Why I Meditate, And Why I Think You Should, Too
This centuries-old practice can help us address our modern challenges.
Posted Nov 04, 2019
Unless you’ve somehow managed to tune out every social trend and pop culture reference of the last five years, you’ve probably noticed that meditation has gotten pretty popular. Wildly popular, in fact. This ancient practice that was once isolated to mountain-dwelling monks and their most devoted students has fairly recently been appropriated for Western consumption and turned into a complete cultural revolution. Everyone, it seems, has jumped on the meditation bandwagon. And honestly, I’m here for it.
I first learned about meditation as an anxiety-ridden 18-year-old trying to figure out how to widen the gaps between panic attacks. My therapist at the time, who also happened to be a practicing Buddhist, taught me about meditation and gave me basic instructions for practicing it. She urged me to start meditating for a few minutes every day. At the time, the idea that sitting still and breathing with my eyes closed would somehow help my seemingly incurable anxiety seemed pretty ludicrous to me; but I was desperate enough to give anything a try. So, after my therapy session, I went back to my dorm room and followed the simple set of instructions she’d given me. I sat and I breathed. Then I sat and I breathed some more. And little by little, those sessions of sitting became an integral part of my daily life.
The positive impact of meditation on my anxiety and panic attacks wasn’t subtle.
I can tell you, without the least bit of exaggeration, that they saved me. And over the last 10 years of working with people in my own practice, I’ve seen it save many other people, too.
I’m over 15 years into a regular practice, and I can still only speak about meditation as a beginner. Because no matter how many hours I’ve logged on my cushion, I’m always experiencing the practice as if for the first time. I’m grateful for that. Meditation humbles me. It grounds me. It keeps me aware of my ego in its many amusing disguises. It reminds me that stillness is my truest expression. It gives me the courage to face the things I’d much rather hide from. This, all of this, is why I meditate.
It’s amazing to think that meditation has been around for literally thousands of years, yet modern researchers of all stripes continue to be stunned by the many profound benefits it has to offer. How did those ancient ancestors of ours know that this subtle practice could so powerfully change our lives (and our brains)? How did they know that the simple act of sitting in stillness could be such a potent medicine?
The wisdom of meditation really does live in its simplicity.
Don’t let the fancy apps or the esoteric accounts from self-proclaimed enlightened folks fool you: Meditation is its most effective in its most straightforward form.
If you want to become a meditator, all you need is a commitment to practice.
You don’t have to light incense or buy a fancy set of mala beads, and your practice will totally still count if you don’t post about it on Instagram.
Ready to see what all the hype’s about and start meditating?
To start, set a simple timer for a short period of time; I typically recommend 3 to 5 minutes a day for the first few weeks. You can lie down or stand, but sitting tends to offer the perfect balance of comfort and alertness. When sitting, keep your spine straight so that you’re actively supporting an upright posture; this will help to keep you focused and attentive during your practice. Your eyes can stay open, focused on a spot on the ground in front of you, or you can allow them to gently close. Now, all you need to do is hold the intention to center your attention any time it drifts away. And believe me, it will drift away. When you’re first getting started, it might help to count your breaths as a way to anchor your attention; once you’ve counted 10 full inhales and exhales, start again at 1, and any time you notice that you’ve gotten lost in your thoughts, gently—without thinking about it or beating yourself up—start counting again. If you find yourself coming back to your breathing and counting over and over again because your attention keeps drifting, it means you’re doing it right.
Keep breathing. Keep counting. Keep drifting. Keep returning. Keep going.
Like anything in life, you can’t get the benefits of meditation unless you practice it consistently. And sadly, a lot of people who try meditating quickly give up because they think they aren’t any good at it. They expect that their minds are supposed to go silent, and when that doesn’t happen, they assume they’ve somehow failed. But know this: As long as you’re living, your mind will never go completely silent. The point is not to make your mind get quiet, but to learn how to stay centered no matter how much noise it’s making. No matter how troubling your thoughts are. No matter how painful your emotions are. No matter how difficult your circumstances are. No matter what’s going on in your mind, your heart, your relationships, or your life.
Meditation teaches you that you can be present to all of it. That you can face it all with centered awareness and move through the chaos one breath at a time.