we are.
We are also conditioned to think things through, always searching for answers and for meaning, or for what’s next. As we become more and more aware through meditation practice of our very busy minds, we recognize that getting caught up in our thoughts can actually make things less clear and can cause us stress. From an early age, we are taught that thinking is the best route to finding answers. However, we get stuck in the habit of overthinking. Or, we simply get caught up in the stories we are telling ourselves about what is happening. The result of this constant rumination is the exertion of energy, the endless grasping for answers, loads of spent energy and a stirring up of our emotions.
Meditation teaches us that the truest answers can come from a state of non-doing and simply detaching from our thinking minds for a while or creating more space and awareness around our thoughts. Instead of thinking, we are simply learning to be aware of and available to what is, to see things more clearly and to connect to an inner knowing of what feels right for us. As we quiet our minds, we are learning to listen deeply to our inner longings, to our hearts and to our guts. We can see our thoughts and the stories we tell ourselves as just thoughts and stories. And, we learn to rest our attention in awareness itself. That’s what meditation is. In seeing things just as they are and shining the light of awareness on our experience, we often find answers, connect to what really matters, and choose a path that feels right. These answers are not from a cognitive analysis, but, instead, these answers lie closer to our hearts and our inner wisdom.
Through this art of non-doing, we also learn to let go of so much that is not serving us. Even letting go of the constant effort to get it right, to figure things out, to search for answers, or to improve ourselves can feel like a huge relief.
The Healing Power of Meditation
Meditation is a way of self-healing. We can step out of our own way, let go of our efforts to fix or change ourselves, and allow the natural healing of this practice to happen.
We must remember not to make this a goal-oriented practice. Ironically, when we let go of our striving and open to the process of awakening to our true nature and to what is already there, that is when true transformation and healing takes place. So, don’t make enlightenment, “fixing” or improving yourself the goal. That’s a distraction or another act of striving. The goal is to come back to resting in a state of true presence and awareness. This is our true nature. We just need to recognize that this state of simply being is always available to us and learn how to make ourselves available to it.
Meditation is a way of becoming more and more conscious, more and more awake. Healing is a natural side effect of this process.
Continue to give yourself this beautiful gift of discovering your true nature. Then, you can go out into the world with this sense of fullness, aliveness, love, and peacefulness, and you can share your true nature with the world. In a much larger sense, that is how we heal the world, one breath at a time.