Why do I meditate? Why should you meditate? Why does anyone meditate? What the hell is the purpose of meditation, anyway?
I could list a hundred reasons. I think. A lot, anyway. That’s not what this post is for, but I’ll list a bunch just to show you it’s possible.
A hundred (okay, maybe just “a lot”) reasons why you should meditate
- Enlightenment (we’ll talk about this later)
- Liberation (a synonym for enlightenment – so does this really count?)
- Freedom (another synonym)
- Increased happiness
- Increased peace
- Increased tranquility
- Increased compassion
- Increased ability to forgive
- Moving through trauma
- Letting go of the past
- Improving / letting go of negative habits such as addiction
- Increased concentration
- Increased capacity for work
- Better sleep
- Reduction of harmful thoughts
- Better interpersonal skills
- Less stress
- Increased ability to work with anger
- …and lust
- …and sadness
- …and anxiety
- …and other painful emotions
- …and pain in general
- Increased wisdom
- More knowledge of the self
- Crazy realizations, man
- It really works
Alright, so, I only listed 28. You’ll have to forgive me. I could probably break some of those reasons down into sub reasons, but — whatever, you get the idea.
Let’s talk about reason 1 first, and then we’ll skip to reason 28.
What is enlightenment (liberation, awakening?) Why should I care? How do I attain it? Why do people use these damn words all the damn time?
Let’s start by quoting a couple definitions from various traditions and individuals. That’ll set a nice framework for this topic. By the way, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it, too. So comment below.
“Enlightenment is a simple realization that everything is as it should be.
That is the definition of enlightenment: everything is as it should be, everything is utterly perfect as it is. That feeling…and you are suddenly at home. Nothing is being missed. You are part, an organic part of this tremendous, beautiful whole. You are relaxed in it, surrendered in it. You don´t exist separately – all separation has disappeared.
Osho in The Fish in the Sea is not Thirsty
A great rejoicing happens, because with the ego disappearing there is no worry left, with the ego disappearing there is no anguish left, with the ego disappearing there is no possibility of death any more. This is what enlightenment is. It is the understanding that all is good, that all is beautiful – and it is beautiful as it is. Everything is in tremendous harmony, in accord.”
How do you like that? Here’s another one.
“When you realize the truth that everything changes and find your composure in it, there you find yourself in nirvana.”
Asked further about enlightenment, Suzuki Roshi said, “Strictly speaking there are no enlightened beings; there is only enlightened activity.”Suzuki Roshi
And one more…
“If you let go a little, you’ll be a little happy. If you let go a lot, you’ll be a lot happy. If you let go completely, you’ll be completely happy.”Ajahn Chah
Check out this awesome article on enlightenment here by Jack Kornfield.
So – what do you think about those quotes? What about other stuff you’ve read, heard, experienced?
The bottom line, for me, is that enlightenment is indescribable. How can you describe it to someone who has not experienced it? Who is not living it? Words do not do it justice.
I bet you’ve had an experience that you’ve tried to unsuccessfully describe to others. You might try once, twice, thrice – and each time the person you’re explaining it to will come to their own conclusion. But you can clearly see they just don’t get it.
Enlightenment is the same thing. What’s more, if you come to a conclusion about it, it can often act as a hindering factor in your personal practice!
I think these words are overused. Significantly. I think these words are over hyped way too much. Quite frankly, who cares? It doesn’t matter. Just do your thing. See for yourself. See how meditation and its related practices help you. Not anyone else. With that being said, though, I think it’s important to at least recognize that it is a thing. I write about it because it’s a common topic and it needs to be discussed.
I went through a period of fascination with it, and I came out of that period of fascination with it. Whether you go through those phases or not, just remember to keep it real – AKA what are YOU experiencing?
So what does it have to do with practice?
Meditation refers to a tool or set of tools that provides a framework and process to let go.
It’s a practice. And there are so many things involved in that practice. Along the way, we encounter a lot of our conditioning, habits, trauma, feelings thoughts, beliefs…and it can be pretty intense!
There is this special thing that happens, if you continue to practice, that is completely life changing. This is the process of enlightenment. This is letting go — completely.
I can’t really describe it. I can only say that it’s real (reason 28, anyone??) That it’s possible. That everyone can do it, and that it’s within reach. Practice and see for yourself. And fuck. It’s worth it.
