A Contemplation of Meditation

It is hard to explain why I like meditation or what I get out of it, but the closest explanation I’ve found (to borrow a line from the book, “How to Meditate”): I meditate because “It feels like coming home.”

There is a sense of calm that I feel and a centering and ultimately an awareness, but I don’t feel like this every time and it didn’t happen right away.

These are two things that I think contribute to my enjoyment and have helped me see meditation as a process:

1- What’s the point?

What has helped me embrace meditation is having a purpose to it that is a little bit more tangible then, “enlightenment.” The word meditation comes from the latin, “meditari” “to think over, reflect, consider.” More specifically, meditation is a way to develop greater awareness and the ability to control one’s attention. For me, those are the goals of my meditation: a greater awareness of self, others, and the world and also a greater ability to focus attention on one thing at a time. These are pretty cool skills to learn if you think about it. In our culture, we place value on learning skills that have to do with physical abilities, artistic abilities, musical capabilities and of course intellectual pursuits. But, what greater knowledge is there then to know one’s self? What greater skill is there then to have complete focus and attention on one task or person?

2- How do you do it?

Secondly, and this may be so obvious as to be overlooked, meditation is a practice. It is a training of the mind and it is really hard work. There are many analogies out there of the mind as a monkey jumping from thought to thought or of attention as something that is slippery and keeps eluding grasp. I agree, the mind is a slippery monkey.

But, that does not mean that this monkey cannot be trained to do amazing things. I think this gets to the heart of what people find so frustrating and elusive about meditating (this was definitely my experience). They try it a couple of times, and think, “hey, this is hard, I’m no good at this, it’s not for me” and quit. Yeah, that pretty much sums up any learning experience you’re ever going to have when you first start out. I can’t think of anything this doesn’t apply to. It takes discipline and hard work, a sense of humor, and a gentle persistence to keep noticing your self thinking, noticing emotions coming up and yet bringing attention back to one thing (the meditation I’ve been working with focuses on the breath).

As Shauna Shapiro recounts, the “How” of paying attention is important as well. Advice she received from a monk goes like this, “What you practice becomes stronger.” Be kind to yourself in the process of learning, whether it be meditation or any other discipline. That is the thing about learning, it requires you to mess up, a lot.

If interested, the meditation I’ve been practicing is a mindfulness-based sitting meditation focused on awareness of breath and the course that got me started is this free 8-week course: http://palousemindfulness.com/selfguidedMBSR.html

Also, some books I’ve enjoyed reading recently on meditation and mindfulness:

How to Meditate (Lawrence LaShan)

Radical Acceptance (Tara Brach)

When Things Fall Apart (Pema Chodron)

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Teresa Trout
    Sep 17, 2015 @ 19:08:41

    I didn’t know you meditated. Love it Leda! Hope grad school is treating you well dear friend.



  2. Alison
    Sep 17, 2015 @ 20:51:23

    Loved reading this, Leda. And I like the comparison of the mind to a “slippery monkey!!”



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