Navigating Mindfulness The Journey of Meditation

Navigating Mindfulness The Journey of Meditation

The main challenge that may take us decades to overcome is actually starting the practice itself. Procrastination in this context is notably harmful because there are no negative repercussions to participating in meditation. You can't hurt yourself or damage your mind by practicing it, so what stops us from beginning? Many people might not engage in meditation because they doubt its benefits. They may not believe it will improve their well-being or overall mood. For some, the thought of sitting still might induce anxiety. Others might find it challenging because they don't know how to start practicing meditation, a tradition with thousands of years of history. Nowadays, with plenty of meditation-related content on platforms like YouTube, featuring masters practicing and discussing meditation, there are numerous resources available for those interested in learning.

Interestingly, the 11th step of the 12-step recovery program, designed to help overcome addiction, recommends the use of prayer and meditation to reach a higher consciousness. This was a major shift from the norms of the 1950s in America. Notably, the 12-step recovery program originated from the Oxford Group, a Christian faith-based organization that aimed to help individuals recovering from alcoholism. In the Oxford Group, references to Christ and God were prevalent. The innovative founders of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) realized that by eliminating these religious references, they could appeal to a wider audience of individuals who weren't necessarily aligned with the Christian faith or interested in God. By simply removing specific religious terminology, they made the program more accessible and inclusive, thus broadening its reach and effectiveness.

In 12-step recovery literature, there is a significant emphasis on helping individuals discover a power greater than themselves to aid their journey towards sobriety. Reflecting on my early recovery in the mid-1980s, I realize that there wasn't as much focus on the simplicity and efficacy of meditation as there could have been. For atheists, the concept of praying is difficult since it involves directing prayers towards a specific entity. Asking them to pray to a higher power may not resonate. Meditation, however, offers a secular alternative. It doesn't require connecting with divine forces or understanding the cosmos. You don't need to grasp gravity or aim for levitation as a sign of advancement. Although some may gain profound insights or acquire unique knowledge through meditation, such outcomes aren't guaranteed. Meditation is accessible to everyone, regardless of their beliefs or spiritual leanings, providing a path to inner peace and self-discovery without necessitating religious or supernatural beliefs.

The idea of transforming from someone deeply struggling with drug addiction into an enlightened, seemingly invincible master fluent in Zen might seem far-fetched. For years, Western modernity has distanced itself from meditation, questioning its benefits. What does meditation really offer? It leads to the shedding of materialistic attachments and the diminishment of ego control. The mind, however, doesn't easily shut down; it's designed to constantly think, create, solve problems, and judge, aiding in survival. Yet, it's also influenced by childhood experiences and emotions like loneliness, humiliation, anger, resentment, fear, low self-esteem, feeling dejected, and unloved.

We often carry the trauma of our parents and their anxieties, observing their struggles. Long-term meditation can surface these issues, requiring us to confront and release them. Some might find the joy and euphoria experienced during meditation unsettling due to its unfamiliarity, mistaking happiness for insanity. For example, finding overwhelming joy in the simple act of walking and appreciating the sky's color can be disorienting for those unaccustomed to such feelings. My reluctance towards meditation stems from my mind's resistance to shutting down. Meditation is seen as pulling the mind's ignition key, a daunting thought. 

Starting the meditation journey requires some initial guidance, followed by personal exploration. Viewing meditation as a practice to completely silence the mind seems unattainable and, arguably, unnecessary. Our minds are never truly inactive, not even in sleep, as we dream and feel. Thoughts flow naturally, part of a cause-and-effect continuum. Instead of stifling this flow, the goal is to catch these thoughts like mosquitoes in a net, observing them without judgment and letting them go. Deciding what to focus on during meditation requires time and practice, aiming for control over one's thought processes rather than their cessation.

To me, achieving such control is nothing short of a miracle, placing me firmly in command of my life. If I can observe a thought arise and gently nudge it away without clinging or obsessing over it, and then do the same with subsequent thoughts until the ones that are positive, useful, and motivating emerge—those that spark compassion, improve my performance in all aspects of life for my survival, joy, and quest for truth, understanding my purpose, and possibly fulfilling it—that is what matters to me. I don’t want to overcomplicate things with excessive thinking or attachment; I simply wish to relax and be calm for the duration of the meditation. I want to feel my breath fill my lungs and experience the subtle comfort it brings to my body, allowing myself to relax, even to the point of tiredness, so I can sleep. I aim to rid myself of constant worry and fear, knowing the mind will always find something to fret about. Meditation, then, becomes a process of observation, of watching the goings-on in my mind. Another metaphor I like is imagining your thoughts as a pinball in a machine, with the flippers akin to my meditation practice, keeping thoughts moving and manageable.

