What can you gain from a regular practice of meditation? I can only speak for myself and the seventeen years I have set aside regular time to sit and empty my mind of all the thoughts that demand my attention and action. I owned a small business that I started in my home, using my garage as warehouse space. After several years, and several moves to larger rental spaces, and hired a few employees, I reached a point where I felt I could accept a friend’s invitation to participate in a two year Christian businessmen’s study that met every Monday morning. That study encouraged me to set aside forty-five minutes every morning to do a daily lesson and pray or meditate.
I found a book by Thomas Keating, Open Mind, Open Heart, that taught me the practice of centering prayer, a Christian form of meditating. I began meditating at the age of 47. After six months of daily practice, my wife said to me, “Something’s different about you. And it’s a good thing. You’re more settled, less reactive.” She said, “I think I need to do something like that.” She decided on a different way of following the longing of her heart, and after six months, I could say to her, “You’ve changed, and I like it.” We’ve been guided on different paths through the years but we’ve stayed on the same page. She is now including meditation in her spiritual journey, too.
So what benefits have I experienced from a dedicated practice of setting aside 20 minutes to an hour every day to letting go of the exterior thoughts that bombard my mind and try to draw me in opposite directions?
- Awareness. Awareness of the constant influx of thoughts, fears, emotions, and desires that competed for my attention and action. I used to think I was in control but I learned that my thoughts were controlling me. My fears and emotions were in control. My desires and needs were in control. The world’s expectations deceived me and pulled me away from finding myself because I never thought I had the time to look for myself. Meditation helped me to become aware of what was really in control of me – my thoughts, some of which I didn’t understand where they were coming from.
- Thought Control. The simple process of meditation teaches you to let go of thoughts as they enter your mind. Knowing that your thoughts are not “you” is an important step in your spiritual journey. You can let them go so that they don’t influence you. It takes a lot of practice in letting go of thoughts you don’t want in your head. Once you have practiced enough, you learn not to react so quickly in defense or in anger or in fear. When you see it’s positive results, you are affirmed that you are in control of your thoughts rather than the reverse.
- Self-Control. Clearly, if you get better at choosing which thoughts can hang around in your psyche, then you have more control of the way you respond to external conditions. Emotions and fears push you to make snap decisions and act before you know the full and truthful details of the circumstance. Reaction consistently brings more regret than measured response. Once you learn that, you’ll have far less regret for things you’ve done or said in your life.
- Focus. I’ll compare this to guns. I have a 12 gauge shotgun and a .22 caliber rifle. Prior to a daily practice of meditation, my ability to hit the target the Divine intended for me was like shooting at a target one hundred yards away with a 12 gauge shotgun using birdshot. All those tiny pellets keep spreading out wider as they fly. There’s nothing to keep them channeled so that they come nearer to the target in the distance. Each pellet is de-energized by friction in the air, and many may not even reach the target. The friction is all those factors that try to pull you off target. On the other hand, meditation has helped me stay focused on the target of controlling my thoughts and actions, like a .22 rifle that has both the power to reach the target and the singleness of purpose to come close to the bulls-eye.
- Self-Assurance. Sometimes I call this greater peace of mind. When I became able to decide what thoughts (and whose thoughts) I will allow to influence me, I felt like I was the one in control rather than a small boat being tossed by every wave in the sea. Along my spiritual journey of meditation and searching my soul, I discovered the Divine was within me, not somewhere on a distance planet eating a banquet feast with all the dead people who had been good during their lives. That’s something that the big three religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have failed to actively teach, even though the authors of their Scriptures insist upon it. Each tradition has their saints who have spoken the truth of God within us, but only a few understand it. I think it’s those who meditate who are the ones whose eyes are opened.
- Internal Ears. I’ve learned to listen to my heart. The heart is the seat of compassion. In my particular journey, I’ve learned that God is love. I am a temple of the Living God (and so are you). The throne of the Divine is my heart and that’s why compassion arises from there rather than from my brain. The logic of the brain is incredible but the truth comes from the heart. Elijah listened for the voice of God in the thunder and lightning, in the earthquakes, in the natural disasters, but only when it was quiet could he hear the still small voice of the Divine. This is how the prophets and sages of old brought forth their wisdom. They listened to the small voice within them to hear the word of the Lord. You already have the answers to life. And you can get them directly from the mouth of God.
There are many voices inside and out that try to guide you and me. Many of them cause your efforts to be like a 12 gauge shotgun rather than a rifle. That’s why it’s good to have a guide or a small group who is actively engaged on the spiritual path to help as you set out on your journey. Your desire and intent to move forward will help you find the book, person, or group who can help you begin. I know you will experience at least six benefits when you begin a regular practice of meditation.