I read a blog recently from a well-respected writer who does not meditate. He personally thinks it’s boring. And because meditation zealots reacted 'incredulously' to his response, he set out to find out why people meditate. The answers were: to reduce stress and to become more mindful. To which, he argues, there are other ways to do that. Including “drugs, exercise and other behavioral therapies.”
He is right.
I used to do 60-75 minutes of daily cardio plus another hour of weight training 3-4 days a week, and it totally helped my calm. I was prone to depression, and exercise kept it in check. While it didn’t help with my anxiety, I had 4 months of Prozac and weekly therapy for that (I was in my early 20s).
Also in his defense, I do want to say that meditators ought to leave non-meditators alone if it’s not their cup of tea. It’s not for everyone. Having said that, as a meditation instructor and and devoted practitioner, I am a mixed bag about meditation floating out there as an effective way to reduce stress and to become mindful. It’s marketed that way because those are easy benefits to point to that people understand. Stress points directly to their pain, and mindfulness is a great way to reduce it.
What it doesn’t point to is that who you know matters, and that person is you.
Meditation brings you there, and depending on one’s level of resistance or participation in it, it can happen pretty quickly or take years.
I can make a great case that simply observing how you work with others and relate to your family can do the same thing, but let’s face it, it doesn’t happen much. Also, running your own business or becoming a parent can quickly reflect back who you are. It’s an expensive way to get to know yourself, and most people won’t use this opportunity to get spiritual like that.
I started meditating because I noticed that it was the only time that I got to truly witness myself totally undistracted by an external goal that I must achieve at the moment, like turning a profit, running 5 miles or trying to do planks or so many side shuffles, push ups and lunges. These activities are beneficial for other reasons, of course, but we don't run or start a business to meditate. As far as being distracted by my monkey mind, the mind is absolutely a distraction, but that is part of the witnessing process. The question is, what happens when I sit completely still and allow things to come up? What can I learn from the resistance of “doing nothing as precious time goes by” when there is so much to do in my day? What happens when I allow myself to be bored? And, what happens when my mind can find that quiet place?
Therapy helps one to talk through internal conflicts and gain “professional” insight or guidance on how to deal. Self-help programs teach us different ways to unlock our blind spots, and they turn up the heat as a catalyst to help change how we respond or react to things so that the end result can be something different.
What neither is good at is getting us into that space where we can see and feel things that combust from within, and at a very personal, intimate, cellular level. There is a divine intelligence in knowing at the more experiential level that often outperforms academic intelligence.
Exercise pushed to a higher level can help us experience expansiveness and break through self-limitations, but many of us aren’t built for this, and often, this option, and its benefits, are temporary. My workout certainly did the job making me feel on top of the world as long as I kept up at that level. At some point, my body said no to it and to find something gentler.
And none of these other options deliver a sense of oneness. This is important because it helps us become better human beings that consider the greater good while understanding that it must not be at the detriment of self. Nor do they necessarily change negative self talk. In fact, talking in detail about one’s problems is mantra affirming the negative. My teacher, Yogi Bhajan, said, “When a person is in a bad state, techniques imposed from the outside will not work. The pressure has to be stimulated from within” so that we may release the garbage in the subconscious mind (which imposes limitations) and experience Infinity (sense of limitlessness). This comes from regular practice and the discipline of taking self to that cushion every day, closing the eyes, and sitting in that boredom - or curiosity - with no one else other than self without being entertained, drugged or boot-camped.
That daily discipline of going there opens up that space where we know we are truly okay. Life-long practitioners don’t do this as a remedy for stress and anxiety or any particular goal. They may start out for those reasons, but then they stay because they learn that there are gifts far beyond what we ever thought could come from it— stuff that enhances the fiber of everything that we do and understand.
Some may be blessed with this without ever meditating, but they are the very few. The level of awareness that meditation opens up unlocks blind spots and self-limitations, and it provides the kind of clarity under which we start to make the right choices for ourselves. And it instills in the practitioner a sort of discipline that transcends any external gain. And when they can let go of those external markers, they are open to receive much more.
Also, meditation is a lot more cost effective and without a whole lot of negative side affects aside from perhaps some moments of frustration, anger, crying, and sometimes boredom.
Kundalini Yoga Quotes:
“I’d never felt anything like it; it was just an opening of energy and a feeling of such liberation.” -Marika Bethel, owner, Glowing House