Comparing meditation to going to the gym to sculpt your body can be illustrative. Just as thousands have shaped their bodies as desired through gym workouts, the effectiveness of putting in the effort is undisputed. Initially, results might not be visible, especially if starting from a point of having little muscle tone and more body fat. Early gym sessions might leave you with sore muscles and feeling unwell, but the transformation will occur with persistence. It takes as long as it takes, influenced by actions outside the gym as well, such as getting enough rest, improving your diet, and possibly taking supplements.

Meditation, much like gym workouts, demands a similar question: how many people do we personally know who have achieved remarkable results from meditating? This isn't about the anecdotes from books or the legendary tales of the Buddha, but about real individuals in our circles who have found solace, mental clarity, and more through meditation. Knowing someone who has successfully harnessed the power of meditation makes it easier to believe in its efficacy. Just as we make lifestyle adjustments when starting gym routines—like changing our diet and ensuring we get enough rest—meditation requires complementary actions outside of practice sessions to foster relaxation and mental peace. It involves examining our life philosophies, discussing, writing about them, and then reorganizing our thoughts and actions. Philosophy that leads to action, not just endless discourse, is what we should aim for.

The call to action is straightforward: just go and meditate. It doesn’t matter if you’re unsure of how to begin or whether you believe in the benefits. You can meditate in any comfortable position, during various activities like yoga, walking, or even while engaging in more dynamic activities. Meditation begins with a deep breath and the intention that you are entering a meditative state, whether actively engaging in another task or focusing solely on the practice. Central to meditation is the focus on breathing and the relaxation of the central nervous system. Learning about neuroscience might enrich this practice for some, but even without diving into the technicalities, the benefits are tangible. Deep breathing adjusts our heart rate, oxygenates our blood, and nourishes our cells, especially the brain, which requires a constant supply of oxygen. Stress and trauma can lead to shallow breathing and a deprived brain, thus affecting our mental and physical state.

We were not designed to live in a constant state of stress, with our minds controlling our existence. The more awake, conscious part of us should lead, with the ego acting as just one of many passengers. The ego, a collection of experiences and memories, follows rules that apply universally, even mathematically. Early experiences, especially traumatic ones, shape our emotional well-being. A stable, loving environment contributes to a more 'normal' psychological development. Learning from each other's coping mechanisms, like writing to channel energy and thoughts, helps in understanding and managing our mental states. Knowledge alone doesn’t heal; it must be felt and lived. Adopting a "fake it till you make it" approach to meditation means engaging with the practice as if you believe in its power. Surround yourself with items that cue your brain into meditation mode—not because they possess any mystical power, but because they help set the intention and environment for practice. Similar to a bedtime routine that prepares us for sleep, these objects and rituals signal to our brain that it’s time to meditate, reducing friction and easing us into a state of relaxation. They're part of the physical and mental framework we build around our meditation practice, serving as tools to help us engage more deeply with the process.

Reflecting on the notion of transforming our mental landscape through meditation requires time, perhaps years, unless its essence is already clear to you. Learning to manage the negative thoughts that traverse our minds enables us to distance ourselves from them, making room for positive constructs like love and harmony. As we delve deeper into relaxation, we naturally let go of aggressiveness and the inclination to cause harm. Engaging with meditation literature and conversing with more experienced practitioners fosters growth. This growth becomes evident when we start to crave meditation during life's challenging times, much like a caffeine addict longs for their next cup of coffee. It's crucial to acknowledge that in the initial stages of meditation, there might be an almost addictive pull towards it, but this evolves. Early on, I viewed meditation as a means to sharpen focus for material gain and societal validation, aiming for wealth, possessions, and external admiration.

However, I soon realized the folly in seeking validation through material wealth or symbols of success like exotic sports cars. The belief that these things would garner affection was a delusion, not a mere illusion. I was detached from reality, believing in a narrative that held no truth. The journey of meditation revealed to me that genuine connections are not formed from the fanfare surrounding us but from our authentic selves. The realization hit that those drawn to my authentic self weren't interested in superficial displays, and those who disliked me were not swayed by them either. My flashy possessions, possibly a source of envy or seen as arrogance by others, did not define my worth or the essence of my relationships.

