3 Compelling Reasons To Meditate
A story about meditation
A wise guru once said……
There is a great Hindu story about a guru and a disciple. The disciple asks the teacher to teach him a sacred mantra or prayer so he could gain great powers. Without hesitation, the teacher passed to him the mantra, but with one condition. "Whatever you do don't think of monkeys". "Don't even let the thought of a monkey cross your mind while repeating the mantra, otherwise the mantra will be useless".
The disciple thought nothing of the request. He saw no reason that this should be a problem. He went home, found a quiet place and started repeating the mantra. It worked for a while but it did not take long before the idea of a monkey came to him. He kept trying to repeat the mantra but each time he also thought of monkeys. In fact, the harder he tried to get rid of the monkey the more he thought about it.
Frustrated, he returned to his teacher and complained that his teacher's suggestion to avoid monkeys was the cause of his problems. "Now I can think of nothing else". The teacher replies, "Before you can truely meditate you need to learn the nature of the mind."
the message of the story
There are a few ways of understanding the message behind this story. One describes how little control we have over our mind and this gets in the way of a profound meditation practice. There is a certain fluidity and dream like nature to the mind that allows ideas and thoughts to get stuck in it. Just as when we can't let go of a song, our mind is incredibly suggestible and easily manipulated. Many of us are likely to have the same experience when we first sit to meditate.
New meditators often tell me that they can't still the mind for more than a few minutes. This is a common experience. In fact, when I first meditated thoughts became louder. Usually when you start to go quite, the mind gets loud. Everyone responds to this in different ways. Some fall asleep, some get bored, some just get agitated. It wasn’t uncommon when I returned from a meditation retreat and someone would say "you must be so relaxed". All I wanted to do was hit them.
Yes it is challenging and yet, once you feel the benefits, it is oh so compelling. Here are 3 reasons that meditation is the greatest adventure there is:
1. Meditation helps you still the mind
It is incredibly restful to have a completely still mind. A good meditation practice teaches you to become aware of the mental activity and to bring your mind to stillness. After a little practice, you may notice that your mind is rarely still, even during sleep. In fact most people keep very busy to get away from stillness. It is important to see what your own unique experience is when your mind is still.
If you take a stethoscope and place it on your abdomen and listen, then start thinking about a really frustrating event. You will most likely notice a rumbling and churning inside your digestive system. Even though thoughts and emotions are not physical, they directly impact the way our body functions, making it clench, harden and block. Over time, these affect more than just your digestion, but also your ability to focus, the quality of your sleep and many other things. We don’t realise that thoughts and emotions continue in the background and we are hardly even aware of them. We only notice the result in our changing health.
Coming to rest
Giving your self a rest from these thoughts and emotions is a gift we rarely experience. We think that they go away on their own but these thoughts, especially the charged ones, hang around in the background. Meditation helps you learn how these thoughts play out and affect your whole being. The Mother said:
WHY all this noise, all this movement, this vain and futile agitation; why this whirlwind carrying men away like a swarm of flies caught in a storm? How sad is the sight of all that wasted energy, all those useless efforts! When will they stop dancing like puppets on a string, pulled they know not by whom or what? When will they find time to sit quietly and go within, to recollect themselves and open that inner door which screens from them Thy priceless treasures, Thy infinite boons? The Mother
and Sri Aurobindo said:
"Emptiness of mind is something deeper than the normal void of the inert, tamasic mind, it is a preparation for a higher movement in consciousness. " Sri Aurobindo
train your being
Learning to still the mind is no easy task. If you close your eyes and give yourself a moment of stillness you will notice that your mind is very active. In those rare moments when it's not active, you might fall into a cloud of sleep (tamasic mind) or even a state of agitation.
The habit of meditation
After you build the habit of meditation, you will notice that this starts to change. You notice that your day just isn't the same without your morning meditation. Your system starts to know what it is like to let go. Just as with any skill, it takes repetition. If you still the mind each day it brings the opportunity for everything to rest. Once you start to see results, the effects carry over into every activity of your life.