What does it mean to let go, and how will that affect me?
Let’s use one of my favorite examples.
When you were very young, did you ever stub your toe? Yeah. I bet you did. I bet it hurt like shit and you cried a lot, too.
How about now? Still stub your toe? I do. And now, when I do, I usually notice that it hurts a lot, but I laugh about it. Why do I laugh? I laugh because I know from my years of experience in stubbing my toe that the pain will pass really soon — and that’ll be that.
That ability to let go…it came from wisdom. YEARS of practice stubbing my toe, and I finally realized at an extremely deep level that the pain would pass. That no harm was actually being done. With that knowledge, with that wisdom, I was able to see that the painful experience didn’t really have any substance. It came and went.
The real pain, the misery, came because of my response to it. My attitude towards the pain. I kept involving myself with the pain. Wanting it to go away. Wanting it to change.
When you let go of something, you just let it be. Doesn’t matter anymore, you’ve let go. That doesn’t mean you don’t experience it with the fullest sense of presence, you’re just no longer concerned about its future or its past.
Cool, but enough about stubbing your toe. What about my problems? I’m anxious, depressed, angry, overwhelmed, stressed, agitated, full of thoughts, and on and on and on…
Ha ha, I hear you. The fact is, all of our thought processes and emotional processes are habits too. We all know how habits work, generally. The more energy you put into a habit, the bigger it grows! The more automatic it becomes!
When I was a kid, there was a period where I would chew my cheek. I would chew the insides of my cheek. It felt really, really good. I don’t know why. Actually, I’m doing it as I write this article, and it still feels good.
Before I knew it, I had started to chew my cheek habitually. I would do it all the time because it felt really good, but I also noticed that I was starting to really agitate the inside of my cheeks. At some level, I realized it wasn’t good that it was becoming a habit and that I wanted to stop.
Alright, nice. First step taken care of. I had recognized it wasn’t good for me and generated the desire to stop. Time to implement action.
…surprise! It wasn’t that easy. It had already become something that I did automatically. When I stopped, my cheeks would ache. And the only way to satisfy that ache was to chew them. Does this sound familiar? Have you ever had a habit like this? I’d love to hear your experiences, so comment below.
I persisted, though. I knew I had to stop. After a while, the ache lessened. And lessened. And lessened…until it went away. After that, I occasionally still felt the desire to chew my cheek but the intensity of it had departed. I was no longer a slave to my cheek chewing addiction.
This is what all of our self harmful thoughts are. A habit that we’ve put so much energy into that not only is it hard to stop, it may even feel like an integral part of ourselves.
Do you..perhaps…relate to this? I know I do. I used to be suicidal and intensely depressed. My thoughts, those little “voices”, would torment me. “I’m a terrible person,” “I don’t deserve happiness,” “this world is horrible,” etc. Those thoughts would then get expressed consciously and unconsciously through my speech and actions.
I did things that hurt myself and others — often and to sometimes a pretty extreme degree.
The entire time, I knew I wanted it to be different, but I didn’t know how it could be. Moreover, I didn’t even believe it was possible. I knew what I knew and I thought that was it, even though intellectually I rebelled against that.
The desire for it to be different only grew. I knew there was something wrong and I needed it to change. It had to change. So I started to do the work.
It would be too much and furthermore somewhat unrelated to get into it now (you can listen to me talking about these experiences a bit more in our podcast) but I can tell you it wasn’t easy and it wasn’t fast.
Psst, never meditated before? Check out this easy practice.
But it was worth it. Just like chewing my cheeks, when I worked at shifting my thinking patterns, there was a lot of friction. A lot of pain. I was addicted to self harm, I was addicted to depression, addicted to those painful feelings and thoughts.
The key to success is continuity, though, and I persisted. I succeeded. Life is a lot different now. A lot better.
Self-realization and all its healing is accessible to all of us. Right here, and right now. It doesn’t matter what kind of past you have. It matters what you do in the present. Don’t wait. Start now.
Here at Project Mindfulness, we’re working at creating a community where we can support each other in this process. Whatever kind of technique you’re into, whatever kind of modality – it doesn’t matter.
We’re all people, and we’re all growing in our own way and at our own pace. And you know what? That’s okay.
See you next week.