Meditation: More practical than you think!
In this illuminating article, Charles Shahar shows us that meditation is far from being an idealistic abstraction; it can benefit us immensely in our everyday life
I have often heard people talk about the benefits of meditation in an abstract way, as a means of expanding the mind and gaining knowledge of one’s inner Self. But people also often ask how meditation can benefit them in the world. Will it improve the quality of their lives? Will it make them wiser in their dealings with people or more efficient at work? Are there tangible benefits for their health?
I have been teaching meditation for nineteen years, and I have come to the conclusion that meditation is not about some airy-fairy reality, far removed from the activities of modern life. Ironically, meditation will make you more alert in the world and more sensitive to people and places. This is because meditation makes you more open to what is happening around you. In that sense, meditation is a very practical activity.
Most people will notice something different about an individual who meditates on a regular basis. Whatever personality the latter projects on the surface, it is accompanied by a depth and centeredness that feels settling and comforting for others. People will wish to connect to the serene space of the meditator. In fact, the meditator will bring out the best tendencies in people generally; because others see the best parts of themselves reflected in the meditator.
This fact cannot be emphasised enough. People often sense when someone is centred. They respect such an individual and will reflect such qualities back to the person. I have often dealt with bank tellers or supermarket cashiers who seemed to be having a hugely bad day but who, within a few seconds, would start to lighten up, only because that was the attitude I presented to them. If I reflected their frustration and anger, our interactions would have taken a much more negative tone.
If you remain generally steady and calm, just about every facet of your social and work life will benefit. My experience is that people will want to be around you, will want to get your attention and approval. They will simply like your space. Space is a nebulous word, but it can signify your ‘personal atmosphere,’ your ‘vibe.’ There may be exceptions: people who prefer conflictual relationships, but these may be individuals whom you would want to avoid anyway.
The practitioner of meditation does not have to forsake any worldly pleasures or pursuits just because they meditate. They actually come to appreciate the abundance of life. Living is about joy, not struggle. When one experiences the remarkable serenity and bliss of meditation, struggling becomes an unacceptable state of being. The meditator does not need to practise abstinence or denial. They apply an inner discipline that comes from a sense of freedom rather than obligation.
My experience is that the world and its pleasures take on a different meaning after practising meditation for an extended period. One looks at them in a different light. There is much joy to be derived from the world. But when one connects to the joy within, they realise that they can tap into it any time, regardless of what the world has to offer. A meditator will often radiate joy for no obvious reason, except that it is a natural state for them.
Balance of wealth and wisdom
What about business and money? One should not underestimate the importance of being financially secure. If an individual is worried about their basic survival, this can present a distraction for meditation. Financial security represents freedom on a worldly level. People make the mistake of divorcing spirituality from materiality. Money will open opportunities: one becomes less dependent on others, and their time is more their own.
However, whether practising meditation means you will increase your wealth is another question. Some people have a talent for accumulating money, but they may not be inclined to want to grow as a person. Others have their attention on more lofty goals but are constantly struggling to make ends meet. My experience is that those who are sincerely engaged in self-growth by actively practising meditation will generally find that they enter a kind of ‘flow’ where they find a path of least resistance. This attitude has the effect of making things seem much less problematic or insurmountable.
This means that less energy will be expended holding on to any emotions or thinking that will make a person feel oppressed or encumbered, such as worry, doubt, insecurity, or anxiety. So much energy is expended perpetuating these states of struggle; it is like the person is doing battle with themself. So energy gets freed up. Whatever you focus on gets your maximum attention, and the full force of your will can then be applied. Will that make money for you? Perhaps. But if you get too caught up in the pursuit of wealth, you might lose perspective and find it difficult to pursue a balanced life, which is the purpose of meditation in the first place.
We have not looked at the benefits of meditation for the body. In some ways, we get more in touch with our body through meditation. Without the body’s cooperation, meditation is not possible; so if we feel tired or ill, it will be difficult to experience a sense of comfort or ease necessary for focussing our attention. The meditator, at a very deep level, feels physical imbalances that result from certain overindulgences. I know that if I lose sleep or overeat, my meditations tend to be heavy and superficial.
The specific benefits of meditation for the physical organism have been well-documented and include relaxing the muscles, regulating the blood pressure, lowering the heart rate, decreasing the metabolism, and facilitating sleep. But what is remarkable is the interaction of body and mind during meditation. I find that when the body gets calm, the mind will also follow suit and vice versa. For instance, if I perform deep breathing during meditation, not only does the body relax, but I notice that thoughts begin to recede.
This has important implications for one’s life. It means that any negative thought can have a significant impact on a physical level; something that psychologists have been saying for many decades. It also means that if the body is tense, the thoughts will also be affected, perhaps becoming more frenetic, unfocussed, or obsessive, depending on the type of stress involved.
What if you could nip negative thinking in the bud? I have never met someone who meditates regularly and is overcome by negativity or bitterness. I think meditation trains the mind in a certain fashion. The thoughts begin to have less dominance over one’s psyche. It is true that meditation results in a brighter and more optimistic outlook on life, and that is because it frees you from burdensome types of thoughts. The thoughts themselves literally become lighter, without the emotional charge that can make them wearing and troublesome.
A friend of mine once said that he didn’t need to meditate because he got enough sleep in his life. However, there is a fundamental difference between meditation and sleep. With the latter, once you wake up, all the worries and preoccupations will come flooding back. There is no fundamental change in a person’s consciousness. In the case of meditation, all of the qualities mentioned above (being more open, centred, joyful, and calm) begin to dominate the personality.
Sharp and serene
Meditation can be thought of as a state of alertness and calmness, both occurring at the same time and in perfect balance. This is a difficult state to apply. For instance, many people who meditate for the first time will either fall asleep because their body needs it or will be fidgety and restless, not being able to sit still for more than a couple of minutes. After some practice, they will develop the capacity to sit calmly, yet, at the same time, maintain a certain alertness.
This state is really the defining quality of the meditative experience. If you can carry this state of serenity-alertness into your day-to-day life, which happens if you meditate regularly, then you will apply lucidity and also detachment. It means you can act, but you don’t have to react to every emotional stimulus or provocation. You can see things clearly and evaluate the situation without getting caught up in it. This affords a tremendous advantage. It means you can make decisions with clarity and execute them in a fashion that requires minimal effort, without being encumbered by worry or second-guessing due to insecurity. If that is not practical, I don’t know what is.
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