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I have learned many techniques through the ancient practice of meditation to be more mindful, peaceful, and happy.
Here are some insights and life lessons that I hope are beneficial for you, too:
1) Breathe in, breathe out. There may not be anything magical about focusing on our breathing, as opposed to anything else, but our breath is always accessible and rhythmically there for us, bringing us back to who we are and what we all naturally do.
2) Meditation is the ultimate DIY (do it yourself) and is infinitely portable. We can practice this kind of mindfulness—focused awareness without judgment—anywhere, anytime.
3) Although some conditions might be more conducive than others, we can meditate anywhere we choose to. Whether we are sitting on the floor, on a pillow, on a chair, or lying down; whether we are standing, walking, or dancing; whether we are focused on our breath, an idea, a point, or a mantra; whether we have a few seconds, 20 minutes, or hours; whether alone or with others; whether secular or religious or some combination, there is no right or wrong way to meditate and get the benefits of doing so. There are many types of meditation, and the best type for you is the one you will actually do.
4) Daydreaming and wandering thoughts (often referred to as “monkey mind” and sometimes as “puppy mind”) are natural and inevitable—indeed, human—so we should make peace with that reality, even embrace it, just as we should make peace with as many realities as possible. Meditation is not necessarily about emptying your mind and not thinking any thoughts, nor is it about being able to sit perfectly still, though some people are able to do that sometimes. Meditation is recognizing that we are human beings, not human doings, and it is primarily about focusing your attention and then refocusing it when your attention inevitably wanders.
5) We are both essential and trivial, which is what the word “quiddity” means. We are each the center of the universe and an inconsequential speck. Or, as Rabbi Simcha Bunim asserted, the world was made just for us and we are only ashes and dust.
6) The ego is a concept, not a thing, and therefore it is simply a product of our imagination. If you think you have an ego, you may need to deflate it; if you don’t think you have one, you are probably doing okay.
7) The past and the future are interesting and powerful concepts, but there is really only an endless series of nows and presents, which are gifts, if we properly accept them. The past is always gone, the future never arrives, and the present is all we have. Everything we think we remember from the past and everything we imagine about the future is completely contained in the omnipresent and eternal now. It is always now. Now. Now. Now. We need to be present to the present for optimal results.
8) There are various issues that seem to recur for most of us, too often causing distress, anger, frustration, fear, resentment, annoyance, self-doubt, self-criticism, and so on: traffic, certain weather, loud noises, rude people, relationship difficulties, family issues, long lines, unpleasant memories, random distractions, disrespect. Each of these seem to increase stress, anxiety, and unhappiness for many of us. Buddha taught that suffering exists, but also that we can transcend it.
9) It is not those various issues I mentioned above, or any other external things, that are the problem, but how we react to them. So ultimately it is us, not them. Swami Satchidananda, the founder of Integral Yoga, teaches us that, “If you are in control of yourself, nobody can provoke you.”
10) These various issues are subjective, not objective, and we always experience the world personally and subjectively. Different people have different feelings about the same realities, some liking and some disliking, some more or less tolerant, some not caring and some obsessing, some forgiving, some ignoring, some thriving, and some being amused. Phenomena are not simply what they are, but how they are interpreted and internalized.
11) “You can’t always think your way into right action,” cautions Jeremy Lipkowitz. “Sometimes you have to act your way into right thinking.” If and when necessary, we can nudge ourselves to be more mindful and calm, compassionate and self-compassionate, kind and polite, patient and supportive, focused and centered.
12) Many of us tend to embrace a nonstop existence out of fear of stopping, but we may also fear the dark, fear nothingness, fear silence, fear being alone, fear being bored, fear missing out, and fear having to confront ourselves by ourselves. “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone,” Blaise Pascal remarked. Too many of us cannot seem to handle that, too afraid of what we might find, perhaps, though it is vital to investigate our dark sides, the darkness, the shadows, the quiet, the stillness, our inner lives, the aloneness without being lonely, the void without avoidance, our submerged essences to become our better and fuller selves. “Do you have the courage,” Elizabeth Gilbert wonders, “to bring forth the treasures that are hidden within you?”
