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The Benefits of Meditation, Part 1
Making Friends with Yourself
We are seemingly hardwired to find fault with ourselves. Our expectations can be so high as to be nearly unrealistic. Nevertheless, when we fail to meet these high standards, we may drown ourselves in mental scorn. Instead of the self-support we need, we resort to self-recrimination. Indeed, we are often less judgmental and more forgiving of others and their shortcomings. Therefore, it is imperative that we learn better ways of relating to ourselves, for our own mental well-being. Meditation is a great method to accomplish this goal.
How does meditation do this? Meditation is a very straightforward process of trying to keep one’s mind on the object of meditation. Often, this may be the breath. Moment by moment, we observe our minds. Is our mind on the breath? If so, great! We keep it there. If not, great! We have noticed, and we simply bring our attention back to the breath. It is a practice. This word, practice, focuses on the present-moment process of meditation. This is a wonderful thing. Process is NOT a result, and therefore remains outside of the realm of condemnation; it is the results of things that so quickly draw our ire.
This process of meditation is so powerful because it is not just about concentration. Indeed, many of us begin meditating in order to improve our concentration, but this is only one aspect of the practice. The other fundamental aspect, awareness, helps us notice whenever our mind wanders. And it WILL wander. That is only human. We are not machines! When our awareness kicks in, we have noticed our mind has wandered, and we gently bring it back to our object. We do so without judging our wandering mind.
Every time we do this, it is like flexing a muscle. Therefore, bringing our mind back to our object also increases our mental strength. Over time, our minds will begin to develop the ability to snap back to its object seemingly automatically. But this will not happen every time, and we will slowly learn to accept whatever happens with our minds in meditation without judgment. This is known as equanimity.
This is how we learn to befriend ourselves, truly and wholeheartedly, regardless of how well we “perform” in our meditation. We maintain awareness of the process and redirect our minds when needed. Labeling things good or bad takes us away from this process. Likewise, at the end of our meditation session, we refrain from labeling it as well. We have simply practiced in concentration and awareness and can rejoice in having practiced.
Over time, the equanimity towards our mind that we develop in meditation begins to influence how we relate to ourselves outside of meditation. We learn the ability to critique ourselves without criticizing. Criticizing is judging, and serves only to distract us. Critiquing, however, is a practice of awareness. We see areas for improvement, all the while accepting things as they are. This allows us to strive for improvement, free from the mental self-flagellation that previously left us feeling heavy and trapped. With the equanimity we develop in meditation, we can accept our minds, and ourselves, for who we are in each and every moment.