What do meditation and business have in common? When you’ve got over your surprise, here’s one: hanging on in there with your investment till you start seeing the results and beyond, even while it doesn’t immediately seem to be bringing in the much-needed returns!
With meditation, you may very well find you are doing it and yet your mind is all over the place and you don’t seem to be getting anywhere. One key is to keeping doing it, and have suitable technique to support you so that you are managing your mind and bring it back to its centre of focus.
I was very interested to hear from a reader today that the brain chemistry has been found to be altered in those that meditate or engage in related activities like prayer or contemplation for long periods. According to this report, a study of Buddhist monks and Christian Carmelite nuns, this is one manifestation of the fruits of sustained attention to managing the mind so that they can focus their awareness on the contemplation of the object of their meditation. The brain re-wires itself, so to speak:
“As science begins to study religious experience more closely, it has found some fascinating things. A recent MRI study of the brains of men and women who had dedicated their lives as nuns and monks to years of meditation and prayer showed that their brains were actually different from ours. The practice of meditation had slowly altered their brain chemistry so that they were happier, calmer, more at peace with the world than the rest of us, rushing around in our cities and our towns. More interesting, the monks were Buddhists and the nuns were Carmelites. The holier they were, the more theology fell away. The experience of being with the divine seemed to defuse the long human battle over who has the best path to the divine. And we can now see the difference in the chemical structure of the brain.” (From article by Andrew Sullivan)
One key thing is that such practice, and I do strongly suggest practice, teaches us is that we can reach an experience of who we are that provides a ground-rock for life and living. What that inner space means is likely to be subject to various belief systems, although deep and long-lasting practitioners from many traditions seem to have remarkably similar understandings about their experience of unity or Oneness, often it seems when they shift from understandings centred on belief to those based on their own knowing.
At a very simple level, if you practice meditation for a while, and learn to navigate your way through the various pitfalls that the ego mind will throw in the way, you can start to find a space within where there is an inner steadiness and what I call “centredness”. You might describe it in all sorts of ways depending on your experience, but the words I would use would revolve around having an inner calm and peace of mind. One becomes anchored in this awareness. So for me, it sits somewhere in my experience of me and is always there, sometimes more in the background and sometimes very foreground. With it comes a sense of contentment, love, joy and happiness. I might be more aware of That at times, and less at others, especially if I’m caught up with ego-related mental activity. The power of awareness is to notice that and come back to my Self, with a deliberate capital “S”. You can practice that in meditation and you can live it in life.
One helps with the other. You need both. Calming the mind in life in general (are they really separate?!), enables me to go into meditation with a greater steadiness at the start. You can meditate in a turbulent state and let go as much as you can and connect at some level with your inner centre, re-mind yourself and then bring That into the rest of your life.
The regular practice of this then provides a discipline, so unfashionable and yet so valuable. The more you do it, the more it seems to help, and so becomes self-reinforcing. Of course you may get the upsets and distractions that seem to drag you away from your practice. The practice is then to come back to it. This is similar to the process in meditation itself, where the ego will distract us and we need to unhook from this part of us and come back to meditation’s focus, whatever approach you are using. The management of the mind thus provides greater skill and confidence in handling whatever can come up in life.
Of course, we also need other techniques and approaches to work alongside this practice. But the point here is to remember how strong regular meditation can be, and therefore the sustained practice of managing the mind, in helping us ride the vicissitudes of life helps us find that there is far, far more to Being than the superficialities of everyday life might suggest.