With the advances in neuroscience and better measurement tools such as MRI, scientists are finding hard facts about benefits of meditation. For example, a study by Harvard unveils the cognitive and psychological benefits of meditation that go beyond stress relief and relaxation. Meditation group participants had a significant increase in gray-matter density in the areas of the brain associated with learning and memory compared to the control group. These effects were seen over 8 weeks with an average practice time of 27 minutes each day.
Still, despite theÂ numerous benefits,Â I found it incredibly hard to sit still for a prolonged period of time when I started. Why?Â Was there something wrong with me? Why even 5 minutes of â€œdoing nothingâ€ caused such discomfort and pain?Â I had applied a process of statistical thinking to find the root-cause of my predicament and the means to succeed. The good news is that if I could succeed, you can, too.
Was I always like this? Of course not – as a child I could go the whole day â€œdoing nothingâ€ and being happy. Each one of us had a clean slate and sometime during adolescence weâ€™ve trained ourselves to multitask, memorize, judge, decide and do all kinds of mental work except one â€“ clean and purify at the conclusion of the task. I precisely remember a moment when I realized I finally learned to multitask, but at that moment I also felt I lost something far more precious â€“ ability to just be. I could not retrain myself to switch from a scattered mind to a single mind easily. This was the beginning of the end and the end of the beginning.
Become the master of my mind. Later on I learned that this goal is not the best goal to have, but for the time being letâ€™s assume this is something a novice practitioner can strive for.
My purpose is not to develop a set of rules to go from A to B, but rather think about what kind of energy and sincerity is needed to be successful in meditation.
- Time frame: how long did it take for me to accumulate the mental garbage? Years, decades? Is it reasonable to expect all of that miraculously disappear in a short meditation practice? I have a rule of three: any new activity that I want to learn more about, I should give at least 3 tries. With a highly cognitive activity such as meditation, a month may not be enough. It depends on the initial state of the practitioner. The more open and humble attitude helps, but is not a prerequisite.
- What motivates me? Am I more likely to succeed when I am motivated by the process itself, or when I keep my mind on the end result? In the latter, I educate myself about the benefits of the end result, and remember to have patience and determination to go through. If my goal is to be able to enjoy the process of meditation faster, much more energy and resources may be required to break through the self-constructed barriers and hard-wired habits.
- Observing the progress. It is the one of the hardest things to measure and acknowledge. Observing self with impartiality means that I have already reached a major milestone! The quality of thoughts, emotions, and relationships can be tracked via writing a diary.
One of my favorite guided meditation methods is listening to “Buddhas’ Fun” CD.Â When I am struggling with my thoughts, I listen toÂ “breakup meditation” track. When I want toÂ recoverÂ fun in my brain and warmth in my heart, I listen to “Buddhas’ fun” track.
The beautiful thing about meditation is that the enjoyment of the process and the end result can grow without limits, irrespective of age, wealth, social status, and fame. Anyone can do it if they set their mind to it. What a wonderful gift we all possess!