Considering the possibility that meditation is for everyone...
Amongst the unsteadiness and unpredictable circumstances that the year 2020 has offered us with open arms, many of us have been swept up and away by the worldly winds of what has been a rather unusual year. On such occasions in our lives, our sense of stability and sanity can sometimes seem to wander off elsewhere, and because of this, we are left with some difficulties and responsibilities to address, such as taking care of our mental health and wellbeing.
I have found it somewhat encouraging to recognise the sheer incline in mental health awareness that has arisen into conversation this year, and with many individuals having to face all kinds of challenges with their mental health, many of us are left looking for solutions and mechanisms to help us deal with our mental health and wellbeing, particularly in times of uncertainty. One approach which has popularised over the years, and largely during the lockdown period [and beyond], is the practice of meditation, sometimes described as mindfulness; the core of meditation, the practice of training the mind.
Just as much as having a regular exercise routine can provide us with better physical health and enhance our physical performance, having a regular meditation practice can allow us to develop a healthier mind and improve our mental performance too, and this is often put into practice in working with some of the tendencies of the mind and the way we react to situations in daily life – those moments where we may lack a bit of training in awareness of ourselves or others, or perhaps our overall response to certain things. It may all seem like a bit of a chore – or at least plenty of effort – to invite this deeper sense of awareness and understanding into our daily lives, but really, a lot of it comes naturally, because at our core, we have that space of awareness, insight, and understanding, it is just yet to be rediscovered.
For many, “meditation” is a word we have heard before, but possibly never sought to understand what it really is, why it has popularised, or at least how to properly practice meditation, and understanding how it works for us as individuals. And so, because of this, it is something we never really get round to doing, despite the evident spectrum of research that has gone into how meditation can benefit oneself and our mental wellbeing.
Some of the events of even just this year alone have demonstrated the negative impact the untrained human mind and lack of awareness can have on not only ourselves, but those around us, such as racial and political injustice, destruction of our climate and planet, acts of hatred and conflict, or maybe the transmission of an unwelcome virus…
The reality is, we could all do with a bit of meditation and mindfulness on a regular basis, but until more of us can recognise it as a genuine method for training the mind, cultivating useful qualities and habits, to which we can apply to our daily lives and living amongst others a little more harmoniously and responsibly, it is easy to see it as simply a solution for difficulties with our mental health, or simply longing for a little more calm in our lives. I’m sure we can all agree that meditation can be a real breath of fresh air when it comes to dealing with areas of mental health and finding a space of calm and stability, but it is also far more than that, particularly in the longer term.
Now, I don’t want to be lead away with my enthusiasm for the topic here; sure, meditation isn’t a miracle maker and certainly isn’t the answer for all our problems, and chances are, it won’t alone solve our problems, but what it can offer over time is the opportunity for us to practice some useful skills such as, but not limited to, concentration, awareness, kindness and compassion, mindfulness, and discernment, to which can set a good foundation for us to face some of those issues head-on, or even one step at a time – whichever you are happy with in the moment. It’s like you’re adding new tools to your toolbox, so that when something is needing some attention or maintenance, you have more tools to choose from, and a better chance of having the right one for the job.
Despite being a meditation teacher, one saying that I’m not a huge fan of is “You need to meditate!”, at least when said without any supporting knowledge. See, we all know we could all do with a little more exercise in our lives, but you certainly won’t find me keeping up my ‘recommended amount’ of exercise every single day. Because even when we know something is good for us, that isn’t enough to make us inherently want to set aside the time each and every day to commit to it – we have to find the real meaning behind it, a meaning that is personal to us, something that makes us feel good, but a meaning that also reaches beyond us – maybe something we can offer to others too?
We possess one of the most complex, capable, and outstanding mechanisms in our little corner of the known universe: the human mind. Everything we do, say, and see is processed by this amazing organism, so much so that our whole lives and all that we know is a result of our mind’s ability to perceive and understand such things. Some truly inspirational and amazing things have been created and discovered because of the potential of the mind, but it can also be one of the most powerful and destructive weapons on the planet. It is because of this fact that we may start to understand the importance of training the mind, and this doesn’t mean we must practice making things levitate or attempting telekinesis, but maybe something far more realistic, something far more tangible and profound: training the mind in cultivating the seeds for happiness, for ourselves and those around us.
Simple things can offer us happiness; good food, next day delivery, sunshine, or talking with our favourite people, but what if there was a possibility for us to also enjoy a more sustainable source of happiness on top of all that?
During meditation, we are learning techniques and methods to help us live more mindfully and with more awareness, and it is this that we can lead into all areas of our daily lives to help us enjoy what we love to do more, navigate some difficult periods, or even make us more productive with our time, work, and energy, but at the same time, we are also developing the causes for happiness.
I say “causes for happiness” because we aren’t creating something out of thin air, nor are we trying to obtain something from outside for this special kind of happiness; the seed of happiness already sits within, we just have to learn how to connect with that, water that seed, and allow it to grow and to flourish over time. It’s funny when this process takes place, because it is amazing what kind of effect your own happiness can have on others, and how contagious this subtle energy can have on others – the real core of what human connection could mean.
Meditation isn’t all about just being happy, it is about understanding that we have a responsibility, an obligation, to be happy, and that we, as much as anyone else in the world, also deserve our compassion. So in those situations that present us some difficult thoughts, feelings or emotions, we can start to see those as opportunities to practice some of those useful qualities we cultivated in our meditation, and find a way of working through it without bringing any additional suffering on top of the suffering we might already be experiencing. It is perfectly okay to experience all kinds of emotions, and realistically we can’t always be happy, because sometimes we suffer when things just don’t always go the way we expect, and that’s okay, but during those occasions where we have an opportunity to connect with the feeling of happiness, it is always there waiting for us.
So, meditation and mindfulness really can be for everyone, and it’s because within the umbrella of meditation practice there are so many different types and techniques, that we can find something that really works best for us, and something to integrate into our day-to-day living. It will require some patience and setting a small portion of time aside each day (10 minutes is a great start), but in many ways, mindfulness in daily life can have a genuinely transformative effect, and rekindle the sense of adventure and resilience that we all long for, in navigating the worldly winds, and the wonders of daily life.
Benjamin Coulston, BC Mindfulness