Why practice meditation?
More and more people are discovering the benefits of a seated meditation practice. Simply sitting quietly and watching your breath for a few minutes each day, brings so many benefits to all areas of your life. If you enjoy mindful activities like yoga asana, walking, running, music, painting, gardening or anything where you find yourself completely absorbed in the moment, you will still benefit in other ways from a meditation practice. With no outside distractions and nothing to occupy the mind apart from watching the breath (or another focal point such as candle gazing or using a mantra).
Many people think that they cant meditate because they have too many thoughts. But that is precisely the point of meditation: to become more aware of our thoughts and our habitual patterns of thinking.
Insight Meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg explains what she believes is the secret to meditation… always having to begin again. So as you sit to watch the breath, you take one breath and then notice that the mind has gone. You realise this with kindness towards yourself, and then you start over.. and start over.. and start over. Over time you learn to let go more gently, rather than with judgement towards yourself and you begin again. Each breath is an opportunity to come back to yourself and to start again.
This becomes a resilience practice, just as in life we are always having to begin again. We blow it.. we start over. We fall down.. we get up. This ability to start over, with kindness towards ourselves instead of our habitual harsh judgement, builds over time. We are just doing our best after all.
Each breath can be symbolic of letting go and starting over.
With practice, we start to become more aware of where our mind likes to go. Some thoughts will be useful and beneficial, but most are just the same old, old habits. It is not any thoughts that are the problem, it is the ‘glue’ where we attach to our thoughts and start to believe them as true. As we sit quietly and watch what comes up, we start to create a little bit of space between us and our thoughts. We no longer attach to them as strongly, or take them to heart. This distance helps us to become less reactive and more present in our everyday life.
And that is how to judge the benefits of your meditation practice.. the impact it has on your everyday activities. Even if you find yourself completely distracted as you sit to watch the breath, the process of trying will still have positive effects on the rest of your day. So make the time to be quiet for a few minutes, be patient with yourself and start over each time you notice that the mind has drifted off.
Each breath is a chance to start over. We take this opportunity with gratitude and continue our practice or our day with more kindness, more awareness and more presence.