The experiential benefits of meditation
As international meditation teacher and stress management expert davidji says, “The magic happens when you open your eyes.” The benefits of meditation are experienced throughout the rest of your day, as you do your work, interact with others, and enjoy the simple things in life. And while meditation is not a goal-oriented practice, there are some common intentions and learnings that most meditation practices and instructors agree on.
One commonality is that meditation teaches you to observe rather than react. While you’re focusing on your meditation object (your breath, a sound, a mantra, etc.), thoughts will come up in your mind—this is completely normal and to be expected. When thoughts arise, simply notice and observe them, without judging yourself, worrying, or reacting in any way. Let the thoughts pass, and gently return your focus to your meditation object. Learning how to be a neutral observer to our internal experiences trains us to be reflective rather than reflexive in our daily life.
Another common intention of meditation is that you learn how to be happy no matter what situation you’re in. Buddhism teaches that we suffer because we rely on impermanent things—such as people, material objects, work or living situations—for our happiness. If we can accept that these things may change at any time, we can be happy regardless of our conditions. Start by becoming aware of everything that is constantly shifting in your life: your mood, energy level, and bodily sensations, the behavior of people in your life, the demands of your work, and world events. There is nothing that doesn’t change at some point, and that has always been the case; the only permanent thing in life is impermanence.
The same idea, worded in a different way, is that happiness results from freedom from suffering. We have the ability to experience a negative situation, like the loss of a job or our car breaking down, without becoming absorbed in the situation and suffering for it. To do this, we must see the situation as a neutral observer. True happiness is attained when your happiness is unaffected by your circumstances.
A third common intention of meditation practices is to improve the quality of your life. As mindfulness teacher and neuroscience research consultant Shinzen Young says, “You can dramatically extend life—not by multiplying the number of your years, but by expanding the fullness of your moments.” Your experience of life happens within you, so the quality of your life depends on your conscious experience of every waking moment. Meditation allows you to understand yourself better, be more present in your interactions with people, increase your personal fulfillment, live life with expanded awareness, experience greater clarity and less stress and anxiety, and feel deeper compassion and more frequent joy.
If you want to meditate in order to experience enlightenment, here’s the truth: mediation teachers agree that enlightenment is already within us—we just need to wake up to it. Shinzen Young says “You don’t have to get enlightenment; all you have to do is get rid of what’s keeping you from enlightenment.”
And as the swami Osho said, “Truth is within you; do not search for it elsewhere.”
If you’re concerned that meditation might make you feel “out of it” or disconnected from your normal life, not to worry. As somatic mediation teacher Reginald Ray so eloquently says, meditation brings us “into contact, communication, alignment, and, finally, union with the most ordinary, basic aspects of our human existence.” Instead of being a way to separate ourselves from life and rise above it, mediation actually gives us a greater, deeper, more meaningful connection to our reality.