The benefits of meditation

Sitting in meditation with awareness transcends into every aspect of your life. I know it has done mine. It’s so hard, and yet so simple – simply to sit for at least 15 mins to half an hour each day, in total awareness.

At first it’s really hard not to fidget – trying to get comfortable, the mind is doing everything it can to move the body so that we don’t have to feel this very moment, in all its glory or mundaneness. That is my biggest hurdle – the sitting still part. Sometimes I simply can’t, and then a walking meditation will take the place of sitting meditation. However, the importance of keeping that butt on that cushion should not be underestimated.

Forcing myself into stillness, I can then imagine a rock being thrown into a pond – it settles to the bottom of its own accord, and find the stillness. Then, it is time to simply “be” in the present moment. Feeling the tension in my shoulders, hearing the wind howl outside, thick with snow. Hearing the central heating come on, the soft padding of a cat entering the room. Smelling the incense, seeing the light of the candle upon my altar. For a few, brief moments, it is blissful and relaxing.

Then come the thoughts – anyone who has ever tried to meditate knows the flurry of thoughts that will fly through your head at any given moment. It can sometimes be a Herculean task to just sit when all these thoughts are going through your head – if you’re moving, you don’t have to think about them, or notice that they are passing through your head with lightning speed. But sitting still and facing all these thoughts – it can sometimes seem futile. I’ve heard so many people say “I can’t meditate – I can’t turn off, switch off; I keep thinking a million things”. You’ve got to persevere.

So, in sitting meditation, in zazen, we don’t try to push away all these thoughts – what we learn to do is to become the observer. It’s all about noticing the thoughts that go through the mind, without attaching to them and becoming lost in them. As soon as we attach to them, we’ve lost our awareness, our sense of being an observer – instead we are a willing or unwilling participant in them, and the benefits of meditation we will rarely see.

So, with all these thoughts whizzing through my head, I become the observer. I notice that I’m thinking about the belly dance show that I’m putting on in October, that I have to start dinner soon, that a friend hasn’t been in contact for months, that the car windscreen has a sticky annoying film on it that just won’t go away – noticing the thoughts without going into them – which is supremely difficult for some thoughts. And I am not always successful either, but I eventually do catch myself getting absorbed in the thoughts at some point, and bring my attention and awareness back into the room where I am sitting in front of the alter, with the candle and incense and cats sleeping around me.

Slowly, the more and more I meditate, the less and less I become absorbed in these thoughts. However, we all have good days and bad days. But I have found when I don’t meditate for a few days, I can and do get lost in my thoughts, creating drama out of them, or becoming easily annoyed with myself or other people around me – losing that sense of connectedness, compassion and empathy. For the benefits of sitting meditation carry through into all aspects of life – seeping through like springwater into the surrounding areas, benefiting all with its nourishment.

The more I do zazen, the less irritable I am (though again, we all have good days and bad days). I notice tension in my body more throughout the day. I notice when I am being self-centred, and when I am losing myself in the drama that I have created to give my life more importance. Sitting meditation makes you realise that all this drama is self-created to a large extent. While some tragedies can still occur, the correlating attachment to them will be lessened, and life flows that much easier even in the midst of major trauma or upheaval.

You have to want to meditate. People who say they cannot perhaps haven’t tried hard enough, or don’t want it enough in their lives. You have to be willing to commit to a certain amount of time and effort each and every day, and also to a commitment not to change yourself, but to become better aware of yourself, and by doing so, flow through life better. Obstacles will still be there, but like water we can flow around them instead of slamming into them again and again, never getting any further along the way.

Your life will become more active, and less reactive – instead of reacting to every situation, you can act with empathy and compassion; your ability to respond well increases each and every day. It is a responsibility – the ability to respond. It is also learning discipline, to sit when you don’t feel like it, to be aware of your body when your mind and body both are rebelling against it, and would rather be in the made-up world of your mind instead of sitting in the reality of the here and now.

Slowly, that awareness gained through sitting meditation will affect everything you say and do, for the better. The goal is not self-improvement, however – the goal is to be in the here and now, this very moment in this very life, and to see the joy and wonder that it truly is. We are gifted with long lives, should nothing unforeseen happen, and minds that can be trained back into awareness – let’s use them to the best of our ability. By doing so, a sense of connection to the here and now, to all the beautiful life around us, will be achieved – which makes it worth the effort.

6 thoughts on “The benefits of meditation

  1. It’s the little foxes that spoil the crop! So it is with Zazen. The thoughts that arise are like the little foxes, vying for our attention to them. That attention that will steal away our peace.
    When Francis of Assisi lay dying, his mind was centred on God. But in this final meditation, he had mice running all over his body, vying to distract him. To steal away his peace.
    As you say, it is so easy, yet so hard, to sit, being mindfully aware and yet having no mind. A lifetimes practice, no doubt! 😉

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