Ah, meditation. We’d all be masters of Zen-like calm if only we weren’t so damn distracted. Besides, who has the time to sit lotus-style and chant ‘ohm’, eh? Not many of us, which is exactly why you should try it. Here’s why:
Meditation is more than an esoteric exercise for the spiritually-inclined. It’s the singularly most effective tool in clearing mental distractions and helping us make better decisions. The result? Increased life satisfaction.
What’s more, you don’t need sacred elephant incense sticks infused with bdellium resin, a cosmic buckwheat hull-filled cushion or sitar music containing subliminal blessings to get you into the right mindset. You just need a window of time in which to marshal your attention.
I should know. I’ve been practicing meditation for about four years now. Prior to starting, I was an unofficial ambassador for low-level anxiety. I had six crowns put on my teeth due to a chronic case of stress-induced bruxism. I had hospital EKG tests for heart palpitations (also stress-induced) and I’d frequently find myself wide awake at night with insomnia (also stress-induced). And those were just the physical ailments. Don’t get me started on the ruminating thoughts and mental chatter. My head felt like Grand Central Station during a power cut on Christmas Eve just before shops close. Pure chaos.
The reality of sitting with your thoughts – whether pedestrian or frenetic – and just observing them can feel frustrating and pointless.
My first attempts at meditation were met with limited success, in part because my perception of what meditation should be (wafting incense, contemplating the meaning of life) got in the way of what was actually happening (wandering mind, wondering if I left the oven on).
Give it time, however, and the results are pretty impressive. Don’t take it from me. Why don’t you make your own mind up?
1. Meditation can help change our perspective on life.
The aim of meditation is to retrain our attention by observing the patterns and habits of the mind. Styles range from spiritual to practical, active to passive, breath-based to mantra-focused, all with similar results – improved concentration, mental clarity and emotional acuity. In other words, all the crap that once seemed important quickly loses its cache when you meditate, leaving you free to cultivate new ways of looking at the world.
2. Meditation makes us better people.
Arianna Huffington, co-founder and former editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post Media Group, author of Thrive and founder/CEO of Thrive Global, maintains that apart from helping us connect with ourselves, it also ‘increases our ability to connect with others, actually making us more compassionate’. If creating connections is one of the cornerstones of lasting happiness, then prepare for a feel-good future.
3. Meditation is a distraction ninja.
According to a study carried out by Harvard researchers, meditation helps develop the mind’s plasticity and its attendant ability to bounce back more quickly from a distraction. Quick neuroscience 101: plasticity refers to the brain’s ability to redecorate the place in a bid to tune into your needs. In other words, the mind can reorganize its living space by creating new neural pathways when required. As we know, all it takes is a ping, a ring or similar audible alert to hijack our conscious awareness. Meditative practice helps us guide back our thoughts to the task at hand when summarily interrupted.
4. Meditation can help quiet repetitive thoughts.
The brain’s penchant for automated processes and streamlining its workload is a double-edged sword – laudable when mastering a good habit, less so when committing our compulsions to muscle memory. But meditation can help change our habitual mental patterns, not to mention repetitive thoughts – the intrusive ones that scream and shout and won’t go away. What’s more, it’s also a formidable form of mental self-regulation, which over time becomes an automatic habit in itself. Bye-bye, niggly worries; hello, mental clarity.
Interested? Just stop, drop and breathe.
Originally published at annmarieoconnor.me