The Benefits of Meditation

by Josh

Random Friend: “Why do you meditate?”
Le me:”Uhm well y’know, ah”
Here are my Top five reasons to practice meditation in one form or another.

What is meditation?

The kind of meditation I practice is called Zazen. It is a vital part of Zen-buddhism (I’m not a buddhist though). To practice Zazen, you sit on a sturdy cushion, preferably a special meditation cushion, with your feet either in a full or a half lotus position.
Once you’ve managed to sit (kind of) comfortably, you set your alarm, do a little bow and make a nosedive into the gurgling of your thoughts.
The practice is, to stay focused on your breath, and to re-focus on your breath when you get lost in your thoughts.
For more information, I recommend this comic, or youtube.

The benefits of meditation (in my opinion)

1. To Practice Focus
Especially when you first start, meditation can seem/be, excruciatingly boring and uncomfortable.
I mean, you just sit on your ass in a silent room, doing absolutely nothing.
When was the last time you did that? Are you even able to?
Being able to sit comfortably and straight without any support takes time and practice.
You’ll get tired. You’ll wrestle with lead-filled eyelids (this is probably the worst).
And your thoughts might be unpleansant to listen to, like a dreadful drunk who spits while talking.
Through all of this, try to keep your focus. On… nothing.
It is like a mental workout, to stay tuned without being tuned. To keep our awareness without having to hold on to anything.
To me, it is a bit like going to the gym, but the muscle that’s being trained is the one of aimless focus.
Fair enough. I am saying, that you should focus on your breath first, but then I say, that you should focus on nothing.
Ever noticed that when you want to point a dog in a direction, instead of looking in that direction, they just stupidly stare at your finger?
It’s the same here. You focus on your breath, but it’s just the finger pointing, not the goal.
(What the finger is pointing at, I have no clue).

2. To practice discipline
Meditation is like running or cooking or being nice to others.
If you don’t do it, you’ll quickly forget how great you feel afterwards.
It is also very easily neglected, because, like with so many “good” habits, not doing it has no (immediate) negative outcome for us.
Loss aversion, or the fear of negative outcomes, motivates us more strongly than the promise of achieving something.
And in meditation there is not even something big that you can achieve.
When you work out, your body looks great and you feel good about yourself.
When you meditate regularly, you…. well… you meditate regularly.

I try and meditate every day, at least ten minutes. Ten minutes is not a lot, changing behavior, or developing new habits becomes sooo much easier, if it is kept simple and in small bites.

3. To calm the mind
Meditation works wonders when I have one of these days (usually shortly before an exam or deadline), when I am hugely stressed out, but not being productive whatsoever.
Even just ten minutes of meditation is enough for my mind to cool down enough so I can start afresh and actually get stuff done that matters.
A lot of folks think, that the ultimate goal of meditation is to stop thinking.
Try that out for a second. “DON’T THINK!!!”
Works well aye?
Not thinking is not the goal here.
Your thoughts are like a river with a lot of rubble (thoughts) swimming in it.
The goal is then, to watch the river flow by, without fishing out any of these thoughts. And if you do, to let them go and re-focus.

4. To Appreciate Breath 
When was the last time you actually focused on your breath? The movement of your chest, the muscles working, or the smell and texture of the air, ?
I mean, it’s a friggin miracle. And often only when we are ill, we become aware of how nice it is to be able to breathe freely.
My friend Scott Miller once said:
“It’s crazy, this is what keeps us immediately alive. If we stop doing it, we die. Why is it that we never pay attention to it, just because it works automatically”.
Nuff said.

5. To get to know yourself whithout valueing
When I meditate, I actively listen to myself.
As human beings we tend to automatically value everything in our binary system of “good” and “bad”.
But in reality it does not work that way. This kind of “black and white” thinking leads to resentment of yourself and others.
You are who you are. And you better start finding out who you are, how you tick and what kind of thoughts whizz around your head if you listen.
Dale Carnegie (?) said that genuine listening is the most valuable thing you can do for someone. Do it for yourself. Fall in love with yourself (can’t believe how gay that sounds).
Who knows, maybe you have some really cool ideas, but you never had the time to listen.
Also, it increases the capacity, to tell apart your thoughts and emotions from who you are (might be the most powerful one).