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 positive emotions, like love and compassion.
Most of us do want a calmer, clearer, happier mind. If we’re stressed or in a negative state, 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 short-tempered, 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 ways to meditate, and although they all help us calm down, this is not the end goal. However, releasing our stress is certainly necessary before we can make real progress in building up more positive states, so we usually relax and quieten our minds by focusing on the breath, before proceeding to alternate between the two types of Buddhist meditation: discerning and stabilizing.
With discerning meditation, often called “analytical,” we use reasoning to work ourselves up, step by step, to a positive state of mind, such as love. Or we use reasoning to analyze a situation and come to a correct understanding about it, such as its impermanence. Or we may simply build up a mental image of something with positive qualities, such as the form of a Buddha, and try to discern it clearly.
Then, in stabilizing meditation, we use mindfulness, attention and concentration to maintain as long as possible the positive state we have generated. Or we apply those tools to maintain undistracted focus on the mental image we’ve built up.
We alternate the two types of meditation. When we have built up and can discern the positive state of mind we wish, we stabilize it; and when our concentration on this state weakens or is lost, we work ourselves back up to generate and discern it once more.
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 we 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.
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.