How I feel is determined by what is going on ‘out there’.
That is the formula which governs much of our lives. As a result, the bulk of our thoughts and even actions are dedicated to ensuring that what is going on ‘out there’ is in line with what I expect, hope for and need. It drains us, and leaves us feeling at the mercy of ‘out there’.
Meditation is not meant to be a respite or time-out from the battle to control things out there, although it might start out that way. Ideally, meditation is a journey of discovering that how I feel is actually determined by what’s going on ‘in here’. Through meditation I can access a sense of internal mastery and an innate wisdom that will enable me to respond, rather than react, to what is going on ‘out there’.
There are two elements in understanding meditation: What exactly is meditation….and what are the benefits of meditating. It could be argued that most have no interest at all in meditation, but actually just want the benefits. Self-mastery. Increased clarity. Improved creativity. Inner peace. Sleep at night. The list goes on. If we could just develop a pill packed with those benefits….
So what exactly is this magical mysterious thing called meditation. What am I doing when I ‘sit to meditate’. Actually, one doesn’t need to sit at all. Or close your eyes. Or chant a mantra. Or focus on a candle. Or play soothing music. And definitely don’t need to empty the mind. The mind is a wonderful thing, with remarkable creative power. It creates thoughts. And thoughts are the foundation of every act I perform.
You may have noticed as you move around that there is a constant inner chatter in the mind. Or, perhaps – you did not notice. That is step one of meditation. Noticing, with some level of objectivity, exactly what is going on in your own mind. Rather than focusing ‘out there’, start to notice what’s happening ‘in here’. Be a witness to your own thoughts. Not with the attitude to judge or control, but simply to understand. You might begin to see three things: The tense in which you tend to think (are you always re-playing the past or planning a strategy for the future?); the theme of your thoughts (do your thoughts tend to clump around the same focus? For example….thinking about what other people are thinking about?); the quality of your thoughts. The last one is key. Every thought you think creates an associated feeling. You think yourself into a state of anger, or peace. Some thoughts are based on critical or negative attitudes, whereas others are based on appreciative and pure-hearted attitudes.
Meditation is the patient process of teaching the mind to shift the quality of thoughts. It does require new attitudes or paradigms, so a sustainable meditation practice generally is connected to a body of understanding or a new perspective. That body of understanding or new perspective literally gives me…something to think about. Open-eyed meditation is the process of re-training the mind (inner fitness if you will) to think through the lens of a new perspective as I act and interact, such that inner capacities begin to rule…rather than being ruled by outer circumstances. I begin to live from the inside-out, rather than the outside-in.
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