“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally. This kind of attention nurtures greater awareness, clarity, and acceptance of the present-moment reality. It wakes us up to the fact that our lives unfold only in moments. If we are not fully present for many of those moments, we may not only miss what is most valuable in our lives but also fail to realise the richness and the depth of our possibilities for growth and transformation.” Jon Kabat-Zinn
|Meditation can improve creativity and help you focus||It’s hard to measure the true effects of meditation|
|Meditation helps you relax||You may need a teacher to achieve your desired results|
|Meditation can inspire you to lead a healthier lifestyle||Bad memories can resurface through meditation|
|Meditation can connect you to your inner self||You will only see progress with regular practice|
|Meditation can help with emotional stability|
From the Latin meditatum, meaning ‘to ponder,’ we get the word meditation. Meditation is the ancient practice of centering your thoughts, settling the mind, and creating awareness. This may sound daunting, especially if your mind is filled with more clutter than a kitchen drawer full of rarely used things. The human mind is such a complex muscle, controlling our view of the world while continuously processing new information. Your mind is constantly thinking, analyzing, being, and the more information you absorb, the harder it can be to focus on one thing, to let go of things that don’t serve you, and to just relax.
This is where meditation comes in. The practice has experienced a resurgence in popularity in the past few decades, as the perils of modern living lead people to try and find meaningful ways to clear their minds. The quest to calm the stormy human mind is an ancient one, going back to some of the world’s oldest written records from around 1500 BCE in India. The idea of training the mind, known as Dhyāna or Jhāna, comes from the Hindu Vedas. Going back to the 3rd and 6th century BC, we find references to the meditative practice in the writings of ancient Chinese philosopher Laozi, famous to this day for his incomparable wisdom.
There are nine main types of meditation, some requiring much time spent with an instructor to take you through the different stages of practice, while others can be done on your own, at home, or in traffic when you have five minutes to spare. Regardless of what you would like to achieve, there is a type of meditative practice for you. Examining the pros and cons of meditation will help you determine if you are ready to take the next step and incorporate it into your life.
Pros of meditating
Meditation can improve creativity and help you focus.
In his book Mindfulness for Creativity, Dr. Danny Penman writes that practicing mindfulness meditation and other mindfulness exercises can enhance three of the skills necessary for creativity. Mindfulness meditation switches on divergent thinking, meaning it opens your mind up to new ideas. It also improves attention, making your mind more receptive to new ideas and their usefulness. Lastly, mindfulness fosters courage and builds resilience to skepticism and setbacks, which are necessary for the creative process. It can also help you focus by teaching you to channel your mental energy into specific areas for extended amounts of time.
Meditation helps you relax.
With work, family, and social commitments pulling people in every which direction, it can be hard to find time to relax. Many people work more than one job to make ends meet, have to take care of partners, children, siblings, or parents, and still try to find time to socialize and be with friends. If this sounds familiar, meditation could be just what you need to relax at the end of a long day where you didn’t have a moment to yourself. It gives you the chance to unwind and to unplug from your stress, your responsibilities, and your devices.
If you are having trouble sleeping, some meditation before bed can make falling asleep much easier and make your sleep more restful if you often wake up in the middle of the night. Clearing your mind before bed can also decrease your chances of having bad dreams, which are often the result of the subconscious mind working out the anxieties and stresses of that day. While the conscious part of the brain is asleep, the subconscious engages in the act of working through the problems we encountered at work, that snide remark a friend made about our outfit, the date we had who didn’t call us back, and the car accident that killed our dog when we were five years old. If you’re struggling to fall asleep, meditation can help calm your insecurities about what the future holds and help you deal with negative emotions, increasing the quality of your sleep.
Meditation can inspire you to lead a healthier lifestyle.
More than just an exercise in mindfulness, meditation can become a way of life. Many people who experience positive results with meditative practice often feel the urge to clear up other areas of their lives, whether that’s removing clutter from their personal life, home, or diet. People who previously had extremely negative attitudes towards exercise or eating healthy can change their whole lives around by becoming more mindful of the messages that inform these attitudes and start to change them.
If you have a fitness or lifestyle goal that you want to attain but can’t seem to bring yourself to begin, or you often start things and then lose interest, meditation can be the first step to finally achieving that goal.
Meditation can connect you to your inner self.
Modern life has almost completely disconnected us from our inner, reflective self. Everything has become externalized: it’s about how we look, what we have achieved, what exotic location we’re visiting on our next vacation. Technology links us to anything and anyone at the touch of a button, and we have apps that remind us to drink water or that we’re running out of milk.
