Those thoughts go through my mind about 19 times a day. And if you’ve ever heard me talk about how everyone should have a meditation practice that might surprise you.
I doubt whether meditation is even worth the time.
I’ll be honest. I started meditating because I was desperate to feel peace inside without being drunk. Chasing peace was half of my motivation.
And my other motivation was an idea I had about realizing my potential. It was more like I wanted to find meaning in something. But it sounds cooler to talk about realizing potential like I was on a quest with a goal in mind. I was stumbling in the dark.
More than 15 years since I began meditating I haven’t looked back much to see how my practice and how it affected my life. So we could give this post the alternate title of “You sat still? What’s the big deal?!”
I don’t want to spoil this thing for you. But you won’t see the self-control if you look at my life. At least some of the time you’d probably shake your head and say something like “that guy needs to get his shit together.”
Here are a few of the things I’ve done over the last few years that I thought meditation would help me avoid.
- Got blind drunk almost every night for two years. Shouldn’t somebody who knows how to meditate deal with emotions in better ways?
- Became fixated on the idea of money as the measure of life’s value. And didn’t see my attitude for what it was for two years. Where was my self-awareness?
- Got a DUI in Hawaii driving a car full of my friends through some mountains. Shouldn’t I have some sense and good decision making?
- Thought about suicide every day for months. Why couldn’t I control my thoughts with meditation?
Those are a few of the ways I dealt with life’s challenges in the last 15 years. And the fact is those are things I was looking to get away from with meditation. Every one of those things is part of an ongoing struggle that was present at 23 when I began my practice.
Meditation certainly hasn’t been a panacea that kept me out of every scrape.
So why did I meditate today? And why do I tell other people they should do it?
Practicing meditation for years hasn’t imbued me with the courage of Gandhi. In fact, I’ve even stopped altogether for months at a time after years of consistent practice.
I’ve found that intermittent breaks are common for a lot of meditators. The people I know don’t arrive at a destination where they no longer have to choose their practice every day.
So I’m done looking for the destination on the path. Meditation isn’t a path to anywhere.
So why do I still sit?
Is it a habit? Is it for comfort?
Does this entitle me to a superior position in some religious kind of code in my mind?
I’ll admit that I sat for all these pointless things.
Meditation is a tool.
In sitting, I found insights that I needed to navigate various stages in my life.
In the day to day business of life, my mind tends to focus on ideas that justify whatever seems easiest right now.
My mind gave me years of reasons why my ridiculous drinking habit wasn’t going to hurt me. And in a few days a million more reasons why the cop who arrested me for a DUI was wrong.
But sitting I came to accept that situation along with my responsibility.
Meditation made the space that I could see what I had to do next. There was no magic. It didn’t change anything for me. And I didn’t reach a point that I avoided this kind of bind in the first place.
But it was after meditating that my attitude shifted and I started to take the next right action. Meditating was like opening the shades to let in light.
Months later when I struggled with depression every day I couldn’t shake it with meditation. But it was the periods of meditation that shined clarifying light on what I needed to do.
Throughout each of these periods meditation became a tool as I took action throughout the rest of my day. Without words or thoughts, it’s a way that I let go of the fear and confusion that gets in the way of right action.
When friends tell me that they’re interested in meditating I get excited. Because I think they might get some of what I have.
What to Expect When You Start Meditating
My expectations were all wrong. The biggest thing I have gotten from meditation is the experience that sitting still for a few minutes can change everything.
People say that the benefits are cumulative. For me, the biggest way that has been true is that I slowly got over my expectations. And I stopped trying to make so much happen from meditating.
I hoped and imagined it would help me control myself and the world. It hasn’t been anything like that.
The best way I could describe the key benefit is that meditation interrupts repetitive thoughts. And sometimes new insights show up when that happens.
After somebody tells me that they want to learn more about meditation. The next question is how to do it. What works for me is to avoid most teaching on meditation.
How to Learn Meditation
My favorite books on techniques have been by Om Swami and a book called Search Inside Yourself.
You don’t have to go to classes at some kind of temple or center. I’ve been to some of those, but that hasn’t been where I got the most value in my meditation practice.
What I found in temples, centers, and yoga studios is community and friendship with like-minded people. It’s definitely valuable in its own right. But it’s separate from what I’ve been talking about here.
I’ve come across other books that mixed in beliefs I didn’t think were useful or I didn’t trust that the authors actually knew what they were doing.
There are some other good books out there, but these references have been the most valuable in the last few years.
But for the most part, you don’t learn meditation from books. You learn it from meditating.