As a child when I heard the word meditation, my mind quickly went to monks sitting cross-legged atop a mountain peak, still and humming, with finger and thumb forming circles at their knees. Now I see it as a fitness buzzword or another arrow in the quiver of self-improvement tips heralded by ‘gurus’ who have achieved happiness and wealth online. There is nothing wrong with advertising the benefits of meditation let me be clear; any reason you give someone to start is better than none at all but it sidelines the point of the practice.
Though there are countless benefits and they are all incredibly poignant and worth meditating to achieve, the goal of meditation is not to improve yourself. Rather, that is a consequence of the realisations you can come to when you start to sit down and do nothing. That is all meditation is. Mindful meditation particularly is no activity at all. It is not a tool, but an exploration into the nature of right now, the reality of your present experience.
You sit down upright on a chair, close your eyes and focus your attention solely on the breath.
Why would you want to do this though? It’s not immediately obvious to see how this could be beneficial in any way. Compare it going to the gym or reading a book, you can see how those are valuable activities to do both for their value in the present and how they will impact your future, but focusing your attention seems of ethereal value, perhaps even pointless from an outsiders perspective. This is because in essence there is nothing to be gained from meditation.
What I mean by this is the aim of attempting to focus your attention for long periods of time is to become more aware of reality and importantly to lose that judgement, that value-oriented part of your brain that is constantly focused on assessing your situation, constantly narrating your experience, distracting you from the present moment with the anxiety of the future and regrets of the past.
Then meditation sounds good, obviously no one wants to be anxious or regretful but it’s more than that, it’s not about trying to achieve a state of perpetual ecstasy, rather fall back and sit in what is already there. To observe every noise, sight, smell and thought more clearly, to lose yourself in the moment. Everyone has already experienced this, whenever you stay up all night writing an essay for the next day, or play an instrument in a new and challenging way, paint a scene that is difficult and novel. We have all experienced the flow that comes with a challenging but worthwhile experience in which you completely lose yourself and that constant chatter in your mind working solely on the task at hand. You become one with your surroundings and live in the only moment that ever has been or will be. This one right now.
To conclude, the benefits of meditation are so numerous because you’re changing your relationship with the present moment itself. Practising to focus your attention just ten minutes a day will help you both control your emotions, your thoughts and allow you to be wherever you are as fully as can be possible. In our world where everything and everyone is now clawing for our attention, where we are constantly distracted by entertainment or worry, is that not a prison? A prison in which we play both captive and guard, locking ourselves in a cell of never-ending distraction and egocentric noise, so maybe just for some time, we could all let ourselves be free to see what life is truly like.
Sam Harris Waking Up is a brilliant way to ease yourself into the practice, it costs around £99.99 on the iOS store but if you truly cannot afford this you can contact his company and they give free accounts with full access to all his lessons, no questions asked.