This insight shifted my focus to a personal meditation path, where encountering someone truly present and aware prompts me to inquire about their yoga or meditation practices. I've come to see that individuals I once passed by without a second thought, possibly viewing them merely as customers or strangers on the street, hold profound wisdom. They are teachers and monks in their own right, guiding through the example of their lives. Engaging with these everyday philosophers enriches my understanding and practice of meditation, revealing the depth and diversity of paths to mindfulness and enlightenment beyond the confines of conventional expectations and societal norms.

As they navigate through life, good people naturally share the insights they've gleaned with others around them. In my interactions through business, where I encounter a diverse array of individuals, I've noticed a general trend of passivity and amiability, often mixed with a dose of skepticism and, unfortunately, traces of racism—a legacy, perhaps, from our lineage and another significant barrier to overcome through meditation.

Boredom is a formidable challenge in meditation. The initial excitement of sitting down to meditate can quickly dissipate when faced with the seemingly mundane reality of the practice, compounded by distractions both from the external environment and internal thought processes. Yet, recognizing this moment of distraction is a sign of progress, marking a shift from perceiving meditation as an esoteric practice reserved for a select few, to understanding its accessibility and potential for inducing a meditative state at any time of day. When you truly enter into meditation, it amplifies your essence: the humorous become funnier, and the vibrant more so. A simple act, such as writing "positivity" on a piece of paper and placing it within sight during meditation, can serve as a powerful focal point.

About five years ago, as my meditation practice deepened, I began by listing out aspects of my life that were sources of irritation and discomfort. This exercise was crucial, as it clarified what I was confronting during my meditations: those pervasive, uncomfortable feelings deeply entwined with my relationships and societal interactions. Returning to the breath, especially for beginners, offers a starting point for focusing and grounding. It allows me to check in with my body for any discomfort and assess my mental state, especially my anxiety levels. The difference in my behavior and outlook when I'm relaxed versus when I'm anxious is stark. A relaxed state enables me to engage with others warmly and creatively, whereas anxiety leads to withdrawal or negative interactions.

This contrast highlights the transformative power of meditation on personal behavior and interactions. When I'm calm and centered, I approach the world with openness and humor, finding joy in the smallest things. Conversely, anxiety not only affects my mood but also my professional creativity and efficiency. It can lead to less inspired marketing and innovation, as worry and haste cloud judgment and impede the flow of ideas. Meditation helps in managing these anxieties, preventing them from overwhelming me and ensuring that I maintain focus, not just in personal interactions but also in my professional life, particularly when facing fears related to financial stability.

The myriad distractions in life—from a dissatisfied customer to the incessant noise of the city, from personal encounters to the challenge of focusing on writing and meditation—underscore a universal struggle: navigating the line between distraction and mindfulness. In the quest for peace, the journey is deeply personal, varying greatly from one individual to another. Meditation offers a path, a way to quiet the mind until its essence and heart become clear. However, this clarity demands patience, often more than our anxious selves are willing to concede. As we inch closer to self-discovery, the anxious mind fears its sidelining, eager to remain in the thick of our conscious experiences.

The "light" within us, initially timid, is sensitive to the world's harshness and shies away from conflict, aggression, and harm. This light, as it grows, becomes acutely aware of feelings, both its own and those of others. My personal journey has involved grappling with this sensitivity, a stark contrast to the hardened persona I thought necessary for survival. Starting with something as simple as focusing on the breath in a dark, quiet room can be the first step toward uncovering this inner light. Chanting, focusing on a candle, or even staring at a geometric pattern can serve as aids in this process, grounding us in the moment and encouraging mindfulness.

Over time, a diverse array of techniques can guide one into meditation. Breathing exercises, body positions, and focused attention are tools at our disposal, yet there's no one-size-fits-all method. The key lies in stillness and presence, in finding comfort amidst discomfort, and in the continuous return to the breath, regardless of the distractions that may arise. My personal evolution mirrored this, from struggling to maintain focus for just a few breaths to sustaining concentration during lengthy yoga practices.

This journey revealed that meditation isn't confined to sitting in silence; it encompasses all aspects of life. Whether dealing with daily responsibilities or engaging in activities that bring joy, the meditative state is about presence and engagement. Distractions, rather than derailing us, become signposts, reminding us of the importance of nourishment, both physical and spiritual, and of the presence in every moment.

Embracing meditation daily, even for just a few minutes, cultivates a mind capable of great focus and creativity. It can be directed towards any aspect of life, enhancing relationships, professional endeavors, or personal growth. The practice doesn't demand perfection but consistency, with even the simplest acts serving as opportunities for mindfulness. Through meditation, we oxygenate our bodies, reduce stress, enhance mental clarity, and open ourselves to the richness of the present moment.

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