A friend, Shabnam Gideon, whom I met at the Vipassana Center when she sat a course a few years back, recently provided this explanation of what meditation is:
Meditation forces you to remember the state of YOU that is at rest, that is real, that is healthy, and reminds you of what that feels like physically and mentally. It’s a forced inward glance, honoring what is within you and ignoring what is without, if just for a little while. The plan is that you learn to remember that state in you, and eventually carry it with you, even while you’re answering emails or prepping for a meeting or trying to communicate with tact when you’re actually pretty peeved. That state affords an equanimity that tempers our reactions to events by allowing them to happen instead of stuffing them down, preventing “bad” happenings from stressing us out by giving them their due and then letting them go.
This is very true to my experience, and a very accurate, on-point description of the lived experience of meditation as it relates to everyday life.
Writing in a workplace blog, (Focus Lab) Shabnam provides some background on her experience that took me to new levels of understanding. Her experience is pretty amazing in itself, and her words give me new insight on how meditation can be very dramatically helpful:
Let me be clear: I’m a relatively new meditator, my practice is as regular as my Crohn’s-prone bowels, and the closest thing I have to a guru is the one-eyed cat next door with a steadfast gaze. But, I have learned a few things about meditating over the past few years that have seriously helped me shape and maintain my mental and physical health.
Back in the day … working for the company that gave me my software- and web- development legs, I was struggling to juggle a demanding and unrewarding job, a town that was too new and too big for me and my country britches, and a serious case of anorexia. After months of breathtaking abdominal pain, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. Fast forward three years, and I was … taking 20 pills a day, had cataracts from the oral steroids, and was weak, sick and just generally pissed off at the world.
What’s a gal to do? Admit defeat, honestly. Try something else. I’d been following a detox plan that included breathing exercises and improved communication with, yeesh, loved ones. After dragging myself through the first week, I realized I was actually in less pain and had more energy and even optimism. For real. So I forced myself to do the breathing exercises for five minutes a day.
That’s like 300 seconds. I thought my brain and body would explode from the inactivity.
But no, after just a few weeks of losing a whole 300 seconds a day, I realized not only how much better I felt physically, but also how much I learned about myself and my stress levels while sitting and breathing. I was hanging onto so many thoughts and feelings that I didn’t need to be carrying around. I kept that up for months, and haven’t taken Crohn’s medication nor starved myself skeletal in the ten years since.
Shabnam’s wonderful candor and willingness to share her experience opens the door for many who may have been dubious about meditation. And it has helped me to realize that people may enter into meditation in little ways and for limited reasons and then find that it is a very powerful, life-changing thing.
Though I usually advocate for the ‘total spiritual commitment’ approach to meditation, I’m beginning to see that other approaches are a valid part of the meditation spectrum, and have real consequences for human lives.
Meditation is truly a very powerful tool that can be helpful to people in many varied ways and in a wide range of circumstances.
Just start where you are, doing what you can do. Where it takes you depends on your karmic path and the energy and dedication you bring to it.