If you’ve ever tried to sit still and clear your thoughts, you probably know the difficulty of meditation. It doesn’t come naturally to most of us to be alone with our thoughts. Or really to sit quietly at all with no agenda other than to be present and mindful.
While meditation may not be easy it is worth the effort. It has been shown to have many benefits to our health, one of the biggest being reduced levels of stress. (1) It can also improve sleep, decrease anxiety and support emotional wellness. (2)
It is impressive that such a simple act can have so large an impact on overall wellness.
What Are We Doing When We Meditate?
The often misunderstood reality of meditation is that you can’t actually “do” it.
True meditation is a state of being where the mind is fully present in the moment. We cannot make our mind be fully present, as hard as we might try. In yoga, the mind is often compared to a team of wild horses, and the practice of meditation is a charioteer learning to tame them.
Taming the wild horses of the mind requires concentration.
The skill of concentration, or single-minded focus, has to be developed, and this is what we are actually doing when we meditate. It takes practice to focus on one single thing whether it is the breath, a mantra, an image, or a sound. Our minds are prone to wander and are easily distracted as we well know.
The more often we practice our skill in concentration and focus will increase. This sets the stage for the mind to lock in on the current moment and be fully present without distraction.
While we cannot force the mind into a meditative state, the act of meditating is an invitation, and the more we do it, the more likely true meditation will arise.
It’s the Practice That Matters
Modern life presents many challenges to learning to meditate. As a culture we are busy, stressed, have short attention spans and are wired to achieve. Meditation asks for exactly the opposite.
It can be discouraging when starting out as it’s unlikely meditation will “arrive” right away. The good news is that we are not responsible for the outcome. Our only responsibility is to show up, concentrate, and when our minds wander, work to rein it in.
Whether the mind drops-in to the present moment is not a guarantee. It’s the practice that matters. It’s the discipline of making the time and creating the right conditions that allow for meditation.
The benefits of meditation will follow.
It may feel counterintuitive to come to the practice with only the intention to sit and see what happens. But it should also be liberating. In a world that asks us to do and achieve so much, when it comes to meditation, all you have to do is show up.