Meditation is often thought of as a practice more suited to people interested in spirituality, who are somewhat detached from worldly life. Many spiritual texts speak of it being essential to realizing God or our true nature. It brings to mind monks and monasteries, renunciation and seclusion, quiet places and an unmoving body. In all these ideas, we often miss the great impact meditation can have on our day-to-day, ordinary life — on our relationships with family, friends, colleagues, bosses, people we avoid, those we don’t like, and in fact, anyone and everyone we interact with.
Sitting quietly even for a few minutes every day, watching our mind, helps us understand how our mind works; how it can be a great help and a great nuisance; how it comes up with wonderful ideas and how it keeps us trapped in old, rigid notions. This, in turn, gives us the freedom to choose which of these we want to believe, accept or discard. By sitting, we learn how to choose our responses rather than be swept away in habitual tendencies that we seem to have no control over. In short, meditation helps us make our mind a valuable tool to work with, rather than our master. And for those of you who believe you are already in control of your mind, try to sit for five minutes, focusing on one thing with the intention of not letting your mind wander — you may be surprised by what you discover.
Whether or not we are interested in discovering God or our true nature, there is no one who doesn’t want to have a happier life. And one of the ways to get there is to learn how to respond rather than react. A signpost for progress in meditation is what is happening when we are off the cushion — are we more patient, kinder, less judgmental, more grounded, able to pause before acting?
Sharon Salzberg sums it up wonderfully in an interview with the Huffington Post in 2012:
Omega: If you taught something like knitting, you might know your student is doing well because they’re making a beautiful sweater. How do you measure if your students are progressing along the spiritual path?
Sharon: It wouldn’t be because of something that happened in their meditation practice. It would be because they’re having a different experience of life. I had a student who had been doing loving-kindness meditation for about three years. He said, “I have to confess that my experience now, three years later, is not all that different than it was when I began, but I’m like a different person. I’m different with myself, my family, and my community. Is that enough?” I said, “Yeah, I think that’s enough.” That’s how it works with a practice like meditation. Life continues, and we gradually notice we’re having a different experience of it.
So, for those of you who would like to improve your experience of your life, try to start a meditation practice in 2018. Commit to sitting with your life every day — even if it is only for 5 or 10 minutes. Learning to meditate is just like learning any other new skill: find out about it, learn it and then practice, practice, practice.
If you would like to know more, our Bhagavad Gita sessions in January and February will focus particularly on meditation. Details here.
The full interview with Sharon Salzberg can be found here.