Buddhist meditation as blueprint for an enjoyable life
(Photo by Wonderlane)
After years of dabbling in meditation, and after having been inspired by the wonderful books of Daniel M. Ingram, Alan Watts, D.T. Suzuki and Culadasa, I’ve been getting more serious about it and meditating almost every day for close to three months. That might not sound like much, but to my personal life it has already made an enormous difference. I feel blessed to have discovered how powerful it is, and that is why I want to share my thoughts to inspire others.
What is so powerful about meditation?
The kind I am talking about, the only one I have experience with so far, is concentration meditation, including elements of the mindfulness mindset.
So you sit there for 10 minutes initially – by now I do 30 minutes in a row – and you focus on your breath. You don’t try to forcefully empty your mind. You just continuously redirect your attention to the breath.
At first, it is hell. You constantly think. As soon as you close your eyes, images flood your consciousness, you’re desperately fighting the boredom, wishing for the time to be over. You glance at the clock, wishing it would tick faster. You desperately await the next gong if you have a meditation app that plays a sound at each 5-minute interval. But over time, the hellish nature of the experience diminishes.
It gradually fades as you become more adept at controlling your mind and what it does. It doesn’t have to torture you. You can stop agonising over the time left to go. You can, at each moment, decide to focus on the sensations of breathing instead of falling back into your planning mindset where you constantly oscillate between where you are in time relative to this or that, and what you still have to do, and what will come next, and what was before.
Sometimes, you succeed in staying away from planning for a whole glorious five minutes, and you are totally present, just being, without judgment, worry, regret or boredom. You are meditating non-dually.
And then you slowly begin to understand that so much of what you are fighting every day in your life is exactly what you are fighting on the cushion when you meditate: it is the unwelcome thoughts of regret, greed and boredom that ruin the moment, because they tear your focus away from the present to an unreal time. Because everything that is not right now is not. Period. It’s unreal and not worthy of your attention.
So much of what makes us suffer is due to these automatic algorithms in our mind. When we are bored, we keep looking at the time, and thereby make time pass even more slowly. And when we’re uncomfortable, because we’re sick or because something didn’t go right yesterday, we keep replaying the bits that don’t work, the odd pain in our stomach, that wobbly tooth, the bad feedback we got from a colleague.
All of those automatic algorithms are deeply ingrained. They influence every moment of our existence. But they are not impossible to get rid of or modify.
Meditation is a tool to become aware of the low-level processes in our brain. It works by confronting us deliberately with a situation where many of those problems arise, because there is nothing to take our mind off of them.
And at first you will feel totally exposed and surprised by how undisciplined your monkey mind is. But as you get to know it, you will be able to start changing those processes.
And the mindset you cultivate on the cushion is equally helpful in daily life. Instead of agonising over what your professor will think about your thesis, you will be able to let go of that fear of something that is not right now and focus on what is now: the opportunity to improve your thesis.
You will also notice that getting new stuff doesn’t make you happy, and once you know that, meditation can help you stop deepening your greed and desire and more or less turn it off if you decide it is not worth pursuing. (It almost never is.)
You don’t have to suffer from the ways your mind works. But undoing the automatic wiring takes a long time. It is never fully complete. But it will greatly enhance your life to give it your best shot.
I’ve been more emotionally stable since I started meditating, and I feel enormously grateful for that lightheartedness alone. I also feel empowered regarding the world and what’s going on with it, because I no longer feel the need to get caught up in my judgment of events and people. On many occasions, when I feel a negative train of thought arriving, I can now simply and without effort decide to not get on it and do something that makes me feel good instead. Like being grateful for everything, and optimistic. And I derive a huge amount of pleasure from simple everyday things, from the taste and warmth of a cup of green tea, and the smile of a friend, or the smooth yellow colour of an autumnal tree leaf.
It might sound overly dramatic as a change, but it really did do this for me. And I am insanely grateful and hope I can keep this mindset up.
Even on my worst days when everything goes wrong, I honestly feel that I am blessed, that the world is a wonderful place and that what went wrong doesn’t really matter that much in the grand scheme of things.
And all of that mindset is becoming more and more natural. I don’t have to force myself to believe that. It happens on its own. Like life, and this moment as I’m writing this.
Meditation and Buddhist thought are both awesome, and quite possibly the biggest upgrade your brain can get. If you haven’t yet, I think you should look into it!
You can thank me later. 😉