I’ve been meditating off and on for the last twenty years. When I was younger I sort of dabbled in meditation. I would get really into it for a few weeks or months and then I would invariably drift away from it due to life circumstances. When my schedule got busy and hectic it would become harder to find the time to do it and I would stop for a period of time. As my schedule quieted down, I would then resume my practice. I was off and on for many years. I could see the benefit of meditating, but found it hard to maintain a regular practice due to my busy schedule. The last couple years I’ve made a much more concerted effort to maintain a regular practice and have meditated this year more or less every day for at least 20 minutes a day. This year I’ve noticed some dramatic changes in my life that I attribute, at least in part, to my meditation practice. In this post I’m going to explore my experience with meditation, how it’s improved my life and how it can improve yours, if you’re open to trying it.
What is meditation?
There are different forms of meditation and I’m not going to get into all the different meditation techniques or the “how to” of meditation in this post. There are tons of resources online if you’re interested in exploring meditation and finding a technique or techniques that work for you. I like to think of meditation as going “under the hood” of your conscious thoughts. We all have a constant stream of thoughts running through our head all day long. We have a story that we constantly our telling ourselves about our relationships, our careers, our self-identity and so on. This story we tell ourselves is a combination of beliefs and ideas we’ve developed from our family, friends, the media and basically everyone we’ve interacted with throughout our lives. Thinking happens more or less automatically. We don’t have to try to think. We just…. think…. all the time.
Thinking is an amazing tool and we would be lost without our ability to think and make sense of the world. The problem though is that we do it so much, that it’s easy to sort of lose ourselves in our thinking mind and mistake who we really are for our thoughts. An expression that explains this well is that “it’s hard to see the spot you’re standing on”. In other words, most of us are so in our heads and thoughts, that it’s hard to be truly objective about our own lives and our place in the world. We tend to get lost in the story we’re telling ourselves. Meditation is a powerful tool to help you pull back from your “story” and see things more clearly and objectively.
Let’s use music as an analogy. If our regular, day to day thoughts are happening at 220 bpm, when you meditate you can slow those thoughts down to around 40 bpm. I’m of course just picking arbitrary numbers to make an example. But through meditation, we can quiet our minds down to the point where we’re sort of detached and observing our thoughts, as opposed to our regular waking consciousness, that for most of us feels like we are our thoughts.
Benefits Of Meditation
According to researchers, meditation has a number of tangible benefits. Meditation reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, improves immune system functioning, improves cardiovascular health, it improves feelings of happiness and it slows down the aging process. Meditation is good for your health. However, the benefits of meditation go far beyond just improving your physical health.
When you meditate and observe your thoughts in this way, a number of interesting things happen. For starters, you begin to see more clearly the nature of your own thinking, which is that it happens more or less automatically. It’s happening all the time, whether you want it to or not. You can’t really control your thoughts, although you can certainly influence the direction they go in and through meditation you can slow them down, which by itself, is very calming and relaxing. Perhaps most profoundly, meditation allows you to see that you are not your thoughts, but that your thoughts are happening through you.
Another great benefit of meditation that I’ve experienced is getting insights either during meditation or shortly after I meditate. There’s something about quieting the mind that allows you to think more clearly and see situations in your life more objectively. You become the witness to your own story, as opposed to being the story. I believe, and I really have no way of proving this, but my experience has been that meditation can speed up insights and lessons that we need to get in order to progress in life. I believe meditation can provide the lens through which we can expedite our spiritual and personal growth.
I’ll tell you a story that illustrates what I’m talking about…
Earlier in the year I was dating my ex-girlfriend of several years. We had reached a point in our relationship where it had become clear that we had some major incompatibility issues and that it would be in my best interest, and hers, to end the relationship and move on. I had been struggling with this issue for many months. I was consciously aware of what I needed to do. But yet I couldn’t quite do it. I kept going around and around in my thinking and would rationalize why it wasn’t the right time or the right decision, despite my “knowing” that ending the relationship was what I needed to do. Of course breaking up, as they say, is hard to do, but in my situation it had become painfully clear this was the right choice. Yet I couldn’t completely pull the trigger. I kept going back and forth.
I began meditating about my relationship and I began to see more clearly that the real reason I didn’t want to end the relationship was that I was afraid of being alone. On the surface I was telling myself I wasn’t sure if it was the right decision and that I didn’t want to hurt my girlfriend, which were both partially true. But the real obstacle, what was really holding me back, was my own uncertainty and fear about the future apart from my ex. To put it simply, I was afraid. Over the next few weeks I got more and more clear about this issue until during one of my meditation sessions I had the overwhelming certainty that I had to end the relationship and that everything would be ok. It was a sense of knowing that up until this point I had not experienced this vividly. I called my ex up that night and told her that we had to end things.
