By Nicola Albini, J.D., M.A. -This article originally appeared on February 4th 2016 on huffingtonpost.com
“You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day, unless you are too busy; then you should sit for an hour.” - Zen proverb
Should you be meditating?
The short answer is yes. Yes, yes, and yes. And in case that wasn’t clear, yes.
The long answer is: contrary to popular belief, meditation is not just a health trend like kale smoothies and spin class (not that there’s anything wrong with those things).
Meditation is a necessity.
This is a fact that has been acknowledged and practiced by other cultures for centuries, but only recently has there been published research that has encouraged the Western culture to embrace it in the same way.
For one thing, meditation increases your capacity for happiness and empathy. By engaging the brain through meditation, you have the ability to change, re-wire, and optimize your neurochemistry. This was shown when NYU researcher Zoran Josipovic conducted a study of the brains of Buddhist monks during meditation. The fMRI results revealed that their brain activation was at a level never documented before.
As shared by Richard J. Davidson, this full throttle brain activation can be attributed to an effect that is similar to how a dancer’s performance is enhanced by practicing dance. Meaning, meditation enhances your brain in the same way practice enhances performance. Davidson’s research also confirms that mediation creates neuroplasticity in the brain, which opens the door to more compassion, joy, and empathy. It also helps us to clear obstacles that keeps us from building valuable connections.
In short, "Meditation is not just blissing out under a mango tree," says Buddhist monk, Matthieu Ricard. "It completely changes your brain and therefore changes what you are.”
And it does this in all the right ways, I might add. I have practiced Transcendental Meditation for 4 years and after a recent retreat at the Chopra Center, I am reminded of why I think meditation must be made a priority.
It is good to note that meditation is not about spiritual attainment or setting quiet time aside for yourself (though both will likely happen as a result). Meditation is also not about becoming more wealthy, popular or cool (though I’ve never heard of anyone becoming poor, disliked, or unsexy because they meditate, either).
For me, meditation is about three things:
We have somewhere between 60-90,000 thoughts every day. I don’t know about you, but for me and most of my coaching clients, few of these thoughts stem from inspiration and love. In fact, most thoughts sprout from fear and a belief in lack and limitation. Often the thoughts that hold us back and cause us emotional pain can even keep us from pursuing and achieving our life’s true potential.
Through meditation we become a mindful observers of our thoughts. This helps us discern what supports our own happiness, joy and success, and what does not. Daily meditation is like a regular detox for our active and (usually) negative minds. The regular detoxification and clearing of mental habits such as fear and scarcity results in the ability to live a conscious existence where there is always a choice in how to feel about the hand we are dealt.
The Field of Pure Potential.
Remember when you were a kid, free of judgment and full of hope for a bright future? This is the field of pure potential, and it is what we are all born into.
Meditation takes us to this field again where anything is possible — where we have the potential to heal, forgive, design, create, call forth, and flourish.
Many meditation teachers also call this the “gap.” The gap is always open to welcome us, but we seldom visit because we are too “busy.”
Remembering who I am.
Meditation reacquaints us with our soul. This is so important because most of the time we’re thinking, speaking and acting through our egos. The ego believes that our happiness, love, safety, money, opportunities and self-worth come from somewhere outside of ourselves. It is mandatory to connect with your soul on a regular basis, because the soul never forgets who you are and what you are here to do. And when you remember who you are, you can overcome life’s challenges with grace and ease.
Simply put, meditation is about the complete transformation of your life. For anyone wanting to create real, positive change in their world, meditation is not just a good idea; it is mandatory. Making meditation a priority will not only improve your day, it will improve your life.
Begin by scheduling a regular time to meditate. I prefer first thing in the morning, after I’ve splashed water on my face, and before I do anything else.
Once you’ve found your meditation time, incorporate the following four steps:
- Sit with your back straight and supported and your head free.
- Begin by observing your breath. Inhale, exhale. Keep it simple.
- When thoughts come up, bring your attention back to your breath. Do not judge the fact that you are thinking, it doesn’t matter. Just come back to the breath.
- Do this for 5-10 minutes. You want to work your way up to 20 minutes a day.
You will be surprised by how quickly this simple practice will create a profound shift in your experience of life. And remember, when you don’t think you have time to meditate is when you need it the most!
“Meditation is all about the pursuit of nothingness. It's like the ultimate rest. It's better than the best sleep you've ever had. It's a quieting of the mind. It sharpens everything, especially your appreciation of your surroundings. It keeps life fresh.” - Hugh Jackman