Why Meditate? Part 1

Life - even life in a safe, democratic country with good access to health-care, education and freedom of choice - can be very stressful.

The unexpected occurs; our family relationships are sometimes troubling; getting to and from work can be difficult and being at work can be challenging and stressful (according to research by the Mental Health Foundation, more than 50% of workers believe that stress from work is making them ill*)  We might be going through divorce, coping with bereavement, or dealing with similarly difficult life-change, or we might just be getting stressed out from living our ordinary day to day lives.

Symptoms of stress include anger, sleeplessness, loss of appetite, lack of energy, anxiety, depression, worry, brooding, breathlessness, chest pains, physical discomfort from tense muscles and back pain.  Stress makes us more susceptible to illness and less effective at focusing on tasks that need to be done.

And these are stressful times: researchers have found that levels of 'ordinary' stress experienced in the 80s and 90s are equivalent to what would have been considered clinical stress in the 1950s.**

So we are living with higher levels of stress, more of the time.  Our nervous systems are designed to supply us with certain hormones to enable us to deal with threatening or stressful situations in the moment, but these chemicals are not designed to stay in our systems long-term and there are negative health implications from being permanently stressed, including high blood pressure and heart attack.

Meditation can help with all of these problems and more.  Meditation helps us to find a still point within ourselves from which to stay rooted in the midst of a busy life.  It helps us to maintain clarity in any situation, so that we do not lose our temper so often, but are more able to communicate our feelings effectively without resorting to violent language or action.  Meditation helps us to maintain calm, even when life gets difficult.  It helps us to be able to respond to each situation in that moment as skillfully as possible and to move away from habitual ways of being (passive, aggressive, short-tempered, shy, fearful) to ways that are more productive and positive.  Meditation helps us to be more effective in all that we do.

These skills help us to live in a more positive way, enable us to have a more positive impact on the people around us, and help us to live a more positive, constructive, fulfilling life.

Meditation is no more than the skill of mindfulness.  Mindfulness is simply knowing what you are doing, when you are doing it; being able to be present in each moment, rather than allowing your mind to run away with you.  There is nowhere far away enough; no way of running fast enough to escape your own worries.  Meditation helps you to see things clearly, to accept the things you can't change and change the things you can; it helps you to understand more about WHO you are and WHY you did something, rather than mindlessly moving from one situation to another, seemingly with no end to your stress levels and sense of inner discomfort.

The great thing is that EVERYONE can meditate.  There is comfortable seated position for everyone.  There is a technique that works for everyone.  Yes, even for those people who are convinced that their brain is so busy that they could never successfully meditate.  Even for those people who are impatient.  Even for those people whose 'to do' lists never end.  Even for those who are often lost in the richness of their own imagination.

There is one proviso: you have to do it.  Like all the paths of yoga, you can't just read about it / think about it / talk about it and hope for some benefit.  You must do it.  That is all.  Every day for five minutes / fifteen minutes / sixty minutes... whatever time you have, whenever you have it and in whatever way that works for you.

If you have a yoga practice, you know that you can build strength, resilience and flexibility to your muscles.  In meditation, you simply bring those same qualities to your mind.

"Meditation brings wisdom, lack of meditation leaves ignorance.  Know well what leads you forward and what holds you back, and choose the path that leads to wisdom."

Click below for other articles on this blog about meditation
How to Meditate 1
How to Meditate 2
How to Meditate 3

**Professor Mark Williams, University of Oxford


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