A Look at Meditation

Photo by Michele Venne

If you don’t make resolutions, perhaps you constructed goals or intentions at the beginning of this new calendar. For some, it might be to get healthier, which could include reaching a healthy weight, improving endurance, getting better sleep, making better food choices, joining a gym or yoga studio, or even starting a meditation practice.

There are many scientific research studies touting the benefits of meditation. Some believe that meditating means sitting for so long that there are zero thoughts in the mind. That might work for monks living in a cave, but not for the rest of us who interact with the world. For us, meditation is paying attention to the thoughts. Once we realize how many of them come up, we then choose which ones to follow. Why do people who have a meditation practice seem to handle life stressors with more ease than others who don’t mediate? Because they’ve learned which thoughts to believe and which ones to ignore. Following certain thoughts can affect our mood, our breath, and our mental, emotional, and physical health.

We’ve all worried about something or someone. Perhaps an event happened, like a friend leaving a coffee shop and driving home while it’s raining. A thought may arise that the roads are wet and it takes more stopping distance. Maybe your friend is an aggressive driver. You have a thought that they won’t stop in time at a signal light. Their car will hydroplane, and they’ll crash into the vehicle in front of them, a pole, or a tree. You begin to have shallow breaths. Maybe your stomach turns sour. You watch the time, knowing how long it should take your friend to arrive home, and you begin to text when that minute comes up. If your friend doesn’t text back right away, you begin to assume the worst, believing your thoughts to be true. When your friend does text you back, perhaps hours later, you discover that they stopped at the store and bumped into an old colleague who they chatted with, and then they reconnected with people they haven’t seen in a while on a Zoom or Skype call. They had a great time and made plans to meet up again. Meanwhile, you’ve been anxious, feeling sick, believing all the details of a horrible accident your mind created.

If you had a mediation practice, you might realize the thought of your friend getting in an accident isn’t something that is beneficial, and you would dismiss it. You might text after a few hours, thank your friend for meeting you for coffee, and hoped they arrived home safe. You would go about your day in peace and ease. See the difference?

There is no way to turn off our thoughts. We watch them, dismiss them, and return to watching the breath or counting or visualizing a sunset, and after a while we begin to notice the space between the thoughts. The mind slows down, and there’s peace instead of a catastrophic thought to spin into a dystopian story.