I think I get asked this question more since I’ve moved to Utah than I ever did in the past. It sure seems like it’s a weirder habit now than it was when I lived in New York, or even Michigan.
But it’s good – I don’t mind telling people about it. I actually have such a strong belief in the benefits that I always feel like I have to reel it back in a little bit when I tell people about it, because some people don’t know that it really isn’t a religion in itself – and shudder I don’t want to be an evangelist of anything.
When I started meditating, I really didn’t know why I was doing it – but I know now. I had read books, with purported benefits – there was no internet back in the early 1990’s when I started. We had to go to the library, and those garage sale things, and basically count on little bit of luck to find something good to read.
Fortunately, I was able to get my hands on a few really good books, and while I was able to understand them, but I really had no idea – it’s not something a book can really do justice.
You just kind of have to do it. And then the learning just sort of starts happening.
You’d be surprised how little you know about yourself.
Yep, the stuff you brush off, the stuff you “Don’t let bother you”, the stuff you barely admit to yourself – it all just floats around inside you like a snow globe – only rising up when you’re agitated – just when you need it least. You know, like when you’re supposed to be a grown up, in charge of this chunk of steel rolling down the highway at 90 mph, flipping off other grown ups like you just don’t care.
And then there’s stuff you didn’t even know about yourself, just bleeping around in the back of your head – your heart – actually doing stuff in there – like helping you make decisions. Yeah. WTF. It’s like some kind of malfunctioning Jetson’s house, with robots zipping around doing silly shit. Your socks are stapled to the walls, and the microwave comes on every hour and cooks a basketball a little bit more, and the carpet gets vacuumed in the same 3 foot square until it’s bare.
And you don’t even know this stuff is going on – but it’s manifesting in completely unrecognizable ways on the outside – the thing you call your life.
So part of meditation is turning the light back around to shine on itself. It’s you, looking at you from an unfamiliar (but somewhat relieving) vantage point. Watching yourself react to things. It’s crazy silly at first because you previously had no idea you actually did the things you do, and said the things you said – the way you said them. But here you are, watching, like an old VHS of you drunk at a college party, only it’s live – right now.
Eventually you realize that if you can watch yourself react to things in crazy ways, you can probably take a little of the crazy out, and sort of modify how you act. You can notice how you react every time after something happens, then maybe next time realize it while you’re reacting – then maybe the next time, realize it before you react in the first place – and avoid another night sleeping on the couch.
You can turn the voice in your head off
Yessss. It has an off button. It has a whole remote control, but you kind of have to be remote to use it. What voice am I talking about? You know the one that’s constantly telling you what’s going on – what you’re seeing – only from a really fuzzy place, colored automatically and unintelligently by your past – you know – all that stuff that happened to you that you actually had no control over?
You realize you’re judging life, or seeing it through some kind of messed up glasses, because they are colored by things that happened to you that may or may not even have any meaning. You realize that the meaning of those things is really sort of determined by how you reacted to them – ha – whoops – and that you can actually start to react to things differently – and then the glasses that were boogering up the way you saw things – they start to melt away.
You realize how often you’re talking away to yourself, and like many things – with realization comes control. You cannot control a system that you’re not monitoring. In this case, that system is the loudspeaker in your head that says things like, “I can’t do that”, or “I wonder why she’s got to annoy me every day like that”, or “I cant get to sleep, gah! I will seriously never get to sleep – I’ll probably have the shittiest day ever because I’ll get like half an hour of sleep, and of course my boss is going to be in one of his shitty moods – perfect. Did I drink a coffee after lunch today? I need to remember not to do that, because it really isn’t cool how my brain pretty much has no interest in sleep tonight ….”
… You don’t have to actually pay attention to those thoughts. You don’t have to even have them. Way cool. It’s about time we had some peace in our heads, right?
You’re in control
Another realization that seems to manifest through meditation is the realization that you’re in control of a lot of things you previously didn’t think you had a chance in hell of changing. Not only can you change those things – you’re actually in control – and you might be surprised that some of your old habits were contributing to the general messiness. You get this magical confidence just by meditating.
You start to care more
Compassion becomes second nature. You start to feel less separate form everyone else. It’s not so much in an existential “I’m everyone’s brother” way – yes, that may come – but I’m talking more about the realization that you actually care about what happens to others – even folks you don’t know.
It’s easier to talk to people, it’s easier to get along with people. It’s easier to look at people and know how they’re feeling. The much talked about Emotional Intelligence – intensively studied and sometimes referred to EI by tiny companies like Google – that’s what you’ll develop. And emotional intelligence is proven to help you win in every area of your life.
Google has an entire program that they’ve used to teach Emotional Intelligence to their employees since 2007 – with extremely exciting results. Emotional Intelligence starts with Mindfulness – which can be brought about by meditation.
You know where you are. You know why you’re there. You’re really there and not at tomorrow’s dinner or yesterday’s meeting. You are thoroughly enjoying this very minute, taking in every sight, sound, smell, and feeling. It’s immensely enjoyable because this is living life to its fullest.
So what’s it – magic?
I know. I’m listing off stuff that will just magically happen, right? Is it fairy dust and unicorns? Not really. It’s just that a simple brain exercise like meditation happens to press the right buttons and tug on the right levers and make these changes for you – meditation has been scientifically shown to increase concentration, even physically increase grey matter in the brain in areas that control the elements I talked about above.
So it’s not magic. But it sure can feel like it. And why not? Give it a try.
Is it religion? Will it affect my current religion?
No. It’s associated with many religions – just because it worked for them, but it is not inherently religious. In fact there are tons of Jewish folk who meditate. I live in Utah and know a bunch of LDS folks, and just out of interest I Googled to see if they’re allowed to – and it doesn’t seem like there is any issue with that.
Christians, Catholics, actually are pretty close with prayer, or even if you look up some of the history of Christianity, you’ll find contemplative practices like meditation hanging around in the past.
So yeah, it’s a brain exercise – and it’s ok.
I’ll write an article soon on exactly how to meditate, but you can find instruction all over the internet. Check it out. Check yourself out.