Imagine walking into a messy house filled with piles and boxes of junk with sounds of people yelling in the background.
Now imagine walking into a green park with a clear lake on a sunny day with birds chirping.
Which space is more conducive for thinking clearly? Which space do you feel more at peace?
Most people will choose the park over the messy house.
When people ask me why I meditate, I often fumble around on my answer because the experience is inconsistent and so individualized. Yet, meditation is probably the single most important practice in my life because it helps me quiet the inner noise and unhelpful thoughts.
For the curious seekers out there, here is my best attempt on describing the benefits of meditation.
You are not your thoughts
Does your mind behave more like a well-disciplined puppy or a wild bull?
Do you feel you have control of your mind, or your mind has control of you?
If you have not tried meditation, your mind probably feels like a wild animal that jocks you around. You have little control over how you feel and react to situations.
Many people find it hard to meditate because their minds have become the masters. The mind hates sitting quietly - like a child who resists being grounded. The mind doesn’t want you to examine and audit it. It doesn’t want you to find out that it is undisciplined and running your life. It doesn’t want you to become its master.
When you meditate, you will realize that many thoughts come and go continuously. You cannot stop the thoughts. The goal is not to stop the thoughts. The goal is to realize that you are NOT your thoughts. Instead, you are the observer of your thoughts. Meditation improves your ability to observe. When you realize that you are the observer, you can stop identifying yourself as your thoughts.
When you realize the wisdom within that you are the observer, you begin to gain control of your mind. Your mind can spin around like an angry child, but you know you are not the crazy child. You are the one who observes the crazy child. You may not be able to calm the crazy child yet, but at least you know you are not this child, and you can do something about this child.
Daily mind cleaning
Remember the analogy at the beginning about the messy house and the park?
If you have never meditated in your life, your mind is like the messy house filled with junk. Every day, you go through life, picking up experiences that shape your thoughts and emotions. These thoughts and emotions pile up so high that if you were to walk into a room which is your mind, you will be stuck at the entrance because there is no room to step in.
Meditation is the act of house-cleaning for your mind. During meditation, you observe your thoughts and you let go of thoughts that are not helpful. Slowly, day by day, hour by hour, your meditation will clean up all the junky thoughts that have held your mind captive. The more you meditate, the easier it will be for you to focus – to think clearly – to see situations objectively.
Do you ever wonder why we over react? Why do we become agitated by waiting a few extra minutes? Why do we become upset when things don’t meet our expectations? Why do we get triggered easily by certain incidences?
It’s because our mind is filled with junk from old thoughts and stories. We are swimming in the junk with no room for inner peace and tranquility. We live our lives in expectations, and not in present reality. We look out for things that reinforce our beliefs instead of seeing reality as it is. We get upset when reality fall short of expectation instead of appreciating life as it is.
Daily meditation is a great practice to let go of unhelpful thoughts and emotions that we picked up during the day. Long meditations – like a 10+ day silent meditation retreat – is a great practice to clean beyond thoughts and emotions laying on the surface, and begin clearing more deep-rooted beliefs that no longer serves us.
Observation leads to being present
When you meditate, you will begin to see that a large majority of your thoughts are either replaying the past or worrying about the future:
This person said this to me.
What am I having for dinner?
When will I get my promotion?
I can’t believe I made that mistake. I can’t believe how lame I am.
We are rarely able to keep our minds focused on the present moment.
If we can’t focus our mind when we are meditating, how can we focus our mind when we are not meditating?
Most of us live our lives on auto-pilot mode. We don’t remember how we drove to work. We can’t pay attention when our loved ones are talking to us. We can’t taste what we are eating. We are so absorbed in our own thoughts about the past and the future that we miss out on everything that is happening in the present moment. The way we experience life is like being totally absorbed by a movie that displays our past events and predicts our future events, instead of realizing that we are sitting in the theatre with other people staring at the screen.
Why does time slow down when we are on vacation visiting a new place? Why do we feel like so much happened during our vacations compared to other 24 hour days?
It’s because we pay more attention to the present moment when we are on vacation. We are less in our heads where our minds play out the same routines; we are more present to the actual experience in the moment.
Meditation improves our abilities to stay present in the moment. It is a practice for increasing our ability to observe. Staying present is the act of paying attention to the present. Paying attention is the act of observing.
Our thoughts are the cause of all suffering
Have you ever feel captured by nature – perhaps a sunset or a mountain? How about a feeling of joy from the smile of a child?
In these moments, you are present. In these moments, you are not thinking about the past or worrying about the future. In these moments, you experience joy, love and peace.
Seasoned meditators experience the joy of staying present in ordinary everyday moments. The feeling of joy, love and peace is ever present. They do not get stuck in the past because meditation cleans away thoughts they want to let go of. They also divert their mind away from predicting the future because they understand that worrying is a waste of time, and anticipating a desired future outcome is a recipe for disappointment and suffering.
Thoughts of past and future is the disease of the mind and the cause of all suffering. Being present is the gateway to inner joy, love, freedom and peace. You will only realize this truth when you invest in meditation and spiritual growth.
At some point, after long periods of meditation, you will see that we are not our thoughts, not our feelings, not our body. We are a spirit that is one with the universe.
When you realize this truth, you realize your purpose and becomes free of suffering.
That is why I meditate.
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