I may have mislead some of you. I value the benefits gained during my 20 years practice of meditation. I do. But I remain skeptical of supernatural claims from yogis and mystics. Everyday, for 4 hours in silent meditation, I disciplined body and mind to sit still. Well, at least that was my goal. Like an Olympian, training myself day after day and peeping behind the darkness of my closed eyes, took some major Chutzpah. Here’s three major benefits.
Three Major Benefits of Meditation
1. Discipline or Mental Toughness. First benefit, is the training, the discipline itself of practicing meditation. In a decade, I’d spent roughly 14,600 hours in meditation. To sit still and wrestle with body and mind daily in meditation gives a mental toughness and stubborn persistence. Keeping company with your own monkey-mind 4 hours everyday would do that to anyone. Granted you could potentially get similar benefits in other focused disciplines. How about fly fishing for rainbow trout in a quiet little brook? Or, knitting your grandson a pair of yarn slippers, like my Grandma did? It’s possible lots of activities can be a training and discipline of the mind, no?
It’s not what you do, but HOW you do what you do- that makes all the difference. Meditation is not required. But yet, there’s definitely a uniqueness to the discipline of meditation unmatched by other disciplines or training.
2. Watch Yourself, Mister! Next benefit from my practice of meditation was mindfulness or inner peace, objectivity, keen awareness of thoughts and feelings. Inner peace sounds a bit woo. Nothing mystical here but yet extraordinary to fully notice this moment, to really listen completely to yourself or to someone you care about. We all have these experiences to varying degrees. Not as often as we’d like. That’s why these moments or states of awareness seem mystical, because they seem rare. But, in those moments we feel fully alive, invigorated, ultra-sensitized to our observation. Lots of people call these spiritual experiences. I’ve come to call them being human AND fully alive. Meditation is that.
But, if you sit and stare at the back of your eyelids for hours everyday you’ve got to find ways to entertain yourself: watching your breath (meditation techniques) or watching your thoughts and sensations (mindfulness or awareness) can only go so far. So, my favorite pastime in meditation and path of least resistance was to allow myself to wander endlessly in daydreams, a waking sleep, like Googling the word “focus” and realizing an hour later I hadn’t once focused on the word “focus” at all. Humbling.
3. Humiliation. Perhaps the biggest benefit is humiliation. Yes, practicing meditation is humiliating. When you discover that your mind is a rat’s nest of “he said that”, “she said this”, “how could she do that” and every variation of “I shoulda, coulda, woulda” drivel of petty thoughts and feelings you are truly humbled. No, first, you are outright discouraged. Without a doubt, watching your monkey-mind jumping in and out of its rat’s nest takes a hell of a lot of patience and self-compassion.
Finally, to practice, to really train yourself, day after day to watch your mind is not as glamorous and mystical as you may think. Actually, meditation discipline is humiliation, humbling yourself to see all the monkeys and rats running around in your head. The power, your Chutzpah, is in bringing awareness into the moment. One does not need to sit in silence and stare at the back of his or her eyelids for these positive benefits. But, meditation may not hurt either- if you’re willing to go through the discipline and frustration.
Be skeptical, my friends, if someone claims meditation is something mystical. After practicing it for 23,725 hours and living 14 years in a monastery, I’ve found the benefits of meditation to be no more mystical than anything that makes you human AND fully alive in the moment.