The benefits of meditation are many, but did you know it makes you a better person?
I try to meditate daily. An hour, everyday. I’m not always in the flow when I meditate. I can’t always drop in and tune out the chatter of my mind and get turned on, but I always feel better when I do meditate, regardless of my success in tuning into a higher consciousness, and letting go. I always feel better. Even when my buzzy brain keeps whirling and thinking about all the silly and serious things in the day, like the time I thought about some celebrity’s kids’ names – why would I spend my precious time in meditation thinking about that?! I don’t know. But the point is to do the practice. It’s like working out, practicing yoga, running, walking, dancing, whatever gets me moving, somedays I’m a champion, and I can fly. And somedays I’m clumsy and clunky. It doesn’t really matter, I still workout almost everyday. It’s the practice. Regardless of my mood, my state of mind, my success in being mindful, emptying my brain, and being awake to the present, I feel better afterwards, just like working out.
In the beginning of my meditation practice I consciously didn’t judge my thoughts, I let them come and hopefully they would float away. But there comes a point, after a few years of meditating everyday, when I need to step up my game and really tune out the daily madness. Because my meditation makes me feel better and perform better in my life, I’m always looking to maximize the experience, to stop thinking about tabloids and TV shows and what’s for dinner. (“Meditation is fast becoming a fashionable tool for improving your mind. With mounting scientific evidence that the practice can enhance creativity, memory and scores on standardized intelligence tests, interest in its practical benefits is growing.” This is from David DeSteno, professor of psychology who conducts studies of meditation, writing in a recent New York Times piece on compassion and meditation.) And I’m learning, and studies support this, my daily meditation makes me a better person.
So, in the interest of stepping up my game and stopping the useless chatter of my monkey mind, I’d like to share with you some tips I’ve accumulated from various sources that help me take my meditation to the next level. Hopefully, they’ll help you too.
Find a comfortable seat, one you can happily sit in for 20-60 minutes. Sit with your lap empty and your feet on the floor or reclining at an 80 degree angle with a bolster or pillows. I like a dark room with blinds drawn. (On the plane – my favorite place to meditate! – I use an eye mask.) Focus on your breath, counting the in breath and the out breath. I do counts of 4, in and out, until I can’t keep track anymore and then I drop into a meditative state. You can also use a positive powerful word to focus on while you meditate or a sound like “om” or “lum” – a deeply resonate word or sound like these two can really help you get to a meditative state. In the beginning, allow your thoughts to just pass through your mind, the same way clouds move through the sky. Picture that image of clouds floating by as each thought appears. This is why I like longer meditations, because it takes a while to get rid of the noise of the day, the long to-do list, unless you start your day with a meditation – you’ll begin your practice with a clean slate. Lastly, consciously allow any outside noise to take you deeper, program your mind that this outside sound is a cue to drop in deeper and deeper.
Now what about this idea that meditation makes us better people? It’s true! And this means when you and I meditate we’re doing it for those that can’t or won’t. For Buddha the goal of meditation was simple, enlightenment. Also from DeSteno: “The heightened control of the mind that meditation offers, according to Buddha, was supposed to help its practitioners see the world in a new and more compassionate way, allowing them to break free from the categorizations (us/them, self/other) that commonly divide people from one another…”, that is we lose our prejudices and biases that prevent us from being more compassionate and empathetic. DeSteno, who conducted a test on meditation and compassion, discovered that after meditating, people were much more likely to give up their seat for an injured person. “The first [explanation of why people who meditate are more willing to practice compassion and give up their seat to someone who needs it] rests on meditation’s documented ability to enhance attention, which might in turn increase the odds of noticing someone in pain (as opposed to being lost in one’s own thoughts). My favored explanation, though, derives from a different aspect of meditation: its ability to foster a view that all beings are interconnected. The psychologist Piercarlo Valdesolo and I have found that any marker of affiliation between two people, even something as subtle as tapping their hands together in synchrony, causes them to feel more compassion for each other when distressed. The increased compassion of meditators, then, might stem directly from meditation’s ability to dissolve the artificial social distinctions — ethnicity, religion, ideology and the like — that divide us.”
So guess what, next time you and I meditate, not only we will be reaping benefits for ourselves in our lives and work but we’ll be doing something that benefits the world. If you needed an excuse to take 20 (or more) minutes out of your day to be quiet this is a great one!
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About the Author: Tania Van Pelt is the creator of Happiness Series. She is a writer and content creator, working in film, tv, and online. She wrote the popular lifestyle book "Ageless Diet," published in late 2015. And she is currently working on her next book. She also developed a sitcom pilot set in the restaurant business called "Employees Only TV" and is developing another web series comedy about Denver.