We sometimes don’t see the benefits of meditation, especially when we have lofty ideals or expectations. However, with simple, regular meditation we are able to see the benefits come alive almost immediately.
Meditation at The Shore
Walking along the Lake Michigan shore on an unseasonably warm Spring day, I stopped to sit on an outcropping of rocks. I begin to meditate. No matter where I am, I can find the benefits of meditation if I just take a moment to practice. Looking out over the lake, two different shades of blue met at the horizon line. The stretch of horizon is so long, I can see it is slightly curved. As I let my eyes soften their focus, I began to see the horizon line as the earth’s rounded curvature.
In a flash, the realization came. I am living on a planet in “outer space” circling the sun, and surrounded by other planets, and a myriad of stars. Of course, I’ve know this most of my life. But in this moment, I was acutely aware of it in a very different sense. In my meditation, I could now “see” the ever present stars hidden behind the blue veil of the daytime sky. Stars that are usually invisible during the day.
I suddenly remembered that the stars are always there, even when I can’t see them. It is not something one often thinks about during the day, but in this meditation, it was so obvious.
A New Reality
As I continued in this meditation, I became aware of the steadiness of the earth turning, rotating without waver. The sensation gave me a grounded, centered feeling that was comforting. I felt the earth as the “big rock” upon which I sat. I became an “earthling,” a human, a life form in the mysterious existence we call “life.” I felt as if I was a miniature creature in a vast world. This sensation somehow brought up a memory of the little world that I created with my action figures when I was a child. I felt connected to all that is.
But this was more real; more scientifically accurate than the usual awareness that I have. Never really thinking about planets and the sun in this way, I was suddenly very aware of a sense of sacredness. I developed a deeper appreciation of the universe of which I am a part, and with that awareness, came joy.
Benefits of Meditation in Daily Life
As I walked away after this experience, the usual ruminations came back. Thoughts seem to have a life of their own: To-do lists, responsibilities I need to fulfill, worries, desires. However, as I am still in this meditative state, I can see the thoughts rise and fall, the feelings come and go. I make an effort not to get hooked by any of them. It is as if inner silence has created a space where the stream of consciousness is almost visible, rising and falling, an unending current.
I realize that I yearn to integrate my meditative state and my daily life more.
Can meditation be more than a passing experience?
Can it become the foundation of my day-to-day living?
Is it possible to be more aware of whatever I am doing, or with whomever I am relating to?
Inner Silence – A Pathway to the Benefits of Meditation
Silence, in the form of inner silence especially, is the doorway to meditation. Cultivating inner silence helps us to see into the inner workings of the mind. If I sit and pay attention to the stream of consciousness that the brain is producing, I discover another level of awareness, the awareness of my inner processes. If I don’t become identified with each and every thought and feeling, there are opportunities to go beyond this surface chatter.
With practice, I can go to depths, which illuminate the sources of these movements. This can be very profound, or simply as revealing as realizing that my parent’s “voice” is in my head. Sometimes, I realize that a belief I hold is what I am “supposed to” believe, but not what I actually believe at all. I learn to hear cultural memes and spot prejudices in my thinking; sources of pain, and joy.
Exercises of Meditation
If I want to become good at a sport, I need to learn the rudiments and I need to practice. If I want to learn to play a musical instrument, I must practice. All professions involve training periods, most often over many years. And even when I have developed some capacities, the learning continues. Meditation is a state of mind that can be applied to every part of my life. It involves the ability to focus, control my attention, and strengthen my will, so I can do what I need to do, even when I don’t want to. Just as there are different physical exercises to strengthen the muscles of the arms, the legs, or the lower back; there are different exercises of meditation to improve the various parts of the mind.
Looking Through New Eyes
It seems to me that more than ever, we live in a world where we are continually being told by others what to think, what we need, and what to “buy.”
The number of diversions and distractions available to me, just on my phone alone, is amazing. I experience it as a kind of “information pollution.” It includes not only definite disinformation but also, so many dead ends where I can be led, especially in the digital world.
As an antidote, I practice meditation exercises daily to care for my mind, heart, and body. It gives me clarity, not only within the exercise but especially afterwards when the exercise is over. Cultivating the practice of meditation, helps me to discipline the random wanderings of my mind; it helps me to discern what is appropriate for me to focus on, to expand my thinking into other possibilities and focus on the discipline that is necessary. There is a quote by the writer Marcel Proust that is kind of my mantra: “The real voyage of discovery consists, not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
Meditation does not change eyesight itself, but it can change how I look at things and expand what I find worth looking at.
Meditation and Action
Most of my actions and my ways of behaving are unconscious. I could not function well if I had to think out every immediate action; a consequence of deep reflection before I could perform it. My actions are mostly generated by deeper workings of my brain than surface conscious thoughts. Meditation exercises affect the deep workings of the brain; so that, even when I act in unconscious ways, the deeper unconscious response is more in line with my conscious awareness. Indeed, studies, which look at the structure of the brain, crude as that imaging is, demonstrate this. Some parts of the brains of regular meditators are more developed than those who do not meditate.
Meditation exercises can work not only with rational thoughts, annoying thoughts, or pleasant thoughts but also with feelings and emotions. It is easy to see how a feeling of anger changes the way I think. When I feel threatened, my perceptions of a situation change; whether it is warranted or not.
