Meditation is becoming increasingly popular as a proven technique to calm down our nervous system and help us live with more clarity and peace. But can meditation make you nicer?
A recent article in the NYtimes seems to prove just that. Meditation not only makes us feel better, it makes us more empathic to other people’s needs.
Here’s a little blurb from the article:
“Supporting this view, recent findings by the neuroscientists Helen Weng, Richard Davidson and colleagues confirm that even relatively brief training in meditative techniques can alter neural functioning in brain areas associated with empathic understanding of others’ distress — areas whose responsiveness is also modulated by a person’s degree of felt associations with others.” NYtimes July 2013.
So if you thought it was selfish to sit in a corner and meditate while you think everyone else needs your help and attention, this study shows the power of meditation to not only impact us, but directly impact others.
Once again, it’s the perfect reason to start practicing.
Ok, so let’s say you are slightly convinced to try it, now what?
If meditation was easy, more people would be doing it. Here is the truth, it may look easy or sound easy, but it’s actually quite challenging.
I think if it was easier, more people would commit to the practice. The biggest challenge I have heard is “I don’t know if I am doing it right” or “ I can’t do it” or “ I can’t stop thinking—this can’t be working”
Well, let me tell you the truth:
The benefit is in your effort. Your sheer dedicated pursuit is the heart of achieving beneficial results from meditation. The action alone of sitting (or laying down), and intentionally stating to yourself: “I am now starting my meditation session” This alone is where the benefit resides.
The way we exercise our mind is by actively practicing to quiet it down. Likewise, the way we exercise our body is by actively moving it. If you went on a run, but didn’t have a stellar heart pounding, sweat-dripping, fully-energized experience, would you say “That was a total waste—zero benefit in that.” No way, likely you’d say, “Well, I’ve had better runs than that, but at least I know I got my exercise in, and that’s what’s most important for my health.”
The same is true for meditation. Whether or not you actually get to a calm space in your mind where thoughts seem to cease, or whether your whole meditation experience is filled with frustration, thoughts, and anxiety—either way you benefit. The mere act of engaging in the practice is where the benefit lives.
The reason is, our mind needs to purge. It needs to release the gunk that is in there. So if you step into a meditation and feel a hoard of thoughts flooding through—let it happen, and recognize it is normal. It is part of the exercise. It is part of the process. That gunk needs to come up so that it can actually have the possibility to release, which is what really leads to the deeper states of calm, love, and empathy, for yourself and others.
So the Big Idea here is to stop judging your experience as “good,” bad” or, “wrong”
Instead, the practice is to simply sit. Place your attention on your natural breath. And if you are like most people, you probably will find yourself drifting off into thought. The idea is you are consciously working to catch yourself. The moment you catch yourself thinking, is the moment you return to your breath. This is a powerful technique to help you let go of the thought, which leads to more clarity of mind.
That is all you need to do.
Set your alarm for 5 minutes to start. It may not sound like much, but I guarantee this is strong exercise for your mind.
And the beauty is, just like when you go on a run, the benefits extend beyond the 30-minute run— the same holds true for meditation. The benefits extend far beyond the 5 minute meditation.
If you feel inclined to meditate longer, go ahead. But the most important thing is to find something you can do on a daily basis that you can sustain. This is where the deep power of the practice lives.
If you have any meditation questions, or insights, report in the comments below.
And if you want more guidance on How to Meditate, you can download my free E-book (click HERE) with step-by-step guidance on how to meditate.