Why Meditation is the Most Important Habit
Of all the tools we have to help us navigate life, the mind is the first and most important.
Everything we do, think, feel, and remember is facilitated by our minds. It’s our starting point, our perceiver, our interpreter, and ultimately has the last word on how we experience our lives.
The paradox is that the mind can be an amazing tool to help us actualize our desires and goals, but it can also be our worst enemy.
A mind that is chaotic, racing, undisciplined, and defaults to our worst experiences and memories is torturous!
It’s like being held captive aboard a ship while it tosses in a storm. You move from one set of waves to the next with little reprieve in between.
It makes sense that learning to harness the mind and control it should be a primary goal, because everything else follows.
I’ve found that the very best tool for regulating the mind and making the most of what it can do, is meditation.
This is not a new concept, and I think everyone has heard of meditation.
You may even have tried it. But have you established a regular habit of it?
If not, you’re missing out.
We get the most mileage out of our minds when we can maintain a mental attitude and feeling of calm energy and alertness.
That means you’re wide awake, can focus easily without strain, and yet have a stillness of mind and a sense of calm.
You feel open and can easily shift your attention from one thing to the other without much effort. You can feel things acutely, but you’re not overly reactive. You’re engaged, yet can maintain objectivity and distance.
This feeling is good. It’s very alive, yet peaceful.
What Meditation Does
Meditation is ultimately aimed at bringing your awareness to deeper levels of consciousness that lie below thoughts. That may sound impossible, or a little mystical, but it really isn’t.
Our thoughts are like bubbles that arise out of consciousness.
You can’t have thoughts without consciousness, but you can have consciousness, even an awareness of consciousness, without thoughts.
Long time meditators have greater periods of that kind of awareness without thoughts. When that occurs, you also experience deep rest to both mind and body. When you emerge out of that kind of meditative experience, you feel very calm, yet energized and aware.
It’s what people are aiming for when they take stimulants and sedatives at the same time. Not a good idea, by the way, but that’s the feeling sought. Obviously, you can’t get it that way.
Benefits of Meditation
I’ve given you a taste of what meditation can do for you, but here’s a list of some of the main benefits you’ll get from a daily practice of it.
#1 Puts You in the Driver’s Seat
When you’re both calm and aware, you create mental space that allows you to live consciously by choice rather than being driven from a place of reactivity. The locus of control comes from inside of you instead of from things coming at you. You’re in the driver’s seat and you’re in control.
#2 Reduces Overwhelm and Increases Calm
Calmness is one of the most rewarding benefits, especially since it’s not a sedated type of calm. It feels clear, awake, and energized. This is especially true right after meditation.
I find that this feeling lasts for much of the day. It can wear out as the day goes on, but you still handle things much easier than you would without meditation. Regular practice increases the stability of the calm.
#3 Increases Clear Thinking and Objectivity
When you have mental space, you can think more clearly. You have greater objective capacity. This is a major benefit for work, decision-making, and sorting through complex situations.
#4 Promotes Emotional Regulation & Stress Relief
Along with mental space, meditation gives you emotional space and can prevent unbridled emotional reactivity. Regular practice over time can decrease anxiety, worry, mood disturbances like depression, and obsessive focus on past experiences.
It’s like someone lifts you out of your emotional preoccupations and says, “See, you’re still intact and you’re fine. That experience is not you. It’s something you’re going through.”
It doesn’t mean you become impervious to your emotional experiences. You may even feel things more acutely, but your reaction to them is different.
#5 More Tolerance
Most people who meditate regularly are more tolerant in general of other people, different ideas, stressful experiences, changes, disruptions, or stress overall. At the same time, meditation will likely help you become very clear about your own values.
#6 Increases Attention & Focus
The act of meditation itself involves bringing your mind back to a single point over and over with the goal of keeping it there. This is a form of concentration, but meditation is done without any strain. It increases focus, and the more you do it, the longer you can hold it in one place.
When you can focus at will, you can attend to whatever you choose without the interference of mental static.
Meditation is also a practice of slowing down the onslaught of thoughts until you can dim them and eventually eliminate them.
Just think, if you could keep your mind quiet and alert, and then crank it into gear at will when you needed to, and then return it to a state of rest, you could probably accomplish ten times more than you currently do, and maybe even more than that!
#7 Enhances Creativity
Many meditators tell stories of aha moments during meditation when solutions to problems crop up, or they get some really great idea that probably wouldn’t have ever surfaced if they were trying for it.
When you’re deeply relaxed, solutions to problems and creative ideas are more likely to surface because you’re in touch with all sorts of pieces of information that reside in your subconscious and unconscious realms.
When you meditate, you drop into those other areas of your mind and you have access to them.
When I want to write, I usually do it in the morning after I’ve meditated 45 minutes to an hour. It always goes much better, and ideas ripple up easily.
It’s similar to what happens when we sleep on a problem, and the solution comes up the next day. Only with meditation, you get even more help than you would from sleep, and in shorter order.
How Do You Know It Will Work?
There is significant research that has been conducted at Harvard University that shows correlations between only 8 weeks of meditation and improvements like:
- Reduced stress response which has been verified by a decrease in amygdala activity in the brain which is the center related to fight or flight
- Decreased activity in the default mode of the mind, which is the wandering or ruminating mind that worries
- Increased grey matter in your brain, associated with muscle control, seeing, hearing, emotions and speech
- Increases in the hippocampus activity associated with learning and memory
- Increases in emotional regulation and mood stability
- Increased concentration and attention
- Reduced anxiety
- Slower aging of the brain
Studies conducted on Transcendental Meditation which is a mantra-based meditation technique show benefits to the body:
- Reduced blood pressure
- Increased insulin resistance
- Slow biological aging
- Reduced rate of heart attack, stroke and death
- Reduced anxiety and negative emotions
- Aid in learning and memory
The real proof is in your own experience. If you’ve never tried meditation, or even if you have, it is important to understand that the benefits occur with regular practice. You can meditate here and there and feel calmer for a brief period of time, but the benefits I’ve outlined above come with consistent daily practice.
Most people have difficulty finding the time to make that happen. This is especially true if you already have a crowded schedule.
Do the best you can, and if you can only meditate 10 minutes a day, you’ll still get the benefits.
The key is to find a regular time and do it the same time everyday under the same circumstances. That will help you stick with it.
I’ve written instructions for a simple meditation technique to get you started if you’ve never tried it before. Click here to access that.
Feel free to send questions or share your own experiences with meditation. It’s always helpful to know the different ways people practice meditation, and what works best for them. Here’s to a tall glass of peace and calm!