What is the point of mindfulness meditation practice? Why would you want to sit down and follow your breath for a period of time each day? Why Meditate?
Many people come to meditation thinking that it will help make their minds more calm and peaceful. It may. Then again, it may not happen immediately. This is probably not what you want to hear! But it’s important to be clear that meditation practice has a different aim than psychological healing.
The point of mindfulness meditation practice is to develop a sane relationship to experience.
As we grow up, we humans develop an idea about who we are and then put our energies into maintaining this self-image. When life presents challenges, our self- image may get battered, our goals thwarted; we suffer as a result. We ALL do this, to varying degrees. The more attached we are to our self-image, the more we suffer when things do not support this image.
So the first venture into mindfulness meditation practice may be as an attempt to escape the suffering of this unpredictable world. Perhaps you want to learn to calm your mind. Meditation practice can help to identify the boundaries of ego so that you can disassemble it, or rather see that it has never existed. The first step on the path then starts with seeing the illusory nature of ego. Eventually you come to understand that practice may not abolish your suffering entirely, but it will give you tools to manage your experience in a sane and grounded way.
What Kind Of Meditation?
Whatever practice you do is only relevant in the sense that it should create some benefit. So you should be alert to the effects of the practice. If you have been doing a particular practice for many years and don’t see positive results in your life, then you should question whether that is the appropriate practice for you given the particular time and circumstance. Some of the results you may start to notice are a sense of greater clarity, acceptance, adaptability and compassion.
The Dalai Lama notes:
“When we take medicine, it is not the taste, color, or quantity of the medicine that matters; the important thing is the beneficial effect on our body. If in spite of having taken a certain medicine for a long time we see no effect, there is no point in continuing to take it. Regardless of whether your practice is elaborate or short, above all, it should be effective in bringing about some kind of a transformation, a change for the better, within you.”
What is Mindfulness Meditation?
Mindfulness meditation is a technique of training the mind to stay in the present. Often it is presented in a Buddhist context, but mindfulness goes beyond religious training. It doesn’t matter if you subscribe to Buddhist belief, or Hindu belief, Christian belief, or no belief: we all have wisdom deep within that is hidden by our obscured view of reality. By developing a disciplined meditation practice we develop the tools to clarify our circumstances and uncover our bright shining light.
Practice helps you to cultivate awareness – not just on your cushion, but in every moment of your life. Sometimes I hear modern meditation teachers make promises about meditation practice. They may say things like, “you will feel better, your bad habits will go away, your relationships will change as a result of practice.” This is possible. It is, however, entirely possible to use practice in the service of ego. With unclear intent, wrong understanding or lack of awareness, you can use anything, even spiritual practice, to reinforce ego. If awareness is not translating into your life (as kindness), then your practice is misguided. In that case, you should look again at what you are doing, or rather how you are doing it.
How A Mindfulness Meditation Practice Might Look
Mindfulness meditation practice provides a technique to watch your responses (or reactions) to failure, success, ambition, hopes, fears, and disappointments. You start to see how you respond to the rules suddenly being changed, or to rules, period. Meditation practice is a tool to help you look into the core of your experience to observe how you interact with the world.
Until you recognize your little thingy – that habitual pattern, whether physical, emotional or mental, that obstructs your complete openness and acceptance – then you won’t be able to release it. And if you can’t let go of your thingy, then it will rule you. You will carry it around your whole life, like dead skin you refuse to shed. The point is that the practice itself is not “It.” There is no prize for having an “advanced” practice, especially if you are using the practice to boost ego. Practice is the tool, it is not the result that you are seeking.
So you should check in with your practice periodically to see: Is the practice working? Are you increasing wisdom and compassion, lessening self-centeredness and attachment? If you listen, practice will show you how to live more fully and compassionately with awareness in the present moment. Then it is possible to live fully and fearlessly in the here and now, with all of its inconvenient and beautiful truths.