Meditation exercises that engage affects – feelings and emotions – have effects that go beyond the time of the exercise. This is especially true when I use concrete, down-to-earth images that are a part of my daily life.
Meditation, Projection, and Self Knowledge
Projection is a psychological term. It is sometimes defined as a misinterpretation of reality. For example, I have anger toward you, but do not recognize it and thus think the anger I feel is coming from you. I have love for you, but not recognizing it, I think that love is coming from you. If I don’t know my inner workings or understand how my mind processes experiences, I am bound to project. Indeed, we do it all the time.
Meditation helps me to recognize projections and gives a clearer sense of what is going on in a relationship. This especially includes intimate relationships but also the more impersonal ones that we encounter in daily interactions. Our default, self-centered point of view is limited but can be expanded through greater self-knowledge. This requires courage and a commitment to honesty with oneself. Without such self-knowledge, the best intentions can be undermined by oneself. To quote Bob Dylan, “Try to make things better for someone, sometimes, you just end up making it a thousand times worse.” (Bob Dylan, “Sugar Baby” – Universal Publishing Group).
Formerly, meditation and meditation exercises were almost exclusively the province of monastics, mystics, and individuals who may have chosen a contemplative life. Now, however, the values and qualities one learns through meditation are recognized as important for sports, corporations, and everyday living.
Meditation has been shown to enhance performance, bring sharper focus and expand awareness.
Everyone wants freedom but freedom to “do what I want” without understanding the consequences of my actions on others and the environment on which we depend on for life, is something upon which we can meditate. We can learn to see more deeply into the weave of life. We can see how our actions and intentions have a powerful impact, beyond our immediate awareness.
Benefits of Meditation – How to Explore
Can I understand better how I am affecting others and the world around me? Those others include my intimate companions, those with whom I live and work, and the many who I don’t really know.
Can I learn to live in greater harmony with the “Whole” of which I am a small but vital part? This “inner work” resonates deeply within me and is part of a calling not only to improve myself but our world.
I feel danger for the future unless there are big changes in our attitudes before life. Technology has increased individual human powers beyond any other time in history, but our psychology has not advanced very much. Wars, exploitation of humans, animals, and the natural world is everywhere. Unnecessary suffering, human-created, knows no bounds. Current ways of thinking and understanding are insufficient to meet the phenomenal challenges that humanity faces.
Recognition that we live on a small planet and are all passengers on this moving stone, dependent on the thin layer of atmosphere we all breathe along with all the other life forms is rudimentary. The Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” the core teaching of so many religions, still remains as the basic central challenge of humans living together: We are all in the same boat. All activities to realize this in its various forms still originate in our hearts. Meditation exercises – formal or informal, which work with the heart can be a part of such endeavors.
One day I decided to meditate on the shirt I was wearing. It might seem like a strange thing to choose as a topic for meditation, but I invite you to follow me for a moment.
It is a simple way to take something very basic and use your awareness and imagination to expand your consciousness and further develop a sense of how we are all connected. Here’s how I did it, with a shirt:
I look at the label and see where it was made, I see that it is made of cotton. That is my starting point.
Using my imagination, as best I can, I see the cotton fields and the farmers who have grown and picked the very cotton in which I am wrapped. I visualize the truck drivers who took the cotton to be processed and spun it into threads for weaving. I see the cutters, the dyers, the tailors, the makers of the dyes. Then I start to imagine the people who made the sewing machines. I see the shippers, the wholesalers, the retailers, and the shopkeepers who are part of the marketing of this shirt.
My imagination soon fails as I begin to see how this shirt is so much more than I had realized. With this realization comes a feeling of gratitude and insight into the complexity of something so “simple.” I stop taking the shirt for granted and I value it so much more than before, thinking of all the hands that have touched the shirt in the process before I get to wear it.
I start thinking about the “man who will give you the shirt off his back” and this leads my thoughts in another direction. My meditation about a shirt leads to a meditation on generosity.
Today, I woke up eager to finish this blog post. Just after I had showered and dressed and was sitting down to do my morning meditation exercise, the doorbell rang. It was my neighbor who told me that, a section of my fence between our yards had blown down during the night. This, then became my first priority.
I was not happy.
However, by incorporating the image of repairing the fence into my meditation exercise, I could see that meeting my neighbor in this way was really nice. She and her husband had not moved in long and this was our first time actually having a conversation. I could see the connectedness that the fence repair brought into view.
Her husband helped push the fence back up and attach it temporarily to a tree. I was able to stay calm and centered and go to the hardware store to get some metal fasteners and the repairs, which I thought were going to take half a day, went smoothly.
Instead of inwardly complaining, feeling sorry for myself, and being angry at the wind (or whatever caused the fence to fall), it became something that connected me to others.
It’s the Little Things
Stopping and meditating helps me each day to live in a better way. Not all meditations are the same, and I have only provided here a few very simple ideas for meditation. However, for me, they connect in a natural way to everything else that is happening at the time.
Being present, all the way present and connected, in the moment, is, for me, a way of being a better person in all the roles that I need to play throughout my day. Meditation, especially on the simple day-to-day things, helps me get there and stay there.
About the Author(s)
Bob Magrisso is a physician and long-time meditator. He tries to practice “applied spirituality”.