Nowadays, there is much ado about meditation and mindfulness. Neuroscience provides us with undeniable evidence of the sustainable effect it has on your brain. Women’s magazines promote ways in which mindfulness can make you thinner. Elementary schools experiment with meditation instead of punishment when children act out.
Is there truth to be found in the midst of this Meditation Mania, or is it just another passing trend?
My first encounter with a meditation-like habit was in a focusing workshop, in my early twenties. Being this hyperactive, impatient and impulsive girl, I had a hard time just to sit through it. Don’t move and stop thinking, that was what I thought meditation to be. And I hated it.
Still, life handed me some surprises, one being a fabulous burn-out. Faced with a loss of concentration, low energy and uncontrollable emotions taking over the steering wheel, I turned to the newly founded Mindfulness Based Meditation Centre in my neighbourhood. And again, I hated it. Sitting for what seemed like an eternity, surrounded by people with much worse psychological problems than I saw myself struggling with, I couldn’t help but fall asleep. Every time. According to the teacher, I didn’t try hard enough.
I flunked mindfulness class.
But, and here’s the remarkable part of this story, this morning I started with twenty minutes of meditation practice. As I have done every day for quite a few years now.
What transformed me into this meditation addict?
First of all, I learned through watching Andy Puddicombe and Matthieu Ricard on TED, that it was not necessary to sit still, nor to remove all thoughts. A state of meditation is about producing nothing and resting consciously in the perception of what is.
Just watching thoughts go by, as if they were cars on a motorway. No chasing them away, no hunting after them. Simply relaxing in the multitude of what is going on in your mind. It’s better than sex, I swear. Or actually no, it isn’t. But it's just as good.
On top of that, what made me even more hooked, was the fact that I could use meditation to change my life. Seriously, training my mind does not only bring temporal joy, it leads to happy days. Seeing that reality is not as real as I think it is, frees me from getting stuck in my mind. My thoughts and feelings are just thoughts and feelings, not truths. This is backed up by masters: intentional meditation leads to more insight in the nature of things, by recognising their superficial appearance. And in this way it breaks through your usual mental patterns.
After the attention focusing part and the insight meditation part, I wrap it up by visualizing how I want to act, feel or think. Because seeing through and thus debunking my old ways of thinking and feeling, frees me to construct new patterns. I meditate on a blueprint of the person I desire to be. And it proofs so effective.
You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes a day, unless you’re too busy, then you should sit for an hour. (old Zen saying)
Buddhist monks would definitely dispute the idea of meditation being only a fleeting whim, as they are sitting for 2500 years already.
If meditation is here to stay, what makes it so useful?
First, it cultivates attention. Focusing the mind brings more awareness of the present moment and produces a sense of calm. This is what mindfulness is most known for, typically focusing on the breath as the target of your attention. It is a necessary starting point of your meditation practice to develop this kind of calm and stable mind.
Secondly, in medatition you practice an state of acceptance. A nonjudgmental observation of situations, thoughts and feelings. Whatever is here, in this moment, is okay as it is. A very comforting and much desired experience actually. Things are fine the way they are. I am okay, just the way I am.
Finally, meditation is build on a clear intention, and this is were it becomes life-changing. When you strongly envision your motivation to engage in this practice, it will influence the outcome in the way you want. Research shows that the outcome of meditation usually corresponds to the intentions of the practitioner. A promising and fascinating find.
For example, meditators trying to seek a way of dealing with stress, find that their repeated practice brings them more calm. On the other hand, when you engage in mindful activities for, say, health-related problems, you may succeed in achieving this goal - but you may not necessarily go into a state of flourishing. Fortunately, your intention can shift as you grow in practicing meditation. So do start by addressing the most urgent change you desire, and evolve gradually to other topics.
Yep. This is true gold. Positive psychology and Eastern philosophy both agree that a mind free of disturbances and mental problems, and full of positive human qualities and resources, is required for achieving a meaningful and fruitful life.
So if you want to be truly thriving, go meditate on that.
(deze blog post schreef ik als deel van een opdracht voor de opleiding Master in Applied Positive Psychology, vandaar: in het Engels)