Here’s where things get interesting. I realized my primary fear was that I didn’t really want to be alone, yet I came to peace with the idea to the best of my ability. I’ve been alone before and I’ve always met someone else I thought. I was ok before I met my ex and I was sure I would be ok after our relationship concluded. I realized, one way or the other, things would be ok and so I took the leap of faith and did what I needed to do. I felt relieved after making the decision, as if a weight that had been holding me down had been lifted.
Two days after I ended things with my ex, I was out to dinner with a friend of mine and our female server was being very flirtatious with me. At first I thought she was just being friendly. A lot of servers have outgoing personalities and after all, it's their job to be nice, so I didn’t really think much of her behavior at first. But throughout our meal she became more and more flirtatious. When she brought the check at the end of our meal she asked me if I wanted anything else. “No”, I responded. “I’m good”. “Are you sure?”, she asked, just standing there. “Maybe my phone number?”, she asked. At this point I was reasonably confident she was being more than just friendly for the sake of getting a good tip.
I’ll make a long story short. I got her number. I went out with her a week later and we’ve been dating exclusively for the last six months. Now what’s remarkable isn’t the fact that I have a girlfriend. What’s remarkable, to me, is how it happened and how quickly it happened after I made the hard decision to leave my ex. I literally met my new girlfriend two days after breaking up with my ex, and my new girlfriend basically fell into my lap, despite my fears of being alone and struggling with whether or not to leave my ex for months. I’ve had maybe two or three girls approach me this aggressively in my life and for me, meeting my new girlfriend was one of the most serendipitous things that has happened to me in a long time. I don’t know what the future holds for us, but we get along great and are much more compatible than my ex and I were in areas that are very important to me. This relationship feels right to me and I really don’t think it would have happened had I not gained the clarity and perspective that I did through meditation.
Meditation and business
Meditation has also helped me improve my business. In much the same way that we can get stuck in patterns of thinking about relationships, the same is true of things like business. I’ve had several key insights this year about how to expand my business that I believe were a result of meditating. Sometimes all it takes is a very small shift in your thinking to create very big changes. It’s easy to get in ruts with things like business and relationships where we simply keep doing what we’ve been doing. I will often get new ideas while I’m meditating about ways to improve my business. Several of these insights have made a very big difference in my business this year. Most of these insights have been fairly simple ideas that I’ve been able to implement easily, but they’ve made a big difference. I don’t always get these types of insights when I meditate, but they happen regularly enough that it’s clear to me that meditating is encouraging these insights to happen more frequently.
Meditation and music
To be honest, when writing this post, I saved the idea of how meditation has impacted the music I make and my music career for last, mainly because there's been less of a dramatic influence on this part of my life as a result of meditating. Perhaps it's because making it in the music business is a more complex process than getting a girlfriend or growing my business. It’s also harder to quantify things like the creative process and how something like meditation affects it. I'm not really sure to be honest, but I do have a handful of new ideas related to marketing music and the music business that are still percolating. So we'll see how that plays out. Some ideas take longer to develop and come to fruition than others.
I believe that our quality of life, to a large extent, is related to the quality of our thinking. When we think clearly and calmly, we tend to generate better ideas that lead to better decisions and better outcomes. A lot of success in life is simply the result of coming up with the right idea at the right time. It’s a mystery that I don’t fully understand. It’s sort of like writing songs. Do you really understand where songs come from? I don’t! But I do understand the circumstances and environments that tend to lead to better songs. In the same way, I believe there is a way to cultivate more clear thinking. Meditation is a powerful way, but there are of course others that I didn’t touch on in this post. Things like nutrition, exercise, healthy relationships and reading can also make a big difference and are also topics I’m interested in. The body, mind and spirit are all connected and anything you do to improve one, will improve the others. Meditation is beneficial for all three.
Here’s the bottom line on meditation. If you’re feeling stuck or anxious, or even if you just want to learn a new method for relaxing and improving your health, give meditation a try. It’s not a magic panacea that will fix all of your problems. But if your experiences are anything like mine, if you’re patient and you stick with it, you’ll discover some very interesting and undeniable benefits.
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The blog of musician and thinker of deep thoughts, Aaron Davison.