In an era of fake news, nobody lies more to us than our own minds.
How else can we explain the common ideas that our lives were better in the good old days or will be much better in the future in the face of study after study after study tells us otherwise? Research has shown that once our basic needs are met – food, water, basic shelter, clothing, and a few trusted friends -, no increase in income and spending on ourselves will make us any happier. And the happiest we will ever be is in the present. Yet, the only place we ever seem not to want to be is here and now. The seductive stories our minds tell seem to hold us everywhere but with the present reality.
Twenty-five hundred years ago a scientist sitting under a bodhi tree came to know with certainty that people experience the highest level of happiness by living in the present. He discovered a free tool that everyone has the ability to use to force their minds into submission to abiding in the happy present. He called it insight meditation, and his name was Gautama – the Buddha.
There is a resurgence of meditation in the world today for many reasons. People are signing up for meditation classes, courses, and retreats that range from an hour to ten days to learn how to meditate. Many people find meditation so beneficial that they give money to the meditation courses so others can benefit and learn to meditate for free.
While almost everyone who learns to meditate – especially on longer 10-day intensive retreats – finds the benefits to their happiness undeniable, only a small number of them continue to meditate throughout their life. There are two reasons people are unable to commit to a daily meditation practice.
First, our minds create compelling stories that the happiness from meditation was not necessarily due to being present through meditating. We tell ourselves the happiness came from being quiet, the delicious food we were served for free, the nice people we met, or the serene environment and beautiful nature surrounding the meditation center. Unfortunately, the understanding of happiness only being in the present takes time for the mind to learn with an unshakable understanding.
If we do not say the happiness came from external sources and we sincerely believe in the value of meditation, we tell ourselves that our lives are too busy. We simply do not have the time to sit down and do “nothing”.
Special circumstances and lack of time are the two lies our mind tells us to keep us from being peaceful, happy, and content.
Fortunately, this can be scientifically and objectively debunked with a little determination and a few months of time.
By putting a meditation calendar and logging your time meditating and your happiness (1 – 10), you can objectively see that your happiness is more affected by your meditation practice than by any other activity or accomplishment – whether it be accomplishments in work, exercise, diet, or socializing.
Work, exercise, diet, and socializing are all important, but the key is accurately prioritizing actions that give you the most happiness in your day rather than relying on a faulty memory.
You will likely see that meditating 5 minutes in the day is significantly better than 0 minutes, meditating 15 minutes in a day is better than 5 minutes. And so on. The more the better!
Find your own sweet spot for the optimal amount of time that is best for you.
The lie our mind tells about being happier because of prior accomplishments rather than our ability to be aware of the present through meditation practice will become astonishingly clear.
Yuval Noah Harari, author of international sensation, Sapiens, was asked by Ezra Klein how he fits in the time for two hours of daily meditation and a 60-day meditation retreat when he has an endless number of people who want to pay him for speaking engagements. His answer was simple, he makes the time for his daily practice and his annual retreats because he understands the value and prioritizes them:
There is always temptation to take another speaking engagement or another conference, but I’m very disciplined about it because I know this is the really important stuff. This is the source of my scientific success, so when I plan the year in advance, the first thing I do is — I already know that in 2017 I’m going from the 15th of October to the 15th of December to India to sit at a 60-day meditation retreat. That’s the first thing I put in the schedule. Everything else has to be arranged around that.
The benefits of meditation cannot be overstated.
Research has shown that meditating a few days positively influences mood and decreases stress four months into the future even when one does not meditate after those three days.
With my own experience, meditation practice has shown me that every moment is precious, filled with meaning, and holds the potential and reality of sublime happiness and contentment.
The pursuit of happiness is the American dream. But the pursuit should not be called a dream because happiness is a universal and human truth that is alive and well today, right now – as you read this.
Happiness occurs only in the present. It will always only ever be in the present. And meditation teaches us to be in the present.
I hope the meditation calendar provides a nudge to give yourself the fortitude and conviction to make present-moment awareness a priority in your life so that you may live a more happy and peaceful life.