Having read about the benefits of meditation in numerous books, I took up the practice the beginning of last year. I wrote about my initial meditation experiences here.
I’ve kept up with and continued my meditation practice since that time. According to the Headspace meditation app which I use, I recently passed the mark of 365 straight days. The regular practice has revealed a lot about myself, my mind, and the world around me.
Here are 10 things that I’ve learned through the experience of meditation.
Learning #1: Meditation is a personal experience
No matter what I might tell you about it, how it makes me feel, and what I’ve learned from it, your experience will be different than mine. To me, that unique nature is one of the beauties of meditation. No one can tell you what you should and will experience. You have to do it to understand the practice, and what you get out of it will be specific to you.
Learning #2: Thoughts are normal
My first meditations were stressful and intimidating. I thought the goal was to empty the mind and not have any thoughts. It turns out having thoughts while meditating is normal. Part of the process isn’t learning to suppress them but learning to observe them. Once I made that mental switch, meditating became a lot less stressful, more relaxing, and more enjoyable. And one of the benefits of observation is that it frees up space in the mind, which makes the mind less busy and naturally results in less thoughts – what a concept!
Learning #3: Every day is different
Meditation is a lot like one of my favorite sports, golf. There are days on the course when you feel like you have it all under control, days when nothing goes right, and days in between. Just as golf isn’t a repeatable process, neither is meditation. Every day is different. It turns meditating into a process of discovery. I am curious what each session will bring and what will be revealed through the experience.
Learning #4: Events are
Events that happen in the world around us aren’t good or bad, they just are, period. We make the choices in our mind to label them as good, bad or indifferent. Once I internalized this observation, I realized that contentment, composure, calm, anxiety, anger, and all other emotions come from inside me. Events don’t affect my mood. How I choose to react to events is what determines my outward emotions.
Learning #5: Increasing calm, composure, and contentment
Once I recognized and internalized Learning #4, I realized that I was in control of my sense of calm, composure and contentment. If these are in my control, then it is within my power to increase (or decrease) them. I’ve found that life is easier to manage when I choose to feel more calm, composed, and content, so that is what I’ve decided to, and meditating helps reinforce it.
Learning #6: Awareness leads to clarity leads to focus
Learning #4 and #5 helped make me more aware of the thoughts in my mind and their nature. Becoming more aware of the nature of my thoughts leads to clarity of thought. In other words, it’s easier to recognize when I’m heading in the right or wrong direction. Most of all, clarity has led to better focus. It’s easier to recognize when I get off track and to pull things back. It has really helped me with work tasks, relationships, and enjoying down time.
Learning #7: Mindfulness
Having better focus has helped me realize when I am being present in my relationships and interactions, and when I am not. To put it in more modern terms, meditation has helped me become more mindful. Being mindful and present is a constant challenge for me which regular meditation helps me to address.
Learning #8: The journey is the goal
There are four quotes that I love from Headspace that embody this learning,
- There’s nothing more important than an open mind in meditation. As soon as we try to dictate the experience, we’re thinking, not meditating.
- Focusing on meaning, we miss the discovery. Focusing on the destination, we miss the journey.
- If we are only interested in results, we defeat the purpose. The process is the purpose.
- The goal isn’t to be without thoughts. The goal is to be without a goal.
I’ve learned that meditation is a process without an end. Our minds, our sense of self, our true self, they are always changing. Meditation is a journey where I am continually learning about my mind and myself.
Learning #9: I am not my thoughts
A very metaphysical thought from meditation is that we are not what we do, what we say, or what we think. Our true essence lies beyond all of this. It’s a hard learning for me to grasp and comprehend, but one I find extremely important around meditation. Our thinking mind creates a perception for us of who we are, which is not real. Whether we want to think we are the greatest or the worst, it’s merely a concept in our mind without objectivity or truth. Meditation allows me to see this fact, to observe it, and to let go of those thought patterns.
Learning #10: The present is all that matters
When we allow ourselves to be distracted by thoughts of the past or visions of the future, it’s very difficult to be present in the moment. And while the current moment may feel small, it is actually infinite. This moment right now is the only certainty that exists. Freeing ourselves from thoughts of the past and visions of the future, allows us to find peace of mind by embracing this very moment. Therein is one of the most powerful things I’ve learned from meditation which I continually come back to – making the most of every moment I have.
The past year has been a truly enlightening process. There are so many more learnings I could list, and I expect the list will only grow as I continue my daily meditation sessions.