Why I started meditating
Brandon Sun, July 26, 2021 - David McConkeyWell, I finally started meditating. I thought I eventually would; it has been on my mind for decades.
For those of you who already meditate, you might be thinking: what took him so long? For those of you who don’t meditate, perhaps my musings will pique your curiosity.
The first time I heard the word “meditation” was in the 1960s when the Beatles went to India. There was something in the news called “transcendental meditation” taught by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. What teenager wouldn't be intrigued if the Beatles were so smitten? But it all seemed so esoteric. And, although this method has grown in popularity since, the Beatles had a fast falling out with the guru.
In the 1970s, I sampled writings of popular spiritual thinkers like Ram Dass, J. Krishnamurti and Alan Watts. I did not find their reflections very accessible. But I sensed something then that still resonates with me. Their spirituality was not centred on a deity or supernatural belief. Instead, their spirituality is centred on people and everyday reality. Simplified, their message is: look into yourself, be mindful, notice the present moment. In other words: meditate. As the title of the famous book by Ram Dass says, “Be Here Now.”
In recent decades, I observed that meditation and mindfulness were becoming a bigger deal. Techniques were being used in therapeutic, business, educational and other settings. They were also being studied scientifically.
Then a finding by podcaster and author Tim Ferriss made me sit up and take note. Ferriss interviews “world-class performers.” His 200 podcast guests have included stars in fields like sports, business, the arts and the military. One of his conclusions about these outstanding individuals: more than 80% of them have some sort of daily mindfulness or meditation practice. Wow!
I then had a lucky breakthrough. Sam Harris, who is a neuroscientist and philosopher, released a mindfulness meditation app. Here was a thinker I respected. A handy app for my phone. And a crystallizing resolution: I could commit to a practice for 10 minutes a day!
That was two years ago, and I am hooked. The app has guided 10-minute daily meditation sessions. As well, there are other meditations, lessons, lectures and conversations with philosophers and scientists, for listening to any time.
What is mindfulness meditation? "Meditation" in common parlance can mean a number of things. These can include deep thinking or daydreaming. Another is losing oneself while engrossed in an activity – this is also called "flow." Still another is being immersed in nature and feeling a sense of communion with the world.
But, as beneficial as these activities can be, when I refer to meditation, I mean something different. I am describing developing the mental skill of looking at one's own mind.
What can be the benefit of spending a few minutes a day observing the working of one’s own mind? Well, through our mind, we experience the world. The more we pay attention to our mind, the more we become aware of our experience of the world.
Meditation, Ferriss says, “is a ‘meta-skill’ that improves everything else.”
Our attention, Harris says, is our most important resource, even more important than our time.
“We largely become what we pay attention to,” Harris points out. “Why not pay attention to those things that make you a better person?”
I consider myself a meditation beginner, but so far I am delighted. I have glimpsed – and sometimes experience – living with more equanimity, clarity, compassion and wonder.
Mindfulness meditation practices in common use in North America today are derived from ancient Asian teachings. These have been adapted and modernized over the past few decades. They resonate with Westerners caught up in today’s hectic, distracted, stressful pace.
How to Live a Good Life book author, Jonathan Fields, says that mindfulness is “the next big thing that’s been around for thousands of years.”
Mindfulness is at the heart of How to Live a Good Life – the book and, for many folks, the reality. The book is at the Brandon Public Library. The reality may be closer than you think.
I would like to say more about all this in future columns. In addition to the positive, mindfulness meditation is attracting some negative press. Like, is meditation just another shallow, self-help fad?
There’s a word for that: “McMindfulness.” And there are more questions. Like, can a meditation practice threaten your existing religious or other beliefs? Or, with meditation, can you “bliss out” and lose interest in your personal, professional or other pursuits?
I look forward to exploring these and related topics.
You are invited to join me.
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