2. Once stillness is possible, a great sense of peace will come
Once you are able to still the mind, and clarity prevails, it makes way for a deep sense of peace to emerge from within.
"When the peace descends, you feel it within you in the body descending from centre to centre, and around you. The peace is the foundation and the beginning of Yoga. Later comes Ananda, vastness of Brahman, Purusha consciousness, etc. " Sri Aurobindo
the changes peace brings
This sense of peace will start spill over into your life in ways that you wouldn’t expect. When I started meditating my life started changing. I was clearer about who I was and where I was going. It improved my ability to study, to work, and to care for my loved ones. I was more able to love myself as well as those around me. It also brought a sense of fullness that wasn't there before. This grew over time and I became addiction to meditation. I started to choose different things in my life. Without forcing anything, my life changed.
Describing the experience of peace
The peace itself is a difficult to describe. It is so still and it fills you, literally from within. There are not many words to describe it. Perhaps, imagine yourself in a great landscape that spreads as far as you can see. As you exhale, your breath extends all the way to the extremes of the landscape. At the same time you feel like you are part of the landscape. The centre is you and the periphery is you and everything in between. You are no longer in the limits of your body. Out of this emerges the greatest sense of peace you have ever known. It fills you from inside out and breaks down any sense of smallness that may have previously been ‘you’.
These types of experiences are possible, once the mind is still. People chase drugs for experiences like this but to be able to consciously go to states like this without damaging the body, is an amazing journey. Once you have started experiencing states like this you will know that meditation is what you want. Meditation helps you discover who you really are.
3. Your subtle perception becomes much more acute
Imagine taking your sense of hearing and enhancing it 100 fold. In the physical world this enhancement would likely mean that you can hear quieter and quieter sounds. With this new super ear, the previously inaudible sounds would appear normal to your ear. Now let go of the idea that there is only the physical world. Instead of listening to incredibly quiet physical sounds, you want to explore more and more subtle realities. Many hundreds of years ago, this path of internalisation was easy. Now there are so many things that distract us and in our hectic world, we have forgotten how to look for it.
You might be asking, what is a more subtle reality? What does it mean to go beyond the physical world? Let's take an example. Try vigorously rubbing your hands together. Let them rest, close your eyes and become aware of the space in and around your hands. What do you feel? Try rubbing your hands together again and slowly push your hands together but don't let them touch. Just leave a small space between them. Keep doing this, rubbing and compressing the hands without touching. Eventually it is possible to feel something non-physical or less subtle, which is not just heat generated from the rubbing. It is even possible to make this sensation grow between the hands and to intensify the pressure. This sensation is an experience of your life force or chi. This exercise invigorates your life force.
This experience of your life force is just the tip of the iceberg of what is possible for subtle realities. Believe it or not, once you become attuned to these realities you can reach an incredibly rich landscape that it is really worth listening to. The common 'navel gazing' imagery for meditation really misses the mark. It gives the impression that you sleep when you meditate and that you miss out on exciting aspects of life. If sleep is your only experience of meditation, you are only part way there. Once you hit this level of vibrant inner landscape, you are doing anything but sleep. These states are possibly the most awake you will ever be and ones you will never forget.
Some people might remember experiences of awake states like this during sleep. It is very possible that you travel to landscapes like this at night. Most people do not consciously choose to go there and may also find it difficult to return. Meditation helps develop this muscle of moving from physical realities to more subtle ones. After a while you notice that subtle sights and sounds become much more interesting than physical ones. Everything in the physical world pales in comparison.
More subtle consciousness also exists on these levels. It is possible to discern these as beings. They do not think with a mind. To them, the mind is incredibly gross. Any attempt to communicate with words will end the experience. So you can see how stillness of the mind is just the first step towards a reclaiming of our higher nature.