Why Meditate – Practical Benefits
Is meditation worth the time?
Is meditation worth the time and effort it takes? Many of the world’s most successful people think so.
It’s well known that consistently exercising our bodies improves physical health, makes daily activities easier and increases our ability to handle emergencies. Similarly, exercising our minds by practicing meditation also produces important benefits.
Here are some mental skills “exercised” during meditation practice. Be aware that you are more likely to notice related improvements in your daily life before you notice them during the process of meditation itself.
- Quiet Observation … increasing awareness of truths
- Focusing … releasing distractions
- Being Here Now … getting in the flow and “disappearing” time
- Self Discipline … controlling thoughts and emotions
- Refresh … calming, relaxing and re-energizing
1. Quiet Observation
Every type of meditation involves practicing quiet attention (i.e., observation). Improving this skill tends to increases one’s awareness of the truths of life.
Scientists say that at least 50% of what we see and do happens unconsciously. We all rely on simple unconscious triggers that initiate automatic tapes. This evolutionary strategy saves the mental energy it would take to deeply analyze each new event and to “reinvent the wheel” to deal with it. However it can create problems if the automatic tapes stored previously are just plain wrong (e.g., you inherited or learned bad tapes from others) or haven’t been changed appropriately with the times (e.g., you are no longer a child, you are in a different environment).
By practicing meditation we can slowly increase our ability to see unconscious prejudices and automatic reactions that run our lives. As they become more visible it becomes possible to start making better choices, otherwise missed, which naturally lead to better life results.
We can also work on improving our observation skills during our daily lives. Consciously doing this becomes easier after consistent meditation practice. During the day start quietly noticing more of your thoughts, feelings and reactions. Begin to notice when external triggers turn on automatic tapes. Are these triggers and tapes always appropriate? Start quietly looking at the edges of your prejudices. Are these prejudices invariably true or can you see some exceptions?
Wrong goals, blind knee jerk reactions, and unconscious repetition of bad habits can be enormously damaging. Quietly seeing just a few such traps can lead to lead to changes which easily justify our meditation time.
Take some moments each day to mentally sit beside the busy stream of your life and quietly observe what is happening in it. Some do this when taking a walk or by writing in a journal or by thinking about what they are grateful for as they go to sleep.
Another way to become more observant is to take a quick mental “fly by” before jumping into your work day. Quickly review what is going on and what are the priorities. This reduces your chances of skipping by something important (like a personal connection or a deadline that should have had priority).
The oblique objective of both of these strategies is to regularly take the time to look for obvious and important things you might otherwise have missed.
Focusing during meditation is accomplished by releasing distractions rather than by “forcing” attention. You practice releasing distracting thoughts & emotions while observing something like breath, body, sacred word, mantra, etc. Buddhists refer to the source of common, capricious, difficult-to-control distractions as our wild “monkey mind.” Most meditators can easily relate to that term after a practice session or two. 🙂
Being able to better control your thoughts in daily life rather than letting them take over your mind and run amok has obvious benefits. For example, it can become easier to focus on a specific task until the task is completed. Reducing mental background noise can also open one’s mind to more subtle and valuable creative thoughts.
Watching the monkey mind at work during meditation practice makes it easier to notice it chattering during everyday life. Once you become aware of this noise you can start practicing releasing irrelevant thoughts during the day the same way you do when sitting silently in a 20 minute meditation session. Gurus say that you can practice focusing your mind on many daily activities such as walking or even sweeping the patio.
3. Being Here Now
Many distracting thoughts have to do with past problems or with future worries. Meditation is good practice at putting your entire attention on “being here now” free of irrelevant past/future thoughts which only distract from the immediate objective.
Being here now takes a giant load off your mind so that you can relax and pay better attention to the present. For example, developing a better ability to detach from emotions (like fear when public speaking) and to just focus on the present will help you perform better.
Being here now is something you can practice at any time. While it makes sense to take into account past lessons and future risks before starting, once a choice is made it is time to “be here now.”
4. Self Discipline
Practicing the mental skill of holding focus on only one thing takes self discipline. Most humans are “naturally lazy” about this so regularly strengthening self discipline skills through daily meditation makes it easier for them to be self disciplined when needed in everyday life.
Self discipline increases your ability to resist what is obviously “bad” for you. Scientific studies (e.g., the famous marshmallow experiment with four year olds at Stanford) show that strong self discipline is an excellent indicator of future success in life.
Look for opportunities to exercise your will power every day. Start noticing situations where a little more awareness and self discipline might help. Then, start taking advantage of them. Just as having more physical strength makes daily life easier so does having more mental strength.
While many think intelligence is the primary secret of success many studies indicate that personality factors such as self discipline and patience are much more important. Unlike IQ personality factors like self discipline can often be improved with practice. Meditation improves self discipline.
Meditation provides a quiet break from daily stress. Such a break from external distractions and internal mental churning is often even more effective than sleep for restoring energy.
Being able to mentally relax at will is a great tool for beating stress. Regular meditation practice increases one’s ability to do so easily and quickly. Once you know how to meditate it becomes a quick, effective way to rest & get up to speed whenever you feel sickish or want to get rested up for an important event later in the day.
The corpse pose (savasana) is a Yoga meditation and breath exercise. In this pose you practice purposefully relaxing various parts of your body. Practicing such relaxation skills, both while meditating and during daily life, will automatically keep you more relaxed and energetic throughout the day.
Here is a phrase to help apply the mental skills you build while practicing meditation. Try using it prior to and during most any daily activity.
“relax, release … quietly observe here & now”
i.e., relax your body, release your distracting thoughts and quietly observe what’s happening right here and now.
Start quietly observing & experimenting as you apply these growing mental skills to your daily life. Your observations will probably help you answer for yourself the question … is meditation worth the time it takes? Many of the world’s most successful people think so.