Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Why you have to meditate

"You can deny the power of your thoughts, but you cannot limit the power of your thoughts." ~Marianne Williamson

Thought is powerful, it is. Some scientists believe the reason placebos work is because the expectation of healing creates a chemical and physiological response. When the patient believes he is going to get better, the body prepares to heal, and often improves, sometimes dramatically. Fairly astonishing to consider, isn't it?

Studies of optimism show that those who think they can, can. Those who think they can't sometimes succeed, but it's a whole lot harder.

Athletes who visualize themselves engaged in their sport or activity become better, more skilled. The muscles of these athletes actually change to accommodate the activity. Of course, practicing the activity is faster and more profound by far, but still - simply engaging the mind's eye changes one's muscles? That's amazing.

The mind is powerful, but it's not ALL powerful. The mind's function is as storyteller, the part of us that interprets and explains, as best it can, the mountains of incoming sensation as well as the goings on inside the body. Some of the stories it spins bring peace, health, and happiness. Some, however, trip us up, drag us down, confuse and obfuscate.

Because of its power and its tendency to spin some fairly wild stories at times, the mind needs restraint. And that is why you HAVE to meditate. You have to.

I am annoyed by the phrase "monkey mind," which is often used by meditation teachers to describe the way human consciousness jumps around from thought to thought. I think this is insulting to monkeys and also ignores the fact that human consciousness arose in a very dangerous environment in which our survival as a species depended on the ability to listen for predators while building the fire and watching the offspring. Having the ability to jump from one thought to the next enabled us to survive long enough to figure out how to live more comfortably and safely. It is part of us, that wildly jumping consciousness. I honor it.

But for many of us, the fight for survival is long past. We have the luxury of safety, we are well fed. We have the basics, hence it isn't often that primal consciousness is useful or helpful. In fact, the jumping mind hinders sublime pursuits. If the athlete can't concentrate, he'll never benefit from visualization practice. The optimist might believe only good things are headed his way, but if he can't focus, he will have one hell of a time succeeding at anything.

We call it Attention Deficit Disorder because we love to pathologize everything. Some are worse than others, but all of us in my culture struggle with the jumping mind to one degree or another. The way we live (i.e. channel surfing, walking and texting, "multi-tasking") exaggerates the problem. We are at a crucial moment in evolution, comfortable physically, but out of control in terms of how we think. 

Meditation is an evolutionary practice. What we need now, at this moment of human development, is to learn to steady the mind, because we are already really good at mind jumping, yes? No need to practice that.

Do you meditate? If not, start right now. There are classes, books, podcasts through which you can learn. Sign up, order a book, stream a podcast and get to it. In the interests of full disclosure may I say it's REALLY HARD. I know because I've been meditating for many years. I do not actually enjoy the practice very often, but it is necessary. Little by little, I am learning to focus which makes me a better bodyworker, cook, photographer, reader, thinker and listener. It helps everything.

It's a daily reset button, a practice that ushers me into my body, helps me understand what I can and cannot bring into my day. It's my nod to the evolution of our species. And it's good for my brain.

Here is a link to Krista Tippett's interview with Richard Davidson, a long time meditator and researcher, about the benefits of meditation. 

Neuroscientist Richard Davidson has studied the brains of meditating Buddhist monks, and now he’s using his research with children and adolescents to look at things like ADHD, autism, and kindness.

You must meditate, you simply must. Yes? I say yes.



Val said...

i must i know; thanks for the reminder!

Washington Cube said...

I applaud those who seek meditation in their lives. I find it makes your mind more alert during the day, clears the clutter and scattered thoughts. All of that "is it good," "is it bad," gets a rest.