The Joy of Meditation

joyPineStraw Magazine, January 2009

When people find out that I have been meditating regularly for over 40 years, they often ask, “Why? What does it do for you?

There are many reasons why I meditate, but the one that has kept me going all of these years is that it is fun! It is like going on a wonderful vacation every day. Not only is meditating fun, but in these difficult and challenging times, meditation gives us the capacity to be effectively engaged in our lives in a peaceful and joyful way. We stop taking everything, including ourselves, so seriously. We laugh more easily and are relaxed more often. Struggle decreases and flow increases.

One way to think about meditation is that it is conscious participation in the evolution of our being. Scientific research shows that meditation awakens many wonderful capacities within us that often lie dormant.

Meditation has been researched over 2,000 times in over 500 universities around the world for the past 40 years. One of the more recent studies I participated in was from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. The scientific and medical research consistently shows that the regular practice of meditation produces brain wave coherence; stabilizes blood pressure; strengthens the immune system; reduces stress, anxiety, and depression; improves mental functioning; creates a happier, more positive attitude towards life; slows the aging process; dramatically decreases the fear of death; enhances the joy of living; increases self-confidence, creativity, spiritual faith, and awareness; and gives an enhanced sense of the unity of all life. And this is just the short list.

Tami Simon, founder and CEO of Sounds True, the largest and most successful producer of spoken-word spiritual material in America, says, “As a longtime meditator, it has become clear to me that spiritual discoveries — direct experiences of the interconnectedness and sacredness of all life — are self-authenticating. When I meditate on a regular basis, I feel more fulfilled and more in love with life. I have also found that when I meditate regularly, the people around me enjoy being with me more and find me more available for connection.”

Tami’s experience is typical of most meditators. This is why we meditate!

Meditation is simple, but not always easy. From an early age most of us have learned that if we want to get somewhere in life we need to stay focused, have clear goals, and work hard. But if we bring this attitude of effort to our meditation practice we won’t be able to meditate. Meditation occurs in an entirely different domain than the activities of our daily life. Meditation is being, not doing.

Meditation is natural. It is not something we do but something we allow to happen. When we meditate we have to be willing to take our hands off the steering wheel of life for a little while and just let go and allow everything to be as it is. As our minds tend to have multiple control issues about almost everything, this is easier said than done, so we gently focus our attention on one of the most natural, ongoing rhythms of life — our breath. Our breath naturally flows in and flows out all by itself, like a gentle ocean wave.

As we meditate, we relax into this natural rhythm of our breath flowing in and flowing out. Our brain downshifts. As the brain hemispheres integrate and balance, our mind becomes more quiet. The stress and anxiety of our day-to-day life dissolves and a deep sense of peace and well-being permeates every level of our being. The cells of our body begin to vibrate with energy and bliss.

As we let go even more deeply, we simply come to rest as effortless, choiceless, silent awareness. This is meditation. It transforms us completely from the inside out.

As the scientific research on meditation moves into the public domain, more and more people from all walks of life are turning to meditation to find relief from the stress and anxiety of day-to-day living. Not only is the process of meditating very calming and relaxing, but through meditation we discover the unshakeable foundation of peace, love and well-being that is actually the very ground of our being.

At The Awakened Heart Center for Conscious Living in Southern Pines, we have been offering a free and open meditation program every Wednesday evening at 7 p.m. for almost 20 years. Initially only a handful of people attended, but over the years more and more have been coming on a regular basis. A wonderful community of loving and caring friends has emerged from the programs. People are often surprised to discover their accountant, golfing buddy, riding companion, lawyer, AA sponsor, doctor, gardener, mechanic, soldier, jeweler, daughter, old friend, or minister sitting next to them at the program. Everyone is welcome.

A number of years ago a woman called me about attending the meditation program at TAHC. She was concerned that meditation may be in conflict with her religious beliefs. She told me she went to church every Sunday and was deeply committed to her faith. I suggested that she attend the meditation program and if at any time she felt uncomfortable with what was going on, she was free to leave. And so she came. Her mouth fell open when she saw her minister and his wife sitting quietly in the meditation room. They had been regulars at the program for some time.

Although many religious and spiritual traditions all over the world have practiced meditation for thousands of years, meditation transcends all traditions. We do not have to believe or accept anything to meditate, nor do we have to give up any beliefs we may cherish. Since I was given my teacher’s blessing to teach in 1976, I have taught meditation to people of every religion and every imaginable background from prisoners to priests. To see the stress and worry in a person’s face dissolve into peace, light, and joy makes teaching meditation a real blessing.

For millions of people, meditation is a powerful and life-transformative daily practice. It brings peace, love and a positive perspective to every aspect of their life. Kurt Krueger, founder and chief instructor at the Institute of Sports Psychology, and coach of world record holders in swimming, had been away from personal training for over 11 years. Nonetheless, he decided to enter the Senior (Masters) Olympics swim competition. He won 11 gold and 5 silver medals. His only preparation? He meditated regularly.

The gift of a wonderful new year is upon us. This is a good time to begin to take the time to turn within, meditate, and discover the peace that passes all understanding. It is the very essence of our being. This new year is the best time to discover that inner peace does bring world peace.

May you have a very happy and peaceful New Year!

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