This dog appears to know why meditation is important-- Sitting dog in a chair by a window (190) by anonymous. Original from The Rijksmuseum.

why meditation is important

I know meditation is important. But I had no idea exactly how and why it is important. Now meditation is truly life changing.

When I first started meditating, I thought I knew why meditation is important. It helps reduce stress, improves sleep, and reduces negative emotions–all aspects of my life that really needed an overhaul.

But it took a few years for me to realize that although I knew why meditation is important, I had no idea how it is important.

Sitting dog in a chair by a window (1900–1910) by anonymous. Original from The Rijksmuseum. He seems to know why meditation is important.

I discovered my attitude about my meditation practice is infinitely more important than learning any new techniques, ancient or modern.

And it was my attitude that was holding me back those first few years.

It seemed simple enough: relax the body, notice the breath and bring your awareness back to the breath or the body when the mind wanders off. Then, I thought, there would be some wonderful inner transformations that just sort of happened on their own.

Then it hit me: it wasn’t so much about just being with the breath, or the body, but…

how I was being with the breath or the body.

Let’s call this your meditation attitude–how you regard your experience. And this attitude is much more important than whatever experience you have (that you may later collect, like spiritual souvenirs).

The English word attitude comes from the French word with the same spelling that meant several centuries ago the way a work of art was placed in a room.

When we meditate and encounter some pleasant mental state, for example, we tend to “place” that experience in the middle of our inner room and try to get as close to it as we can.

And what happens? How long can any experience remain pleasant? How long can we enjoy a lick of ice cream or a stunning sunset? It changes and seems less attractive. It’s just the nature of things to do that.

When we sit down to meditate, we may not be aware of our attitude …

Meaning, the way in which we feel, think, and respond to our moment by moment experiences.

We often go through our day responding to various situations on automatic pilot. This is not really responding–it’s more reacting from our conditioning. And when we meditate, these attitudes, or tendencies to react in certain ways, carry over.

The teacher Larry Rosenberg once described meditation as “sneaking behind enemy lines” to spy on our pre-conscious reactive patterns.

When we sense an offensive movement is about to happen, meditation gives us the space to step back, breathe and adjust the “placement” of that threat.

We make subtle inner adjustments that allow us to respond with friendliness and curiosity.

Moments when we can step back from an experience and notice “wow, I was really starting to get worked up” may seem unremarkable. But they’re not. They are quite remarkable because they build on each other.

The teacher Gil Fronsdal says our attitude to our moment by moment experiences in meditation is like the soil in which the heart and mind are transformed. 

If the soil is dry or impenetrably hard, Gil says, nothing useful can grow. If on the other hand the soil is soft and moist with humus, wondrous life of all kinds can flourish. 

We have spoken a lot in this blog of some of the unhelpful attitudes we may bring to our meditation cushions, such as expectation, ambition, striving, and needing to be in control. 

Being inpatient when unpleasant experiences arise is a big one. So is boredom. 

Any time we leave our cushion believing our meditation is not going well, it is time to consider how I was relating to my wandering mind, or my aching muscles, or my boredom?

It’s enough just to recognize what is happening; nothing needs to be fixed or changed.

The contemporary Burmese teacher U Tejaniya offers clear and simple guidance hits this one out of the park:

Meditating is watching and allowing with relaxed attention whatever pleasant or unpleasant experience is happening. Relax, observe, and allow everything that is occurring. Neither try to create nor encourage any experience. Meditation is not waiting for something to occur or waiting for something to go away. It is being patient with all things.

The wandering mind, aching muscles, or boredom are not problems to be fixed; rather, they are the angelic present moment presenting itself with broken wings.

If we embrace these moments with care, friendliness and curiosity, the wings mend themselves.

This process draws us to a deeper, caring connection with ourselves just as we are, and with others just as they are.

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