When I started a Bachelors degree, I was entering into a pretty new, scary, and somewhat stressful time of life. I was facing some longstanding fears about making friends and interacting with people. I struggled with low self confidence in my youth. I was learning about environmental issues and trying to reconcile this new knowledge with my lifestyle. For instance how to make sustainable food choices when there were so many things to consider (e.g. healthiness, greenhouse gases, price, and intensity of farm production). I was feeling very confused about many things, such as why I was so fearful and what was right when it came to the conflicting messages that I was receiving about how to live more sustainably (or just how to live!). I needed to find a way to start untangling this mess of thoughts, beliefs, and messages.
I started reading books about mindfulness, starting with the one that changed my life: the Power of Now by Ekhart Tolle. I was attracted to the theory of how mindfulness leads to more peace and clarity in life, but I didn’t start practicing meditation until several months later. I began meditating just 5 minutes a day. I followed a beginner method ´Shamatha´that involves placing your attention on your natural breath and, when you become distracted by a thought, you just notice it and then return to the breath. Eventually I would meditate 10 or 15 minutes a day but not always consistently. During the 10 years or so since that time I had gaps of weeks or months but I would always come back to it. I always come back to meditating because of the benefits that I have seen in my life.
Here are the top 5 reasons that I continue to meditate today:
- Meditating helps me to bring awareness to the ¨monkey brain¨ or incessant stream of thoughts that we all experience as humans.
- It strengthens my skills of observation. I went from observing my mind during meditation to observing my thought patterns in everyday life. For example, I could observe when I started thinking negatively and then notice why I was feeling that way (I´m hungry! Or I´m tired and need some space).
- Focusing on breathing in and out and being present with feelings in my body tangibly reduces my stress.
- Taking the time to sit and be with myself and all that I am feeling is a powerful act of self love. Growing up, I can´t say that I loved or even really liked myself and I would ignore how I was feeling. It is so easy nowadays to ignore how we are feeling by tuning into Netflix or Facebook. Meditation was one practice where I could tune into how I am feeling and start to transform this relationship with myself.
- Meditation is a powerful tool in learning how to discern objective truth. Facing the truth of what was happening in my mind was quite scary but ultimately freeing. It gave me courage and observation skills for facing truths in other areas of my life. I continue to look for common threads of truth in the conflicting, paradoxical messages in books, the mainstream media, and stories of people that I meet.
I want to express that I had a lot of help with starting and staying on the meditation path. My Mom opened my mind to Buddhist practice and non-religious mindfulness practice by sharing her Shambhala Sun (now ´Lions Roar´) magazines while I was growing up. When I started meditating in earnest, my Dad made me a comfortable bench for sitting since my hips were sore from sitting on a regular cushion. And I discovered Shambhala, a non-denominational network of centres for training in meditation that has its roots in Buddhist practice. It was very motivating to sit with a group because I could see that I was not alone in my desire to learn to meditate. Participating in the meditation training levels and finding a wise teacher also helped enormously to dive deeper into the theory and practice of meditation.
To me, meditation is very practical. It is a method for learning how to observe the mind, observe patterns in behaviour, and observe the world. It builds many skills, including patience, observation, discipline, and trust. When connected to the desire to seek truth in everyday life, it also helps to grow wisdom. Several people have told me that I am wise but I think it is mostly because of my longstanding meditation practice. I have noticed many positive benefits in my life from meditation. When I am not meditating, I notice that my unconscious negative thoughts start to impact my relationships more often.
I hope that this story can at least give a small window into the mystery of why some people meditate. I also hope that more people will be encouraged to try meditation. I believe that, as more people become aware of their thoughts and feelings, these mental shifts can lead to more conscious, healthy relationships and greater awareness of our of interactions with Mother Earth.