Why meditate―unexpected gifts from my practice

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 Why I meditate
This is my special meditation place

Over the past 20-some years I have meditated—sometimes regularly, sometimes sporadically, sometimes not at all—but I keep coming back to meditation practice again and again.

For the past year I’ve made daily meditation practice a part of my life. I miss an occasional day but most mornings find me comfortably seated in my special chair beside the window in our bedroom, sitting in silence for a period of time.

My cat, Gracie, thinks this is her special lap time and almost every day shortly after I begin sitting she leaps onto my lap and settles in, purring and sleeping while I sit in silence.

Why I meditate
Gracie this morning during my meditation time

Usually she sits quietly unless there is a bird flitting in the pine tree outside the window. This morning there were no birds but Gracie was restless. She settled into one position, then decided that it wasn’t quite right, moved this way and that, settled in again, and repeated this cycle throughout my entire meditation time. It was distracting but I worked hard to make it into a good kind of distraction, noticing gently when my attention strayed, “Thinking….cat watching…thinking…”

Sometimes I ask myself why I persist in my meditation practice when so often my sessions feel like I’m constantly chasing monkey mind. What is it that keeps me sitting down and embracing the silence when so often peace and a quiet mind seem to elude me?

Why meditate―unexpected gifts

Initially chronic pain and illness motivated me to meditate.

Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness started me on my meditation journey. I hoped that meditation practice might help me experience less pain and heal long term chronic health problems. Meditation does help me when I am experiencing pain but my long term health issues are still issues. They haven’t gone away but with regular meditation I am better able to enjoy my life despite the challenges.

For a long time after I began meditating I noticed no particular change in my level of presence during meditation sessions. Most of my time was spent noticing monkey mind. Occasionally I experienced a sense of deep silence within but those times were few and far between.

“Seven attitudinal factors constitute the major pillars of mindfulness practice as we teach it in the stress clinic. They are non-judging, patience, a beginner’s mind, trust, non-striving, acceptance, and letting go.”

by Jon Kabat-Zinn from Full Catastrophe Living

I believe that meditating helps me to remain positive and open to life. Even though I didn’t feel a deep change occurring due to my meditation practice I found that I was becoming better at being kind to myself. One particular piece of advice that came from a book I read a long time ago about meditation suggested that whenever I noticed my thoughts were thoughts of self-criticism I say, “Forgiven” silently. Nothing else. Just “Forgiven.” This became a mantra during many of my meditation sessions for a long time. I’m happy to say that I feel the need to say it less and less. But it still carries magic when I need it.

“Imperfection is not our personal problem – it is a natural part of existing.”
Tara Brach, Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha

Meditation has become a powerful practice of self-compassion and acceptance for me. Learning to accept and embrace all parts of myself with equanimity has been a great gift.

Learning to accept what is and let go of both grasping for something I want or pushing something I don’t want away has made me a happier person. I’ve become better at noticing when something is pushing my buttons and better able to disengage from negative thoughts and behaviors sooner (most of the time).

“The little things? The little moments? THEY AREN”T LITTLE!” — Jon Kabat-Zinn

In addition to those benefits, in the past month I’ve noticed another shift in my meditation practice. I am experiencing a deeper settling into my physical body when I sit in meditation. I feel my shoulders softening and muscles that I wasn’t even aware were tense relax as I focus my attention on my body. This sense of softening and relaxation in my body feels like I’m coming home to myself.

Meditation practice is a journey, best practiced with no particular destination in mind.

“There is something wonderfully bold and liberating about saying yes to our entire imperfect and messy life.”
Tara Brach, Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With The Heart Of A Buddha

Starting a meditation practice has never been easier. There are so many wonderful teachers, books, and free online resources to guide you.

Find a book that shows you how to meditate. Or listen to guided meditations online or through the mobile app called Insight Timer. Or simply sit down and pay attention to you breath.

I hope you find meditation as helpful in your life as I have found it to be in mine.

May you walk in beauty.

 

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