Is meditation a waste of time? Some people think so. They may say “I’ll be doing ‘nothing’ when I meditate, and how can I justify that when there are so many people and things to take care of in so little time?” In addition to a lack of time, many people think they’re not “good” at meditating, so they don’t even try. Meditation is also thought of as just another fad. But meditation has a long history and is often a central tenet of the various philosophies or religious traditions which make up human existence.
Now, I’d like to discuss what meditation is and is not:
Meditation is neither mindlessness, nor “clearing the mind” to the point where we cancel out our human capacity for reason. Rather, it is mindfulness. Mindfulness is simply the learned mental state of being completely aware of your surroundings and living in the present moment. It is centered in paying attention to what is happening and what one is doing. It’s the opposite of rushing from one thing to another with a “check-list” approach to life, even when there are a thousand things to do. Oftentimes we are so busy chasing a productive lifestyle that we wind up getting less and less done, even as we fight to get more and more accomplished. We become like test tubes spun in a centrifuge….everything in us pulls away from the center. We forget to sit back, and to pull things back toward the center in the midst of the hurricane of life. We get so caught up in the doing that we forget to remember some of our most important tools: our brain, our spirit and our emotional well-being. If we take the time to look inward, we often find we have far more clarity and yes, more time when we turn back out again to our family, friends, employers and daily tasks. Why? Because meditation helps us to clear away underbrush, see reality for what it is, and hold to a simple plan for meeting the day’s needs. Voila! We are more productive!
So how exactly can meditation help you be more truly productive?
- It helps you to focus
By learning to be aware of the present moment and to really see it for what it is, you learn acceptance. Acceptance does not mean passivity or neutrality in the face of what really needs to change. Rather, it’s a calm, centered and peaceful recognition of the “now,” and no change for the better in the future can come until you know where you are, today! Focus can also help calm the fear that sometimes comes with change. It can redirect that frozen energy into forward movement.
- It helps with memory
Simply learning to pay attention means you don’t miss so many of the details. You actually hear the name of the person you are meeting for the first time, rather than missing it in worry of what you will say next!
- It relieves stress
Possibly the most well documented effects of mindfulness is stress relief. Meditation has been used for centuries to reduce stress. The American Heart Association website speaks of it helping to lower blood pressure, and over time even the risk of heart attack and stroke because stress unleashes a host of chemicals in the body that cause key markers of health to go awry. Learning to control stress can help bring those markers back into healthy line. Is meditation a cure-all? No, but it is one of several powerful tools which can decrease stress and thus enhance health.
4. It reduces emotional reactivity
Studies show mindful meditation can help lower emotional reactivity, which helps you deal better with negative stimuli. Instead of becoming angry following criticism, mindful people are more likely to take it as constructive criticism, or, to ignore it when appropriate, and return to the task at hand.
How should you get started?
Meditation does not need to be for long periods to be effective! Start with just 2 minutes, and over time you can meditate for longer. This is not a form of “torture”, but instead it is about beginning a new, healthy habit of quietly sitting and just being mindful.
Meditation can also be focused attention to the details of a task. I myself don’t do well just sitting so I took up Sumie painting, a 2,000 year old Japanese brush-painting form with deeply spiritual roots. What turns Sumie from chance artwork into meditation is the care and detail and focus brought to each task needed to prepare the ink and brush for painting, as well as the focused attention to the painting itself. It is a lifelong task to truly grasp this art. In the process, one grasps oneself.
You may not choose Sumie and instead may choose another art. Or you may choose to just sit quietly. There are many well established practices which demand ultimate focus to do very well. Much is written about golf as meditation, or knitting/needlework. Some people swear by repeating the practice of one piano piece over and over until it is perfect. It may sound silly at first, but if you think about it, any difficult task calls for us to focus, to slow down, to learn patience with mistakes, to appreciate the process as much as the product, and to flow with the task at hand. Such is meditation, which is less about what we do than diving in a bit deeper to who we are as human beings.