What's the point of meditation?
Updated: Nov 2
I recently read Cheryl Strayed’s book ‘Wild’.
It was so good, I followed up with the 2014 movie adaptation staring Reece Witherspoon.
It’s a true story about a young woman who loses herself, after losing her Mum. To shake herself free from the self-destructive, drug-fuelled path she's headed down, she packs up her life and attempts a 3-month solo hike.
Lost or found?
My 9-year-old came into the room during a scene in which she is hiking through the Mojave dessert. “Is she lost?” he asked. “Is this movie about her getting lost?”
"Not really”, I replied, “It’s kind of the opposite. She's trying to find herself”.
I was already preparing my next comment in my mind; aware this explanation would have made little sense to a 9-year-old, but this kid never fails to blow me away. “So, she’s finding her inner self”, he said nonchalantly.
I know the term ‘finding yourself’ can feel cliché, but not in my personal experience, when it comes to meditation.
How meditation changed my life
The first time I tried meditation was after a particularly bad relationship break up, when a friend suggested I come along to a class.
Connecting inwards for the first time felt strange but peaceful. I started going to the class weekly.
As my inner world expanded, so did my self-awareness and I found myself more in tune with what truly mattered to me, and what gave my life purpose.
I slowly began to re-establish the mind-body connection that had been missing for so long.
How do you meditate?
Meditation doesn't have to mean sitting in a darkened room with your legs crossed and your thumbs and forefingers touching. Spending time 'out of your head' and connected to your body is what's most important.
Meditation can be time spent in nature; walking while tuning into your senses; taking ten deep belly breaths; or being fully present while engaged in a relaxing activity. Just a few moments each day when you are not rushing, planning or striving.
Gentle awareness of your breath can lead to a deeper awareness of yourself.
How meditation changes the brain
There have been countless studies through the last decade that show the effect meditation has on the brain. It can improve psychological well-being and has been shown to help with conditions such as depression, anxiety and addiction. By reducing rumination and worry (otherwise known as the monkey mind) you become better at regulating your emotions.
Positive emotional regulatory processes can also promote a sense of greater meaning in your life. Values-driven meaning is when your activities are congruent with your deeply held values. As a result, more positive engagement with life is possible, even during the difficult times.
Through mindful and non judgemental awareness of your thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations, meditation strengthens the mind-body connection and assists you to cultivate greater levels of self awareness. Being 'in the moment' and present with other people can also deepen your connection with your loved ones.
Studies show that meditation helps us to perform better by increasing our concentration levels and clarity. Meditation has gifted me with an increased attention span and the ability to focus more deeply. My output is better than ever, so I don’t have to work the excessive hours I used to. I am also more decisive and less likely to second guess myself. Less rumination and negative self-talk make it easier to come to a decision and stand firm.
You don't have to be good at meditation
I’ve been meditating for 15+ years and my mind still wanders. Sometimes I fall asleep, some days I have an average meditation session and other times, I feel like I have made real progress. I've learnt that you don’t have to be good at meditation. You just need to persist. Regardless of how each session goes, it still positively impacts my emotional state and sleep quality.
Have you ever meditated on something that was bothering you and somehow, by the end of the meditation, you had a solution? The first time this happened to me, it took me by surprise but over the years it's become the 'Allen key' of my mental health toolkit.
From break ups to breakthroughs
The biggest breakthrough I’ve had in terms of both my meditation practice, and my writing, was after reading the following passage from Steven Pressfield’s book, ’The War of Art’;
What are we trying to heal, anyway? The athlete knows the day will never come when he wakes up pain-free. He has to play hurt. Remember, the part of us that we imagine needs healing is not the part we create from; that part is far deeper and stronger. The part we create from can't be touched by anything. That part is unsullied, uncorrupted; soundproof, waterproof, and bulletproof. In fact, the more troubles we've got, the better and richer that part becomes.
Soon after reading Pressfield’s book, I was able to get away for a solo weekend in Daylesford. The weather was cold and the rain incessant, so I spent most of it huddled in an Airbnb, reading, writing and meditating.
During my fourth attempt at an hour-long meditation, I caught a glimpse of something within myself. Something I can’t articulate or explain, but it was deep and strong and calm and expansive. And it changed me.
Realising that you are enough
I’ve learnt to tap into this place through meditation when I need to feel grounded. Over time, it’s helped me realise that you don’t have to be perfect to receive love and you don’t need to be healed in order to create.
When I write from ‘this place’, I don’t think about what people will think of my writing or whether it will be good enough. I write from the heart and sometimes it feels like the words are merely flowing through me, coming from somewhere else.
Meditation teaches us to observe our emotions without passing judgment. To sit with our discomfort instead of resorting to go-to coping mechanisms like overindulging in food or numbing our emotions with alcohol.
Cheryl Strayed experienced a tough life and insurmountable grief. But by being alone with herself and her thoughts for 3 months, she came face to face with her strength. She realised that the blows life had dealt her, didn’t need to define her. That she may never heal completely or feel a sense of redemption, but perhaps she didn’t need to.
Global pandemics aside, we’ve all had our share of difficult times. Life can be hard as hell, and no one expects you to emerge from a tough situation unchanged. But it’s those of us who play hurt, who move forward by moving slowly, that come out the other side.
So, turn inwards. Find a way that works for you and do it often.
Here are some helpful tools to support you on your meditation journey:
I have read a number of books on meditation but this is the book I found most helpful. I read it when I started my own meditation journey.
A meditation cushion is not a necessity. The good news is that you can meditate anywhere but I love mine for two reasons:
1 - It encourages me to sit with a straight spine when I'm meditating which not only supports my back but helps me to retain focus and clarity (aka. not fall asleep!).
2 - I keep it in the corner of my room and it evokes a sense of calm as well as always being a visual reminder to meditate.
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