Does meditation work?
Here endeth today’s lesson.
Joking of course. Like many things, it’s not quite so simple.
First of all. What do you mean by, “Does meditation work?”
Meditation was traditionally practiced thousands of years ago to understand our place in the universe. To free ourselves from our minds. Seek liberation from suffering and achieve enlightenment.
Nowadays though, most people just want to relax and release stress that they have accumulated throughout their day. And meditation is really great for that.
Meditation promises improved health, reduced stress, liberation from suffering, will cure depression, remove anxiety, diffuse interpersonal conflict, the world will be an amazing place, you won’t care if you can pay your mortgage.
Meditation promises to solve all your problems because they’re just in your head anyway 🙂
So my answer is still yes. But it’s not a quick fix. It’s not instant. And you do have to do work and stick at it, even when every fiber in your body is telling you it’s a waste of time. Give up now.
In my Meditation Boot Camp series, I look at meditation as being a spectrum of experiences that work on many levels.
Starting on the left side, we have Physical Relaxation.
Meditation to Physically Relax and Release Stress
So assuming we are talking about meditation in the traditional, historic sense, then sitting in a fixed position and relaxing all muscles completely, we relieve ourselves of bodily sensations.
Our heart slows down. Our breathing slows right down. Our body feels safe and our comfortable posture stops outward sensations being sent to the brain.
Essentially our body disappears.
We no longer experience the body.
But hey……..that just accomplished a modern day goal. Our body relaxed so much that our stress dissolved.
Meditation removed the stress. When the stress is gone, your chemistry changes to be a much more healthy environment.
That also provides all the positive health benefits.
I’d call that a win. Meditation does work.
And if you don’t get any further with meditation than simple physical relaxation, that benefit alone will give you tremendous rewards in everyday life.
But what if you can’t fully relax your body and let the stress melt away? Then that’s a fail right?
Meditation hasn’t failed, but you might have failed to setup your environment or failed to sit comfortably enough to fully relax. Definitely check out, the “Setting up your meditation environment“, or “Perfect posture for meditation” sections of the Meditation Boot Camp.
Don’t worry though. You yourself are not a failure. Although your mind might try to convince you that you’re no good at meditating. It wants you to stop. It’s in its best interest to convince you to stop.
Don’t stop, just keep going.
Mental Relaxation through Meditation
The next section of the meditation spectrum deals with mental relaxation.
In the traditional meditation model. You are not the body, and you are not the mind. So if you managed to relax enough so that your body disappeared. The next obstacle to enlightenment, was silencing your mind.
It’s not possible to silence the mind directly. You have no control over it. But through meditation, you learn to observe the mind without reacting to it.
By giving it a very repetitive job and keeping a close eye on it, eventually a separation forms and you start to see that you are indeed not your mind.
Once that separation happens, if (if) you can maintain it by not getting excited or reacting to it, then your mind will slowly go to sleep.
This is actually much more difficult than it sounds. But once your mind is silent, then you can become receptive to spiritual experiences.
So again, back to our question. “Does meditation work?” If your goal was to achieve a silent mind, then yes, it worked.
Experiencing that, “you are not your mind”, often enough, slowly starts to infiltrate everyday life.
You’ll start to observe the mind get upset with things in your life. You’ll start to see it telling stories and creating drama. But the drama will be happening to a body and not directly to you. That separation persists.
When this happens, you start to liberate yourself from suffering.
If I hit my thumb with a hammer, I suffer. If I observe a thumb being hit by a hammer, I observe a thumb being hit by a hammer. End of story. End of suffering.
If you can achieve that, then yes, meditation works. If you can’t achieve that, then meditation is a work in progress.
Defining Meditation Goals
So defining goals and what you expect to happen during meditation will tell you if it’s working or not.
Whether that’s to simply let go of stress. To experience no body. Observe your mind. Or become enlightened. Those are goals that you can clearly say, yes, meditation works.
However, the worst thing you can possibly do with meditation is to define goals.
Defining a goal or setting an expectation will give your mind power. You just handed your mind the keys to your meditation and put it back in charge.
A goal not met will lead to great frustration.
In a lot of cases. Setting a goal is what causes people to quit meditating because they perceive it as not working.
Drop Your Meditation Goals
Your only meditation goal should be to drop all goals.
Have no expectations.
Even if the previous meditation you achieved an intense spiritual state. Expecting to go right back to that place will result in the exact opposite. Only the “mind” has desire, and desiring a meditation outcome is no different.
When you understand that simple fact, you will start to experience things beyond your imagination. After all, your imagination is your mind and that’s limited to what it has perceived in the past.
So Does Meditation Work?
As long as you don’t define what you mean by work.
As long as you “still the body” and “observe the mind” you will experience liberation from suffering and all the wonderful things that meditation promises to offer. Better health. No stress. Compassion. Understanding. Bliss.
If you just practice the physical relaxation, you’ll experience improved health and lower stress.
If you work on the mind, you’ll not take life so seriously and won’t get upset anywhere near as often.
If you achieve a silent mind, your whole experience of the world will change and all of your perceived problems will disappear.
Get out of the way, and just let meditation happen.
Namaste my friends.