March Newsletter: A Closer Look at Meditation
Written By: Father Tim Butler
Would you be surprised if I told you that upwards of 47% of your waking hours are spent thinking about either the past or the future? That’s exactly what a 2010 Harvard University study found. Research psychologists Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert discovered that people are present to what they are actually doing only between 53-90% of the time, depending upon the activity in which they are involved.
“A human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind,” Killingsworth and Gilbert write. “The ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost.”
This limited presence to what we are actually doing impacts every area of our lives, from significant relationships to effectiveness on the job. How many times has someone important in your life asked you, “Are you listening to me?” or “Did you hear what I said?” Just imagine the impact increasing your presence by 20%, 30%, or even more could have at home, at work, at both!
While there are a number of activities that can help increase our ability to be in the present moment, there are few as effective as the practice of meditation. This article will explore what it is and how it is done, as well as some misconceptions and benefits.
What is meditation? Fundamentally, there are two types of meditation; reflection and attention training. The type of meditation this article explores is the latter; meditation as “paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally.”
How does one practice this type of meditate? It is incredibly easy. First, find a comfortable posture; which can be sitting (the generally preferred posture), standing, or lying down. Second, close your eyes. Third, gently and consistently bring your attention to your breath. Fourth, gently let go of your thoughts and be in the present moment for a determined amount of time. Finally, don’t judge what happens during or after your period of meditation.
Some helpful tips? Find a quiet place to meditate and to bring along a count-down timer. That way you will be neither distracted by noise nor concerned about going “over time.” Choose an amount of time that works for you and then increase it as your practice develops. Ensure your posture is good; sitting up or standing up straight, or laying down in a pain-free position. Don’t be distressed by thoughts or images that occur during meditation; this is normal. Some find it helpful to choose a particular or “sacred” word to use as a way to gently refocus their attention (it can be repeated as a mantra or simply used as a reminder of your intention to simply be in the present moment). When you become aware of them, simply notice them and return your attention to your breath or word. Most importantly, try not to evaluate any period of meditation as “good” or “bad.” The intention to simply commit oneself to a designated period of time is enough. Nothing more. Nothing less.
What meditation is not? Fundamentally, it is not about “achieving”. Bringing the same success-oriented mentality that we bring to most areas of our lives will likely result in frustration. Any “fruits” that result from regular meditation will be noticed gradually over time, usually first by others. Essentially, meditation is not tied to a particular religion or philosophy. While various forms of meditation arose historically in religious traditions, most religions encourage some form of meditation while its practice is not tied to any one of them.
What are the benefits? When the mind becomes relaxed and alert at the same time, when one is in the present moment through meditation, three things happen: calmness of spirit, clarity of mind, and inner happiness. The long-term results of these are peace and stability, emotional and mental resiliency, and, especially when combined with yoga, the release of physical stress and tension.
A final thought: I have been a practisioner of meditation, in various forms, for more than 40 years. Yet, I am still a beginner. I believe we are all always beginners because the spiritual journey is endless and rich. During the month of March, we at WarriorOne invite you to join us for the Meditation Challenge … committing to mediate each day. As we practice together, feel free to ask questions or share your experiences with our WarriorOne community!
1 http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2010/11/wandering-mind-not-a-happy-mind/ 2 Jon Kabat-Zinn p. 19 “Search Inside Yourself” by Chade-Meng Tan