Meditation invokes a quieting ocean of calm, but only with time and consistent practice. But I didn't get that until I really devoted myself to it. The biggest shift was the implementation of a simple meditation technique that I learned from Vedic meditation master, Thom Knoles.
Often, folks will say they've tried to meditate but cannot stop their mind, sit still or stop thinking. That's why it's important to learn from someone who's done their work — a master. Without masterful instruction, we couldn't expect to be proficient in anything.
For example, we wouldn't have a peer teach a 16-year-old teenager how to drive — we'd have an experienced person, proficient in giving driving instruction to give the new driver sound guidance. Demonstration from a master is the best way to avoid the negative associations that come with failed personal trials — in any aspect of our learning. Their feedback, hints and tips from years of experience are invaluable to any practice.
And though I had a meditation practice long before meeting Thom, there were still elements of my intellect that were obstructing the quiet enjoyment of meditation. I still needed a way out of chronic mental aggression I experienced for most of my life — I couldn't see the ease and softness beneath it all. With Thom's guidance I corrected the habitual assumptions and negations in my mind, and have been able to get much more out of each sitting.
What's notable about the Vedic meditation technique? It teaches us how to be effortless with our practice. You learn how to sit twice a day and look forward to each sitting, without a sense of fear or dread. Vedic meditation has offered me guidance in correcting the intellect, offering a new approach to evolve beyond my deeply ingrained habits.
A few months of committing to the practice twice a day, things really started to settle in. And now after over a year of regular daily practice, I've softened my stance on many aspects of my thinking. My meditations are now times of real sweetness — when the world melts away and I trust in the space, in the time and in myself.
Whenever we make time for meditation, we immediately feel better. And if we have a daily practice, we would feel better more often. Daily practice yields transformative results. Studies show that meditation changes our brain matter. We literally shed stress, are less reactive, increase our attention span and become more patient and adaptable.
But this doesn't happen with sporadic practice. If you meditate once a week, you may enjoy calm or stress release afterward, or even during that one sitting — but you're not strengthening the muscle, you're not enjoying the benefits of a regular practice.
For yogis, it's like practicing asana once a week, versus three or four times a week. The more you practice, the more the benefits start to permeate your being.
Consistent meditation helps me to see the sacred, feel the forgiveness and move forward mindfully, so that even when I fall back on some old habitual thought, my practice is right there to catch me within a matter of hours.
Here are three simple reasons to be consistent with your meditation practice, and some practical tools to help you along the way:
1. Daily practice teaches you to be patient and kind.
With time you'll come to appreciate that the most unsavory emotions — like impatience and anger — don't go away for good, but that you can learn to move on from them quickly.
Learning to let go with ease and handle emotions with grace is a product of daily practice. When we spend time in deep meditation, we release what we cognitively know and what we've unconsciously stored in our bodies and minds. All of our haste, worry, anxiety, dread and fear will literally fall away with each time we practice. When we are consistent with sitting twice daily, we become more compassionate and notice those negating states without engaging, letting them go more freely.
Practical tool: During your day, take note of any unkind or irrelevant thought and ask yourself: "How long shall I allow this thought to unfurl in my mind?"
2. Daily practice unleashes your creativity and helps you to locate imaginative solutions.
Thom refers to creativity as the capacity to make new connections amidst already existing elements. Meaning, the ingredients aren't fundamentally changing — your ways of seeing are. Once you begin sitting regularly and spending time releasing all of the lower-level reactions from your brain and physiology, your adaptability and creativity increases.
Practical tool: During your day ask yourself, "How can I look at this (person or circumstance) from a different angle? Rather than close down and react, how can I be more creative in finding a solution?"
3. Daily practice helps you move away from doubt into courage.
Studies by neuropsychologist Dr. Allan Schore showed that shame had a direct affect on stress experienced by children (How could you DO that? Are you that stupid? You should be ashamed of yourself!) This actually cuts back the normal neural connectivity in the highest, most imaginative areas of a child's mind — derailing the enrichment of the architecture to the lowest lobes of the brain, where survival is the only imperative, and the emergency systems are in full effect. In shaming others, we bring the most destructive systems to life, and shut down the creative ones.
Each time we're shamed or cut off — as kids or adults — we become more likely to host doubt in our bodies, and move away from a brave, effective stance. Meditation is your way to release those moments of shaming (past or present, perpetrator or victim), and begin to create consistent space and time to rewire, rebuild and nourish our most confident, courageous self. Meditation is how we shift from surviving to thriving.
Practical tool: During your day ask yourself, "How can I evolve this doubtful thought/action into a confident, courageous choice?"
And if you habitually shame anyone — your kids, friends or colleagues — Dr. Schore recommends that you immediately apologize, and that with children you immediately take on a nurturing stance. You'll see that each time you meditate, noticing this will become easier, and you'll be less likely to perpetuate that shame any further.
For me, what's most valuable about Vedic meditation is the fact that it's a technique. I can hold it close, bring it with me anywhere and allow it to assist my growth every day. It's a concrete way of returning to my simplest, quiet awareness — where all is calm and the mind can rest, if only for a short while.
Thom Knoles returns to New York City hosting free, introductory talks on Vedic Meditation, May 16 & 17 — details including locations and times can be found on his website. To learn more about meditation you can also check out The Essential Guide To Meditation, taught by his son Charlie.
Photo courtesy of Michael Williams for LOLE