Most would claim that Meditation, (commonly imagined as sitting silently, becoming aware of the present moment or of ones breath), brings about a greater sense of calmness, clarity, serenity, and contentment. A break from the incessant chatter of the unstoppable inner voice clanging around in our heads. This of course is absolutely true. And then, there are all the benefits to our health, like reduced blood pressure, stress release, increased oxygen levels… it’s a long list, and all of it good stuff.
But what happens when we leave the cushion? When we roll up our mat? When the commentary in our heads starts running again? We are back in our thoughts, anxieties, and judgments. How quickly we lose our serenity and sense of ‘one-ness’. How easily we return to business as usual. Here is where we could be missing the greatest benefit that Meditation actually has to offer.
Let’s use the analogy of going to the gym or doing yoga, martial arts, or whatever physical pursuit scratches our itch. We do our workout, our practice or exercise. During and just afterwards, we often feel a nice warm rush in our bodies. Our bloodstream is flooded with yummy dopamine and we’re glowing and maybe even a bit high. Great feeling, but we know that it is not this immediate ‘hit’ that motivates us to keep going. What really gets us to commit to our practice is an understanding that over time, we are building and training our muscles to feel stronger, our heart and lungs to be more effective, increasing our physical ability and developing our body to work at its optimum. Making it as capable as possible of handling what modern life throws at it. We know we will be more able to deal with unexpected physical stress and strains, we’ll have less aches and pains.
We can dance all night, and do…other things.. all night. We feel less fatigue, more awake, sharper and fitter. In short, we become healthier and have a better quality of life.
Applying this understanding to Meditation is what will give us the secret superpower that is almost always overlooked.
When we meditate on a daily or very regular basis, we are in fact strengthening our ‘presence muscle’. That is to say, we are building our capacity to become present and aware when we really need it most – not on the mat or cushion, but when our sore points, our vulnerable places, are triggered in our ‘normal’ day to day activities.
When all is smooth and wonderful in life, we are mostly content, happy and connected. But when the shit hits the fan, when we are triggered, by our parents, our partners, our children, friends or work colleagues, it is in these moments of ‘reaction’ that we ‘lose consciousness’.
This moment is where we snap. It’s where we defend, rationalise, attack, manipulate and either act ‘out’ in aggression, or act ‘in’ through passive anger, punishment or just total shut down. This is when we actually feel the sting of abandonment, resentment, envy and fear in real-time and space. This is where we damage ourselves and others.
Meditation’s greatest gift, is that it can train us to expand that moment. It allows us to stretch that nano-second of time, just as we are triggered, offering to us an extra split second of hard-won presence and awareness. A capacity built over time, as we cultivate our ability to witness our thoughts and emotions from a higher perspective.
This little gap, this fleeting blink of an eye, is where the practice of Meditation manifests its most profound benefit.
In that extra interval lies the greatest power available to us. The capacity to choose how we will deal with the rush of pain, fear or anger welling up inside. It gives us the capacity to slow down time, take a breath and allow the emotional charge to subside, so that we can make a conscious decision about how we want to respond. This shift enables us to move from automatic conflict, towards resolution. From judgement to compassion. From anger to forgiveness. From fear to love.
It should though be understood, that this fundamental ability, this knack, is by no means easy, nor is it always welcomed by those around us. When we develop this capacity, we become uniquely empowered, as we step out of ‘character’ and no longer follow the scripts that have been playing out in the theatre of our lives. Others who are used to being able to trigger and control us, are suddenly left having to deal with their own thoughts and feelings, because we are no longer playing along and feeding the fire. We have learned to take each moment, each criticism, each comment that once had us lashing out in desperation and rage, and see it for what it really is…someone else’s inner world, their reality, not ours. We no longer take it personally.
This does not mean that we are no longer capable of hearing a valid criticism or are unable to receive feedback about where we can change, learn and grow.
We can in fact, remain more receptive, more discerning and better placed to make a healthy judgement as to whether we take on, or dismiss what comes our way from others.
With less fire and smoke comes clearer vision and understanding.
In the coolness of presence, we respond from our deepest, true nature.
This is real inner power.
This is ‘spiritual fitness’.
This is the secret superpower of Meditation!