Does meditation even work?
I’ve had some folks ask me this question from time to time. It’s usually a question that comes from someone who’s never tried it, but occasionally I get this question from experienced meditators.
After all, you spend a lot of time “just sitting there.”
But, if you know anything about meditation, it’s not just “sitting there.” Things happen to the brain, to the body, to the mind. It’s subtle, though.
The Journey of 10,000 Miles
It’s kind of like a journey of 10,000 miles. You take that first step. It doesn’t seem like much, and honestly, it isn’t. Then you take another. Eventually you get to 10,000 steps. They start to add up. Over time, you surpass 1,000, 5,000 and finally 10,000 miles. That’s about 20,000,000 steps. I took over 3,000,000 steps from April 2017 – April 2018 for the LIFE Project.
The point is, all those hours of sitting add up, little by little.
How do I know?
I’ve lived it.
How you know that meditation is having an effect
You know it when you turn to the breath in a time of crisis
Time and time again, I find myself returning awareness to the breath no matter what happens. Someone honks at me in traffic? I take a breath. Irate personality crossing my path? I take a breath. Get news of a loved on in the hospital? I take a breath.
It becomes second nature to come back to the breath in times of chaos and in times of calm. What I can’t tell you is when it starts to happen. I imagine for some people, it happens fairly soon after starting a meditation practice. For others, it might take hundreds or even thousands of hours.
I don’t remember quite when this started happening for me. It wasn’t immediately. But then one day I became aware of how I was breathing in stressful situations. Now, it serves as such a powerful anchor.
You know it when you feel this inner power that comes from deep within
As you go deeper with your meditation practice, you start to feel an inner strength and knowing that wasn’t there before beginning.
You have an internal strength that allows you to weather life’s storms more effectively. I still feel plenty of stress or get unsettled feelings. But then you learn to become an observer and detach from those feelings even as you acknowledge them. Then you return to center more quickly.
You know it when you start to change your life
In the years since I’ve started meditating, little by little, I started noticing changes in my life. I began decluttering, taking on challenges I wanted to do, and taking better care of myself. I started to simplify.
You are a temple
I started treating my body like a temple. I’m not perfect – I do forget to mop the floors and dust the cobwebs sometimes, but overall, I have a greater desire to love myself.
You gain compassion
Relationships start to change. You start to feel compassion for everyone, including those who would be your enemies. You can see the humanness in friends and foes alike. And I realize the “foes” are people in two camps: those whose life experiences or personalities are so different than mine that it’s just hard to relate, or that they are just not meant to be in my inner circle. Either way, it’s okay.
You just might go vegetarian
And maybe you won’t become a vegetarian (no judgment there, I promise), but I had to stop eating meat. I felt like I could sense the suffering of the animal that gave its life for my sake. I didn’t want to participate in that any longer. I’d like to go vegan eventually, but no one else around me is even vegetarian and so a highly specialized diet is…difficult. I have a lot to learn about vegan diets before trying again (I tried it for 30 days in October 2017 and found that I got a lot of headaches and dizziness).
You know it when you don’t feel the same kind of anxiousness that other members of your family have turned to medication for
Some people have a propensity for being anxious and nervous. You might. I certainly do. Other people I know either don’t, or they hide it well.
Regardless, returning to the stillness of meditation (and no…the mind doesn’t go still – it’s a myth!) has taught me a thing or two about the kinds of thoughts I have, and how much I worry.
It’s taught me a lot about how the human mind works. Whether you’re a worrywart or not, the human mind typically has between 10,000 and 60,000 thoughts per day.
I’m still working on completely detaching from my thoughts and not identifying with them. The ego is a powerful force and it takes a lot of effort to overcome this attachment.
When you or I no longer attach and identify with the ego, that will be the day you observe all your thoughts and enter a state of balance and bliss in perpetuity. I think they call that enlightenment.
For now, I am able to identify with my worries less and less and enter a state of calm more and more. Meditation is worth it for that alone.
You know it when you hear an inner voice guiding you
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve “felt” answers come – both in and out of meditation. Or see things. Or get a feeling. It doesn’t happen all the time, and I have a long ways to go in honing my sense of intuition, but I’m working on it.
The frequency of things happening has increased dramatically since starting to meditate, however. I’ll get glimpses of visions of others’ dreams, a sense of the intentions of a person when I meet them, deja vu, and more. I often do a form of meditation called, “self-inquiry” (if you don’t know what that is, hang tight, I’ll be releasing some free guided meditations in the next couple of months).
The answers that come! Wow! Not in meditation, mind you, but outside of it, AFTER I have detached from any expectations of an answer.
All this because of meditation. It’s a life-changing practice.