When I began meditating, I spent the first couple years making little to no progress. I define “no progress” as stinking at it at an unprecedented level. This means thinking I understood why meditation is important but frankly not knowing what I was doing, not getting any benefit, and berating myself for it.
Having given up several times, I then heard about a style of meditation where you could actually feel energy inside of you and move it around. This was exactly why I studied tai chi and wanted to meditate. I was attracted to the idea of tangible results, not just relying on faith that something good was happening inside of me.
Fast forward and my meditation is consistent in three ways. I meditate daily. I consistently feel changes taking place in my body or mind every time I meditate. I also see consistent improvements in my life that correlate with how much I meditate.
My progress, and yours too, is dependent on a clear understanding of why meditation is good for you and what to expect in the long days before you start to experience the improvements for yourself. In order to do that we start by talking about why meditation is important and will end by talking about bad meditation sessions and people who think they can’t meditate.
Why is Meditation Important?
Meditation is important because it improves mental and physical health by reducing heart rate, elongating the breath, and reducing stress levels which have been shown to contribute to high blood pressure, blood sugar issues, inflammation, and weight retention. Meditation is also important for psychological wellbeing as it gives time for perspective taking and gives the mind a break from repetititve and continual thinking.
Meditation sounds really good for us and who wouldn’t want to emulate the peaceful people we always see in pictures of meditation. For most of us, when we try out mediation we think it is going to immediately be effortless.
Unfortunately, meditation is not like a CrossFit workout where the results of your efforts are painfully evident the next day and visible over time. Instead the benefits of meditation are reaped after a period of consistent practice.
It’s more like a pump that is building up pressure. When the water arrives, you are overjoyed and don’t know how you could have lived without it. If you were like me in the beginning, you stopped meditating and quickly saw the benefits dwindle. Just like the pump, it’s easy to maintain the good flow of water with a little consistent effort but if you stop it goes away and you have to work to bring it back up again.
With pursuits like this, it is hard to begin and sometimes hard to stick with it. That’s why it is so important to understand why meditation is important so that you have the needed BUY-IN to begin meditation, become more consistent, and continue on until you build up enough experience so that the benefits are what keep you motivated and coming back.
1.Your health depends on it
Many major afflictions can be directly linked to your thinking. Heart attacks, back pain, headaches, and gut issues can be stress-induced. Weight gain and dietary struggles can result from using favorite foods to improve your mood. Weight retention, memory loss, attention abilities, and a lack of clear thinking can be caused by disrupted or reduced sleep. We would not go so far as to say that major illness can be cured by the benefits of meditation. However, meditation research has documented that changes in your thinking can positively impact your recovery, the duration, and your experience with pain, illness, and suffering.1
2. There is now a short learning curve
Major religions and eastern traditions used to be the sole provider of methods for enhancing and clearing the mind. These teachings were passed down orally and often involved extensive learning and complex sequences of movements. Thanks to the rapidly shrinking and connected world, we all have access to resources and teachers from every continent. Practitioners are translating bodies of work at an incredible pace and progress is now scientifically verifiable.
3. There is little or no cost to do so
Are you sitting down? Good. That is about all you need to be able to experience the benefits of meditation. We just need to assess our current situation: how happy/calm/energized/motivated we are. Then we meditate and re-examine our life. The benefits of meditation can largely be felt in what is NO LONGER present. Meditation can show us how our current habits may be contributing to our current state and give us indicators on how to change. There are additional books, courses, and suggested materials to help each of us depending on our current situation. But the overhead on this adventure is minimal at best.
4. You will experience true autonomy
A chattering, pessimistic, unfocused mind has undiscussed negative consequences. When we are overridden by our thoughts, we often act (or don’t) out of fear. We envision all the bad things that can happen and feel trapped. We react to problems instead of responding to opportunities. The difference being that we don’t think clearly, create mistakes, and often cause more work for ourselves. Additionally, we can be the victim of other people’s verbal abuse or work-environment negativity.
Conversely, control over your thoughts offers a chance for real autonomy. Imagine not living out of fear and being present-to but not affected-by negative people and events around you. Negative people in your environment now cause a feeling of sympathy to well up, not pessimism. From this new vantage point of a meditator, when customers and friends contact us with their problems, they are telling us how to help them. This is why meditation works so well because we just need to be in the right mental place to be aware of it and to think through a solution.
5. You can get what you want out of life
What are we truly saying when we want the benefits of meditation? When we want focus? When we don’t want to be plagued by anxiety and want to sleep at night? We are saying that we want free space to think about things that make us happy. We want to plan and be mentally present during important milestones and events.
We want our mind to stop the nonsense so we can be creative and contribute to something of value. Whether it is at work, with our family, or in our community. We are not being the best version of ourselves in any circumstance if we are not actually mentally present or are dragging baggage into unrelated conversations.
What we think we want is no-thinking, an end to ceaseless negative banter. But what we really want is the power to choose what we think about, and use our powerful brain to create situations that give our lives meaning.
Why Does Meditation Work?
Mediation is a process of awakening. Awakening to what? you are probably asking. To the hope you had as a child. To the fact that the continuous stream of negative thoughts can affect you. To the joy we feel when we can focus on one thing at a time. To the greater aspects of your life. To whatever you want to accomplish.
