5 Things You'll Learn From Meditation
First off, if you're new to this, welcome! Meditation is a transformative practice that is sure to open your eyes and change your life. If you aren't quite sure what meditation actually is, that's okay. Check out our introduction to mindfulness. In short, it's really quite simple and there isn't much to know--meditation is a process through which one can begin to develop awareness and elevate consciousness. If that sounds intense, it both is and isn't. Keep in mind that meditation is not the same as religion. It's simply a process of calming the mind by focusing attention on the present moment, thereby allowing oneself to accept thoughts and feelings.
“Meditation is, first of all, part of every spiritual tradition... in the world. There are breathing meditations in every tradition. There are body-awareness meditations in every tradition. And there are variations of mantra meditation. It has nothing to do with belief or ideology or doctrine. It’s a simple mental technique to go to the source of thought.”
― Deepak Chopra
I began meditating regularly last year after moving to Australia. It really just sort of fell into my lap, but it's turned out to be exactly what I needed. As I have begun taking it more seriously and introducing it into my daily life, I've started to reflect on some of the lessons I've learned thus far. While it's a journey I'm still taking and I am far from a master, I thought I would share some of the best ones.
1. We are constantly thinking and the mind controls our lives.
Think you're in control of your destiny? Think again. How many times have you gotten to your driveway and realized you don't remember driving the last few miles home? Or had to go back and reread a page in a book because you stopped paying attention? Most of us walk around this earth as unconscious beings, controlled by thought and unaware of the beautiful details of life passing us by. While thinking has helped humanity get to its current place and there is certainly a time for it, it's unconscious thought that's the real issue. Our minds are constantly in the past or future either wishing for a different situation or reminiscing on times that are long gone. This is a primary cause of unhappiness. The present moment is never good enough--we need more, bigger, better. How can one ever stop and just enjoy what he does have when he constantly thinks this way? Through meditation, one can learn to calm the mind of these thoughts and refocus attention on the present. For me this has meant a greater enjoyment of each day and less focus on what I don't have in the present moment. I've begun to think in terms of what I need right now to satisfy myself. If the answer is nothing, and it usually is, then all is well.
“Time isn’t precious at all, because it is an illusion. What you perceive as precious is not time but the one point that is out of time: the Now. That is precious indeed. The more you are focused on time—past and future—the more you miss the Now, the most precious thing there is.”
― Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment
2. The ego is a constant threat to true contentment.
Most of us think of ego as the force behind characteristics like pride, which is true, but in reality it is much more expansive than this. The ego is our sense of identity. It's not only an embodiment of vanity, but a source of self-hatred. It is defined by how we see ourselves and who we tell ourselves we are. The ego thrives off of being separate or different from others. It's a protective shell that tells us we're not like those other people over there. It draws its strength from this distinction, so we complain and ridicule others to build ourselves up. We look on at someone else with a mental list of everything they're not doing right that we would have done better. We identify with negative experiences because it makes us different. We argue with others because it protects our pride and makes us look superior. The problem is these things only serve to make one's own self unhappy. Our minds are filled with the sounds of a nagging, negative little voice that seems incapable of just letting us live in peace. To combat this, one must begin to observe the mind. Once we witness it happening, we can begin to fix it.
3. Not everything is about you.
By and large, we in the Western world are selfish. We've been raised to stand up for ourselves, to put ourselves first, and to do what needs to be done to achieve at all costs. That's because our value in society is determined by what we have. This results in a mentality in which the bonds between people are weak. We use people to get what we need from them with little regard for building relationships and supporting one another. It's a shame because our ability to build these relationships is what makes us human. We are all one at the end of the day. We should be supporting one another and building others up, not tearing them down. At the end of the day it's not what we have that defines who we are, but how we behave and with whom we surround ourselves.
"Love people, use things. The opposite never works." ― The Minimalists
4. Happiness is fleeting.
I borrowed this one from Tim Cigelske because it's just too good. America was founded on the principles of the "pursuit of happiness," but maybe it's something we shouldn't be pursuing. We constantly want more from life and that notion extends to happiness. We've become so adept at chasing the next high that we've already started looking for the next thrill before the current one has finished. Naturally, happiness is cyclical--it's a temporary state. That's not a bad thing! Realizing that happiness is fleeting does not make one any less happy. Instead of looking into the future and ignoring the Now, enjoy the present moment.
"The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but your thoughts about it. Be aware of the thoughts you are thinking. Separate them from the situation, which is always neutral, which always is as it is.”
― Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose
5. We all know nothing.
The biggest thing I've taken away from my experience thus far is that we truly know nothing about the universe. There's a shockingly long history in the East of practicing meditation and studying its principles. It's something the Western world as a whole is just beginning to take note of. As I have begun studying some of the core tenants of mindfulness it's astounded me that so many of these concepts are so basic and natural to life when you think about it. We've actually created a society that encourages us to ignore our selves and bury our emotions down deep. The single most important thing meditation can contribute to most of our lives is self-reflection. By dropping the ego and admitting that you may actually have something to learn, we can all begin to progress as a unified body.
If you're interested in learning more about meditation and awareness, I'd recommend buying a copy of Eckhart Tolle's The Power of Now. I promise you it's eye-opening. Check out our intro guide if you're thinking about starting your very first meditation.
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