At a meditation retreat I attended a few years ago, the leader off-handedly told a story about a moment when she was doing a large group meditation practice with the renowned meditation teacher Jack Kornfield. The six of us sitting around laughed politely at her description of 500 people doing a slow walking meditation practice at the Seattle Center while a group of kids right next to them were playing a dodge ball game so that the meditators were occasionally getting beaned by rubber balls. But the truth of the matter is that meditation stories aren’t very interesting – even to other meditators.
This is the best way to keep something secret — making it so boring that we don’t even talk about it. In fact, the thing that makes meditation work is a dedication to a habit that appears from the outside to just be sitting and doing nothing.
But it’s this practice that healed me from being stuck in the left over gunk of my marriage after the messiness of my ex’s infidelities and my own realization that I wanted out.
Mindfulness is the tool that keeps me energized, engaged and patient with my kids.
Meditation is the time where I connect with the small voice of God within me that helps me find my path.
It’s my time for sitting still and making friends with my experience.
Meditation is central to my well-being and has transformed my life so that most of the time my inner life and my outer life match. Fortunately there is a ton of science that is done around meditation and mindfulness these days so that even when it’s hard to talk engagingly about meditation itself, there’s a lot to say about the resulting effect.
In her book Love 2.0 emotions researcher, Barbara Frederickson described her quest to study positive emotions. She needed a group who would increase the positive emotions they experienced daily to compare against a control group. Which led her to a search of how to predictably and repeatably increase positive emotions.
Her quest to find a way to increase positive emotions led her to the loving kindness meditation (called metta in Pali, maître in Sanskrit) and she designed a study to test the effects of a group learning to “self-generate positive emotions through loving-kindness meditation.”
“The results were abundantly clear. When people, completely new to meditation, learned to quiet their minds and expand their capacity for love and kindness, they transformed themselves from the insides out. They experienced more love, more engagement, more serenity, more joy, more amusement – more of every positive emotion we measure. And though they typically meditated alone, their biggest boosts in positive emotions came when interacting with others, off the cushion, as it were. Their lives spiraled upward.”Love 2.0 by Barbara Frederickson
It seems like this is how the Universe keeps its best tricks secret – by making them so personal that they are both impossible and boring to describe. Like with dreams, we are presented with visions that are so veiled in symbolism and intricate in connection that they make little sense to anyone else. And so often we forget to even try to talk about them.
In my life when I first started meditating ten years ago, I didn’t have a way to measure the effect. And the effort seemed so small I wasn’t sure I was doing it right or making any difference. In my “no pain, no gain” mindset, it wasn’t something that caused enough pain for me to believe it worked. I stuck with it because I needed to believe in something and I wasn’t happy where I was at. I stayed with it because I was in pain.
And slowly I breathed out those pockets of dead, stale air and opened my circuits wider to beauty and love. Looking back on it, I see meditation as the underpinning of every healthy and loving decision I’ve made since then. Including writing this piece. It might be boring, but I do it out of love.
For anyone interested, here’s my description of the loving-kindness meditation:
Closing my eyes, I picture someone toward whom I have really warm feelings. I see them right in front of me and I breathe in and think “May I be happy” and breathe out and think “May you be happy” as if I were saying it to the person I am imagining. My feeling of happiness in this context is not gaiety or momentary satisfaction but deep contentedness.
Then I breathe in and say “May I be at peace” and breathe out and think “May you be at peace.” I believe this is peace, not from lack of conflict, but from freedom of inner struggle.
Finally I breathe in and think “May I be loved” and breathe out and think “May you be loved.” This is love stemming from a genuine connection with all beings.
Then I imagine someone toward whom I don’t have an emotional reaction one way or the other, perhaps the grocery store clerk or person in the car next to mine this morning and picture them in front of me, and I repeat the same exercise, wishing them happiness, peace and love.
Finally, I pick someone with whom I have unresolved or negative feelings that I need to soften and let go. I picture them in front of me and repeat the same exercise, wishing them happiness, peace and love.
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(featured photo from Pexels)