Is Meditation Your Friend or Your Enemy?
Some years ago, we were in Thailand, attending a 10-day, silent meditation retreat. Each day, a cheerful Buddhist monk would come to teach, and he would always ask us: "Are you happier today than you were yesterday?" As he said this, a wide smile would fill his face because he knew we were confronting numerous obstacles to happiness, and not just the ones in our own minds. As beautiful as the coconut grove was, we were living with mosquitoes, centipedes and snakes, sleeping on wooden planks and not eating after midday. How were we expected to find happiness amid such extremes?
Yet despite his humorous tone, the smiling monk's question was a genuine one. We were on a meditation retreat. If we were not beginning to feel happier as a result, then what was the point of being there? Why meditate if we don't enjoy it?
Every day, he asked us that same question: "Are you happier today than you were yesterday?" This had the effect of highlighting the extent to which we were preoccupied with our own concerns, doubts and conflicts, and even how difficulties can actually feel more familiar and meaningful than joy. How easy it was to blame physical discomforts for our lack of happiness!
Why you should make friends with meditation
If your purpose is to try to achieve a quiet mind, then the trying itself will create tension and failure. Instead, you are just with whatever is happening in the moment, whether it is pleasant or unpleasant. No judgment, no right or wrong. Watching whatever arises and letting it go is all that is required. It is more of an undoing than a doing.
It is important to make friends with meditation. You are not here to battle with yourself; meditation is not the enemy. Nor do you need to make excuses, complaining that your mind is too busy or restless. Rather than resisting stillness, you can let the business and discomfort become your meditation.
In the same way, it will be of no help at all if you feel you have to meditate and then feel guilty if you miss the allotted time or only do 10 minutes when you promised to do 30. It is much better to practice for a just a few minutes and to enjoy what you are doing than to make yourself sit there, teeth-gritted, because you have been told that only 30 minutes will have any effect. Meditation is a companion for you to have throughout your life, like a dear friend you turn to when in need of reflection, inspiration and clarity. It is to be enjoyed!
Practicing meditation means slowly and gently training the mind to do something it may not have done before: to be still. The technique gives the mind an activity, and every time it wanders off on a thinking spree, you simply notice this and bring it back to the practice. The experience of stillness is accumulative: The more you are still, so slowly, the mind becomes quieter.
Here's a short practice for you to try:
Anytime you feel stress rising, heart closing, mind going into overwhelm, just find a place to be quiet and focus on your natural breathing. As you do this, silently repeat one of the following:
* "Soft belly, open heart" with each in- and out-breath
* "Breathing in, I calm the body and mind; breathing out, I smile."
* "I am easeful and peaceful, I am love."
Ed and Deb Shapiro are the authors of Be the Change, How Meditation Can Transform You and the World. They are featured weekly contributors to Oprah.com, HuffingtonPost.com and Care2.com. Ed and Deb write Sprint's The Daily CHILLOUT inspirational text messages. They have three meditation CDs: Metta: Loving Kindness and Forgiveness, Samadhi: Breath Awareness and Insight and Yoga Nidra: Inner Conscious Relaxation. Deb is also the author of the best-selling book Your Body Speaks Your Mind, winner of the 2007 Visionary Book Award.
More from Ed and Deb Shapiro
Why meditation is the greatest gift you can give yourself
7 remarkable women making a difference
7 men who are transforming the world