I think most people who discover meditation, myself included, initially vastly underestimate it’s potential for transformation.
I haven’t by any means discovered everything that meditation has to offer, but at this point in my life it’s been about 4 years since I first started dabbling with it and about a year since I started seriously maintaining a habit of meditating daily.
I want to briefly outline my own experience with meditation and mind training, discuss the benefits and hopefully convince someone else to start this great habit.
I got introduced to meditation at age 21 through the lectures of Alan Watts, who’s now one of my favorite philosophers. For those of you who haven’t heard of him, he was an Anglican minister who left the church and in the sixties became a philosophizing hippie and mystic.
He was pivotal in bringing eastern mysticism and philosophy into the western mainstream. I highly recommend his lectures, many of which can be found on Youtube.
Taking the plunge
Those guys talk about a great many things, all of them immensely interesting, but Ram Dass especially focuses on the importance of learning to calm the mind, tune into one’s senses and be here now.
Even so, it wasn’t until I discovered the Vipassana retreat centers around the world, as taught by S. N. Goenka, that I really decided to try it out. A friend of mine and I duly signed up for the next course to be held in Catalonia, 30 minutes out of Barcelona, and it was tough.
These retreats are unforgiving. The schedule is very strict, wake up at 4:00 AM every morning, meditation starts at 4:30. From then on it’s basically hardcore sitting in silence until 21:30 PM, allowing for breakfast, lunch, and short breaks every hour or so.
That’s every day for ten days. At 19:00 there’s also an hour long lecture from Goenka on tape, which becomes the most interesting respite since the invention of sex, at least after ten days of non-stop meditating.
Unsurprisingly, many people drop out. A few times I approached my own breaking point, but by a blend of intrigue in the potential benefits of hours of meditation and a longing not to be outdone by my friend, I stayed on. And in retrospect I’m incredibly glad I did, because I ended up learning a lot about myself and human nature.
For example, farts become ten times funnier when there’s nothing else to laugh at. Food becomes ten times better when you receive no other stimulation all day, and when there’s nothing distracting you from tasting and enjoying it.
That said, they recommend that after finishing the course you keep a two-hour-daily habit of meditation to keep progressing. I accepted the challenge and kept it up for about two weeks until dropping it down to about 20 minutes daily.
Then for the next few years I kept that up on and off (mostly off to be totally honest). I actually went to a couple of other centers as a worker, where you meditate about a third of the time and the rest is spent in mindful service.
I learned a lot from that as well and it provided a kick to keep up the habit, but I would always lose my motivation in the end.
I’m not sure what exactly changed, whether it was my midnight of the soul or something I read, or even just an accumulation of meditative experience breaking down resistance, but slowly but surely I became motivated to meditate more and more.
I guess actually seeing the benefits of this habit manifest in my own psyche had a lot to say about that, as well as a general building up of momentum.
I gradually went from every two or three days, to every single day, and from 10-15 minute sessions to hour long sittings, at first once daily, and now both morning and evening sessions.
I’ve now meditated at least 20 minutes every single day for more than three hundred days, and I’ve meditated for 2 hours daily for close to a month now. And I want to make this clear, I don’t mean to brag!
This is a highly personal undertaking, so personal that pretty much nobody besides my girlfriend actually knows I meditate at all. And that’s the way I like it.
That’s not to say I’m not proud of my self, in fact it’s improved my self esteem by leaps and bounds, because I’ve shown myself to be capable of self-discipline that I was sure I would never find.
Now, what are the actual benefits I’ve experienced? Good question. Actually, there are some very tangible and obvious benefits, and then there are aspects which are pretty much ineffable, or unspeakable. Obviously I’ll focus on the tangible ones.
I’ve noticed my ability to focus has improved dramatically, especially after I started to focus on concentration meditation as opposed to insight meditation (like the Vipassana tradition).
I can read for hours at a time and I can remain attentive in pretty much any situation. I’m not superhuman though, some days are definitely easier than others, and the general condition of my body (hydration, sleep, nourishment) has a lot to say about it.
I’m definitely more calm in every day life, or rather, I find it easier to calm myself down in the face of agitation.
The more familiar I become with my attention, the more easily I can direct it.
For example, if I become overly worried about something that I have little control over, I can consciously decide to become present, to attend to my breath or search for bodily tensions, and take myself out of my head.
This is a tremendous benefit to my overall health, as tension and stress are incredibly detrimental to the human body. This effect will also become more pronounced as time goes by.
This is connected to the first benefit, in that when I’m writing in my journal or practicing self-inquiry, I’m able to remain attentive to the process, which allows me to delve deeper, to follow thoughts further, and to contemplate ideas more fully than I could before.
This effect is obviously also cumulative.
Less bodily tension
The Vipassana or insight traditions in buddhism especially have consistently helped me to detect tensions within my body of which I had no clue. Allowing your attention to flow through your body like a flashlight, making every tight muscle and overstretched tendon obvious to you.
Multiple times a day now, I scan my body to see where my tensions tend to build up. In my case it’s mostly my face, shoulders and abdomen, and when I detect tension I consciously let it go.
There’s definitely correlation between bodily tension and personality type, like when you call someone a tight-ass.
I’m a pretty high strung person, how much of it is nature and how much is nurture I’ll never know, but I’ve learned to consciously relax myself to the degree that I feel like I’ve gained a lot of control over my more neurotic tendencies.
There’s just a real comfort in the fact that you are here, now. Whenever I really tune into that fact, a powerful feeling of acceptance arises. And accepting what is, is just as important as creating what will be.
I hope I managed to convey some of my enthusiasm for the meditative life. I’m experiencing new aspects of my mind and consciousness every single day, and I believe consciousness expands exponentially as soon as you start cultivating a habit of questioning and investigating direct experience.
Love to you all.
Check out my article on Single-Pointed Meditation and how it can Help your Spiritual Practice, or you could take a look at my post on the Awesome power of Psychedelics!