Meditation works because it is designed to give us a greater awareness of something important to us. Then, it gives us the tools to make what is important to us a priority. It has been practiced throughout history and is enjoying a resurgence in popularity in the west.
That sounds esoteric doesn’t it? Hang with me for a second. We all have a sense of who we are and what it feels like to be happy. When we are unhappy with the current situation or ourselves, we feel suffering because of the perceived distance between what we are experiencing and where we want to be in life. If we are in pain, we don’t want pain. If we are angry because of someone’s actions, we want this corrected to get back to not-angry or something better. Agreed? At least accept for a second that you may not want to be where you are which results in your personal brand of discomfort.
Secondly, we cannot accomplish what we want in a bad state. Creative thinking can’t come from a space of overthinking. Great health cannot come from a depressed state. Confidence cannot radiate out of anxiety. So, point two is that this separation, this distance, is limiting our capacity, or in simple terms, is contributing to our unhappiness.
Lastly, we typically focus on external changes to improve our situation. This often takes a lot of energy and sends us overboard in the wrong direction. For example, we want to lose weight so we start a restrictive diet and a 5-day-a-week workout plan which cannot be sustained. Yes, we need to take action. But we can make just as much or more progress if we STOP doing what we doing rather than start something new.
Think of our actions as if they were balls on a pendulum. It requires a lot of energy to pull away from the center in order to create the force necessary to move back to the center. This results in an equivalent reaction on the other end that comes crashing back. This is like the ill-conceived diet that makes you gain more weight after you stop it. This is the superman workout routine that results in injury. Are you exhausted? Are you ready to stop feeling punished just because you want change for the better?
Accept that every action you take is an attempt to make things better. Stop beating yourself up for not getting it right. Now, also realize that the place that you want to get is actually in the center, not the extreme. Going back to our two analogies, these are eating habits (diet) where you are not so focused on food and naturally maintain a certain weight. This is the workout that gives you more energy to do what you love and doesn’t take up a major portion of your day.
Meditation teaches us to go there first. The results are slower but they are permanent. This I think is why meditation is important. You can have any goal and it helps you get to a place of equilibrium and consistently improve how you live, work, and who you choose to be around.
Why Meditation Doesn’t Work for Everyone
There is one more piece to the puzzle because I wouldn’t be telling the truth if I said every day was easy or that every session is enjoyable. The problem is that when I began, I was constantly frustrated and wondered why can’t I meditate like everyone else?
The problem was that I didn’t understand the purpose of a “bad meditation session” and bought into the idea that mediation doesn’t work for everyone. It’s just not true.
This is an important question because I think a lot of people abandon meditation right before it starts paying out its blissful dividends. When I began truly thinking about my “bad sessions” and accepting them as part of the process rather than a roadblock to progress, I started making deeper progress again.
What am I experiencing?
Sometimes during my practice, the opposite of what I am hoping for happens. When I try to ramp my energy down, I get ramped up. As I slow my breathing and soften my movements, my pulse, tension, and anxiety increase. I blew this off at the beginning but then there it was again the next day, and the next… I almost felt laughed at by my mind:
“Nice try buddy! Thank you for your time today, try back tomorrow.”
What was up!!!
What I learned way to late is that my meditation session was being used to process some very difficult things or negative thinking. No it was not enjoyable and yes it felt like a waste of time. However, that negative thinking, frustration, and uncontrolled emotion did not come out:
- during work meetings
- against my coworkers
- against my spouse
- against my body in the form of food or drink
- against myself in the form of self-hate
- against (sadly) my daughter when I was being short with her
I had spent so many years trying to get past, tamp down, avoid, or ignore negative tendencies with out much progress. Meditation gave me the environment to process them and then they went away. In the beginning angers turned to frustrations or irritations. I still had the same unproductive thoughts, they just stayed in my head. Then they were reduced and now I spend more days thinking positively. So my thoughts like “I can’t meditate” were my brain using the time to reduce the thing that was about to ruin my day.
Making Sure Your Meditation Works Well
It should be clear to you by now that I didn’t make the progress that I made in meditation by myself. I have had support, resources, classes, and different teachers. One reason why people think meditation doesn’t work for everyone is that they think there is only one type of meditation. All of us have different goals, needs, abilities, and preferences. So if you can’t meditate, try a different style. Secondly, they think that they learn meditation just once. That’s boring and as our needs change we might need to add something different or try something new. I want to end here by sharing a variety of ways to meditate and ways to make meditation more fun or more intriguing.
Easy Access to Meditation
If you have some sort of class in your neck of the woods, go attend and check it out. If not, there are really cool and inexpensive online classes you can take. I suggest this way over just doing some videos on YouTube because you don’t know the teacher’s credentials there and don’t get the full picture. I wrote about some great online meditation classes.
The Inner Smile is the easiest way to add meditation to your life and experience the benefits. If you have a short attention span, not a lot of time, or doubts that it works, start there.
Feeling Something Physical During Meditation
For most people, meditation is a mental activity with concentration happening within the body. For others, they want the physical experience of feeling energy build and move in the body. The Microcosmic Orbit is the way to go here as it is the most documented and has the best available instruction.