Over time, the amount of automation we allow into our lives starts to shut out our inner self, and we begin to lose the intuition that every human being is gifted with at birth. This inner voice is what places us in the world. It guides our thoughts and decisions and acts as a compass, leading us away from danger. With noses buried in our phones, or Air Pods blasting music into our ears as we run errands, we become more isolated and lose touch with the outer world, lessening our intuition or internal understanding of it. If this sounds familiar to you, giving meditation a try can help reconnect you to your inner self and make your experience of the world at large more meaningful.
Meditation can also give you insights into life and your feelings as you delve deep into your mind through repeated practice. It can expand your horizons as you think about specific subjects or feelings by letting your mind take you where it wants to go, or focusing on a particular thing for an extended period. Not everything you experience is a true reflection of reality, and meditation can help you break through the filters of subjectivity to give you a more objective insight into your experiences. It can provide clarity on certain issues, such as why a particular relationship has gone wrong and what you can do to fix it, or what goals you would like to achieve at school or in your job.
Meditation can help with emotional stability.
Meditation also has great benefits for your mental health. The act of engaging with your mind and taking the time to work through and release negative emotions is something that can benefit everyone. We all encounter challenges from time to time, and some people find it hard to cope. Others have more serious concerns, such as clinical depression and anxiety. While meditation won’t cure you, it can help lead you on your way to better managing the triggers that can cause an episode of anxiety or leave you feeling depressed. Learning to center your mind is also a good skill to have if you suffer panic attacks. Meditation coupled with breathing exercises can calm you and bring you back to the present moment.
Cons of meditating
You may need a teacher to achieve your desired results.
Depending on the goals you want to achieve, you may need to spend some money and pay a certified meditation teacher to guide you through the process. This is someone who has had training in how to properly guide you through the different forms and levels of meditation, combining breathing and concentration exercises to steer their students towards Zen. And if you want quality sessions with someone who really knows what they’re doing, the classes won’t be cheap. While there are numerous free meditation courses and apps available online, you might be the type of person who benefits more from the structured learning environment of a traditional one-on-one or in-person group session.
You will only see progress with regular practice.
If you’re looking for a quick fix or one-time solution, then meditation isn’t for you. Before you begin, be prepared to devote yourself to regularly engaging in the process for a while before you see any results.
Traditionally, shamatha, or breath-focused meditation, is practiced for fifteen-minute stretches a few times a day, while the tradition of transcendental meditation requires at least twenty minutes. Depending on how seriously you want to take it and the spiritual level to which you would like to ascend, you will need to spend at least forty-five minutes meditating each day. And while even five minutes in the car before you walk into the office each morning can make a difference in your general well-being, the less time you spend on it, the slower your progress will be.
Bad memories can resurface through meditation.
If you’ve had traumatic experiences in the past, diving into your mind to connect with the “inner you” may bring these back up to the surface. The process of learning to meditate is not a superficial one, and therefore requires some serious, deep, and meaningful introspection on your part. Especially if you’ve had trauma that left your psyche scarred, this may lead your mind down a path where it starts to relive and thus confront these negative experiences. This can be quite overwhelming, more so with the resurfacing of particularly painful or deeply repressed memories. Going through this alone, without the guidance of a trained professional, can make it even harder to cope.
It’s hard to measure the true effects of meditation.
One of the biggest problems with meditation is that it can be quite hard to determine the nature and extent of your progress, as well as what effect it is having on your overall well-being. If, for example, you begin to see a therapist and start meditating around the same time, it will be hard to differentiate between whether it is the therapy sessions or meditation that is helping you cope better with your anxiety disorder. Or perhaps you cut down on television in the evening and start a new night-time routine that includes meditation, a cup of warm milk, and some light reading to help you sleep better at night. Once again, it can be quite hard to tell what the meditation is actually doing to help, even if you see progress in your sleeping patterns.
Mastering meditative practice takes time, and the effects can seem to come slowly or not at all. If you’re generally well-adjusted and have no immediate concerns but want to embark on a journey towards mindfulness and Zen, it may be difficult at first to gauge whether or not this is happening. Lastly, the true, scientific effects are even harder to measure in studies. While numerous people have claimed to feel the positive effects of meditation, this is subjective and can’t be measured externally. Some scientists completely dismiss meditation as useless, while others acknowledge that it may do some good. One study in Denmark found that there was higher brain activity during Zen meditation, specifically in the frontal lobe. This is the part of the brain that is responsible for processing more complex human emotions. Another study found that long term meditative practice could be a factor in slowing down the ageing process. Unless you’re willing to go the scientific route, you may have a hard time gauging what progress has been made, especially in the short term.