Close your eyes for a moment and observe the thoughts that arise within you. You’ll probably notice that your mind either brought up something from the past or moved into the future. Regardless of how important or real these thoughts seem, the bottom line is that they are just concepts. And more often than not, this mental commentary is a distraction that keeps us from focusing on the here and now. So how do we shift our awareness from mental commentary and towards fully engaging with the life that’s right in front of us? Meditation trains our minds to do this, and in this blog post, I’ll explain how.
Meditation’s Many Forms
From repeating a mantra or prayer word, listening to someone’s voice, visualizing, or focusing on the breath, there are probably as many different meditation styles as there are meditators. But the objective of all of them is the same: relaxation that brings your awareness to the present moment.
As you meditate, your mind quiets down and begins to focus on one thing: the here and now. In the present moment there are no concepts, fears, or anxieties—all of these are the result of our minds endlessly moving from the past to the future and bringing up what has been and what could be.
When we settle into stillness and embrace the life in front of us right now, those fears and worries dissolve. Meditation teaches us they are no more than concepts created by our very active and sophisticated minds.
Meditation Beyond the Mat
While the benefits of meditation are relaxation as we sit in silence, the greatest gift of meditation comes when we’re able to maintain this present awareness all the time.
If you’re able to remain in the here and how even off the cushion, so to speak, you’ll be able to fully focus on what you’re engaged in at the moment. Suddenly, even the most mundane tasks, such as washing the dishes, provide an opportunity to fully embrace what’s in front of you right now without the burden of the past and future. But regardless of whether you’re washing dishes or composing a text message, thoughts will arise. This is a natural condition of being a fully developed human. The key is, however, when they do come up that you simply return to being present with the task at hand and focus on nothing more.
Working in the Zone
Over the years, I've counseled countless clients in my private practice, and I've led meditation groups. Inevitably, the following concern arises: If I ignore the thoughts that come up, some of which are really important, I don’t think I’ll accomplish as much.
Experience has taught me, however, that the opposite is true. The most successful athletes, surgeons, and performers are able to tap into what’s often referred to as “the zone,” which is a place of mental stillness where one is fully engaged with the present moment minus the commentary of the mind. For example, imagine you’re a surgeon performing a life saving procedure. A physician’s ability to maintain concentration will most likely lead to a far better outcome than a doctor who’s consumed with multiple what-if scenarios and fears. Or think about a police officer who is trained to handle firearms. With a lethal weapon in her hands, she must be fully present or else innocent citizens may die. Of course, not all of us have these life-or-death responsibilities that require constant attention and focus. The point is, however, that all of us would benefit from an ability to maintain constant focus.
Through regular meditative practice, you’ll observe how your mind is easily sidetracked from the mantra, visualization, breath observation, or whatever technique you take on. This is expected, and you should always extend kindness towards yourself by simply returning to the here and now. As you spend more time in silence, the thoughts of the past and future will diminish, which will encourage relaxation, decrease stress, and transform the way you see the world.