13) We are so blessed and privileged to be alive, to be healthy and capable enough, and to have the abilities to sense these various issues, regardless of how we feel about and react to them. So, we should appreciate and be grateful for those and other blessings and privileges. We shouldn’t take our precious lives for granted.
14) We should be compassionate and send loving-kindness to others in traffic, to those who need the services of wailing sirens, to those who are rude, to whomever is difficult, and so on, as they too have places to go, work to do, people to meet, complex lives to navigate, full emotional experiences, and their own past traumas, present problems, and whatever else. We can empathize with them and wish them well, even while protecting ourselves.
15) Meditation teaches patience. When we are sitting, we sit and sit and sit. Until we don’t. Everything worthwhile takes time, and everything eventually ends.
16) All thoughts, feelings, and sensations are emanations of the mind, not who or what we are. We can notice them, be aware of them, learn from them, create, control, and banish them, yet we should not let them define us, just as clouds do not define the sky.
17) Multitasking is a myth. We can only really think about or do one thing at a time, and “mono-tasking” is hard enough. But it’s worth it.
18) Anyone and anything can be a good teacher, if we are willing to learn from them. “Who is wise?” asks Simeon ben Zoma in Pirkei Avot. “The one who learns from everyone else.” Be a student of your inner and outer worlds and let everyone—and everything—be your teacher.
19) We don’t have to carry unnecessary burdens that weigh us down, slow us down, tear us down, and tire us out. We can let it go and leave it there. While hiking along a creek, I observed it closely. It didn’t complain, it didn’t blame, it didn’t begrudge, it didn’t make excuses. It simply flowed. And when it was blocked one way, it went another. The water not only did what it needed to do, it did what was easiest to do. Water never goes where it cannot, yet it always effortlessly goes where it can. Let it go and let it flow.
20) Meditation reminds us that we are spiritual beings having a human experience and we need to respect the spiritual, emotional, and physical realities of our special, unique, and precious journeys through this world.
21) Meditation encourages us to consider how we cause whatever feelings we feel and whatever thoughts we think, as well as how we might cause certain feelings in others, so that we can feel better and help others to feel better. We are only fully responsible for ourselves, though we can have the privilege of serving and helping others.
22) Everything and everyone is imperfect, impermanent, and dynamically changing, including ourselves. And that’s okay, maybe even much more than okay.
23) Everything is oneness, yet everyone and everything is its own. We are all intimately and inextricably connected, yet each seemingly separate. We are thoroughly enmeshed in the oneness of the universe, yet also thoroughly isolated in individuality. We are all one, yet I am still me and you are still you.
24) Some things are associated with me, but they are not me: my name, the words “me,” “myself,” and “I,” my ego, my identity, my self-esteem, my titles, my accomplishments, my education, my money, my possessions, my appearance, my family, my friends, my writings, and so on. My self is really non-self, which is shaped by many forces and is constantly changing, while interacting with others who are also shaped by many forces and are constantly changing.
25) Reality is a durable illusion. We should look inward, because, as Rainer Maria Rilke realized, “The only journey is the one within.” Carl Jung believed that “Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakens.”
26) A famous meditation slogan is “Don’t just do something, sit there” (Sylvia Boorstein). We need to be properly prepared for effective action, regardless of what the action is. The busier we are, the more we should make some time for meditation.
27) A better life is attainable, especially with meditation (and also healthy, plant-based eating, regular exercise, non-smoking, and good social relationships, all of which help manage stress and have other benefits), though no one can do the inner work for you, just as you cannot do anyone else’s inner work. As for me, meditation (and those other things) has improved my body, mind, and spirit.
28) Meditation—and life—is a process, not an event, and everything gets easier with practice, so be patient with and kind to yourself and others.
29) We need to keep breathing.
Breathe in, breathe out.
Repeat for your entire life.