Too Busy to MeditateI was talking with a friend once about meditation and how powerful it was to help focus the mind. His response that he was "too busy to meditate" - that his mind was always jumping around with thoughts and therefore meditation was impossible for him.
This conversation stuck with me, literally, for months. I was fascinated by this idea. He thought, somehow, that meditation only existed for docile monks in peaceful surroundings who had nothing to do but contemplate their belly button lint. He thought that meditation was simply about a person with a vacant mind sitting down and staring at a candle in utter boredom.
Nothing is further from the truth. A key purpose of meditation is to help quiet the mind because it is jumping around so actively with random thoughts. Meditation is an exercise. It is a mind-training program to help people with "monkey minds" - minds that leap from idea to idea with abandon - to learn how to focus and direct. It is the ultimate tool for mind empowerment.
Some might think their monkey minds are wonderful, because they are so used to them. "I am creative," they might cry out. "I am bursting with ideas!"
When you talk with artists, or high-end sports stars, or with theoretical scientists, rarely do they proclaim that their minds are wild, unruly beasts. Instead, what they talk about is being "in the zone." With these top achievers, their minds become so in tune with their area of focus that they become deeply immersed in it, they become one with their topic, and it is as if everything is aligned and flows smoothly. They envision the football landing in the receiver's hand. They visualize the sculpture before it even begins. They dream about the shape of DNA unwinding into a helix. Their mind is in focus.
That is what meditation is all about. It's about stilling the wild jumping-about nonsense of what went wrong yesterday and what chores need to be done tomorrow. It's about training the mind to focus on whatever it is you choose - the sonnet you are creating, the painting of the water lilies, the essay. It is about bringing the right brain and left brain together in harmony. It's a practice.
Yes, sometimes you'll sit down to meditate and your mind will be jumpy. That's fine! That's normal! That is NOT the time to quit! The whole purpose of meditation is to learn to deal with those issues. If you sat down and your mind was perfectly still, then there would be nothing to practice! It would be like sitting down to do ten abdominal crunches and doing them with no resistance at all. If it's flawless, it's not a result-providing practice. The purpose of a practice is to take on something to strengthen your abilities and to work at it. If swimming ten strokes is without any effort, then was that really a practice? On the other hand, if swimming ten strokes was a great challenge, then that was worth the investment. Meditation is about building your skills, training your mind to focus.
What do you then gain from your meditation practice? First, your mind learns how to focus. This serves you in every aspect of life. Whether you're writing an article, defusing an argument with a family member, taking on a challenging project, your meditation-trained mind is more in tune with how to focus on it and succeed.
Life involves stress. Things change, things disrupt, things erupt. Meditation enables you to dispassionately watch those things happen and then plan out a new plan.
Most of all, meditation allows you to pause. Instead of just bursting out with your immediate reaction, meditation gives you the chance to take a long breath, give thought to the situation, and then offered a considerate alternative. Meditation helps you look over the situation calmly. That is an aim all of us should strive towards!
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