A regular practice of meditation can enhance your life in many ways, contributing to greater relaxation and happiness, improving your health, enhancing your moods and even accelerating your spiritual development.
What I mean when I say “practice of meditation” is something like this:
- seated cross-legged, kneeling, or in a chair, in a quiet relaxed fashion, remaining as still as possible
- aiming your attention at a specific thing such as your breath, a mantra, a candle or other focal point
- breathing in a regular and relaxed manner
- remaining in this position and state for at least 10-20 minutes per session
There are many different traditions of meditation and each have their unique features. However, those listed above are likely to be common to almost any meditation practice that you are likely to undertake.
So what’s the point? It sounds boring and pointless, right? We modern-day Type A personalities are in the business of getting things done, making it happen, not sitting around and quietly observing the world, even if for only 20 minutes. In fact, a small but regular investment of time in a meditation practice can pay off with a number of positive benefits.
With a regular meditation habit, the same things will be going on in your life situation. It won’t change the circumstances around you, probably not directly, and almost certainly not right away. However, the changes in you will be noticeable – you’ll have a reduced reaction to stressful or upsetting situations.
After you establish a regular practice of meditation, it is as though the sources of stress and irritation in your life are a source of noise with the volume turned down. They still exist, and you may still notice them and handle them as needed, but they simply don’t affect you as much.
A functional MRI study of regular meditators at the University of Wisconsin provided objective metrics of happiness on a numerical scale. One man in the study scored far and away the highest of anyone under observation. Who was he? Mathieu Ricard works as the French translator for the Dalai Lama, has been a monk in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition for over 30 years, and needless to say, is an accomplished and regular meditator.
Fine, you may say, decades of meditating for hours a day in a remote monastery in Nepal can help someone be a very happy and balanced person. But you’re a modern, busy person with a conventional life and you don’t have time to withdraw from the world and live as a monk. (And you probably don’t want to either!) Don’t worry – there is hope. One study observed that as little as two months of meditation practice of 30 minutes per day was enough to cause measurable increases in happiness levels in test subjects.
Positive impact on others
The positive moods and greater patience that you can experience through a regular practice of meditation will be very satisfying for you personally. The benefits of a meditation practice don’t stop at your skin – those around you can also benefit from your practice. With a regular meditation habit you’ll have less of a short fuse, and can respond to challenging interpersonal situations with a more balanced perspective. Your loved ones, colleagues, friends, and casual acquaintances can all benefit from your meditation practice.
Meditation has been clinically demonstrated to reduce blood pressure, and to lower the risk of heart disease. The indirect influence of relaxation and inner peace can also diminish the apparent need for alternative coping mechanisms such as tranquilizers, alcohol, cigarettes, cannabis, and reduce any other addictive or compulsive behaviors.
While the general structure of meditation is fairly common across many traditions, the content can vary widely. You may meditate with a focus on a quote from a secular philosopher or writer, as easily as with a focus on a Bible verse or a Hindu mantra.
Many religions and spiritual practices have meditative or contemplative traditions, in order to start regular meditation you do not need to change your religion, have a religion, get a religion or even change your beliefs in any way. Meditation has the capability to enhance any religious or spiritual practice, and is equally compatible with having no religion at all. Don’t let any preconceived notions about the origins of meditative practices interfere with your use of this valuable tool.
The regular discipline of meditation provides valuable training in setting goals. Because the practice can occasionally seem ‘pointless’, especially when you are challenged and seemingly not making progress, it can helps to build your ‘goal setting muscles’ and increase your self-discipline. As with so many other valuable things in life, rewards come when you push through obstacles and keep going. Rest assured that the time and effort you invest in regular meditation will pay off in many ways.
I hope these benefits are enticing enough to convince you that meditating regularly is something worth doing.
But please don’t blindly trust me – you’re the only one capable of deciding whether a meditation practice is something that will make a positive difference in your own life.
If you’re curious, a great way to begin is to make a commitment for a set period of time – perhaps a month or six weeks – to try out the habit of meditating regularly. Once you’ve seen the habit from the inside, and tracked your progress over time, you will be in a position to judge from a position of direct experience and knowledge.
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