Meditation is a method to develop beneficial states of mind. We do this by repeatedly generating certain mental states until they become a habit. Physically, meditation has been shown to actually build up new neural pathways.
Benefits of Meditation
There are many different beneficial states of mind that we can develop through meditation:
- Being more relaxed, and less stressed
- Being more focused, and less spaced out
- Being calmer, free of constant worries
- Having a better understanding of ourselves and our lives, and of others
- Having more love and compassion.
Most of us do want a calmer, clearer, happier mind. If we’re stressed, it makes us unhappy. It adversely affects our health and can ruin our career, family lives and friendships.
If we’re fed up of being stressed and frustrated, we might look for methods – such as meditation – to help us. Meditation enables us to overcome emotional shortcomings with no negative side effects (See How to Meditate).
We need to have a realistic approach to meditation. It’s a tool we can use to achieve positive results, but it’s not an instant cure-all. No result is achieved through one single cause, but through a multitude of causes and conditions. For instance, meditation could certainly help us if we have high blood pressure, but the results will be nothing like those if we also changed our diet, exercised and took medication.
Types of Buddhist Meditation
There are many different types of meditation, but in general Buddhist meditation falls into one of two categories – concentrative or analytical.
In concentrative meditation, we train to focus our minds single-pointedly on a mental object until we can do so with ease for hours at a time. During analytical meditation, we examine the Buddhist teachings using logical reasoning, which helps to eradicate doubt and come to a firm conclusion about the way things truly exist. These two types of meditation support each other: the firmer our concentration, the better our analysis of reality, and the more we analyze, the more we wish to improve our concentration. This leads to the development of two states of mind:
- Shamatha, where we have an incredibly tranquil, peaceful state of mind, and
- Vipashyana, where our mind is exceptionally perceptive.
Meditation for Daily Life
The whole point of meditation is not just to feel calm, focused and loving when we’re sitting on our cushion at home, but to actually affect our everyday lives. If we meditate regularly, it makes positive emotions a habit that we can apply whenever we need to, day or night. Ultimately, it becomes part of us – something so natural that we’re always effortlessly more loving, focused and calm.
There will be moments when get really angry and frustrated, but all we’ll need to do is remind ourselves: “Be more loving.” Because we’ll be so familiar with this state of mind through consistent meditation practice, we can instantly generate it (See 8 Buddhist Tips for Dealing with Anger).
No one is perfect, and we can all find some sort of bad habit we’d like to get rid of. Luckily, these habits are not carved in stone, but are changeable.
This change requires nothing but our own effort. Many of us spend hours at the gym but forget to exercise our greatest asset: our minds. It’s difficult at the start, but once we see the benefits that meditation can bring to our lives, we’ll be happy to invest time working on our minds.