I’ve talked a lot about the many benefits – both personal and reported – of meditation. It’s one of the few lifehacks that both lives up to the reputation and has been relatively simple to do consistently.
Soto zen meditation, as I’ve mentioned, is not very fancy. You don’t get to chant, you don’t get to visualize, you really aren’t even supposed to focus on the breath (though that is kind of the “training wheels” version of sitting when the monkey brain takes you off the rails.
Instead, you’re expected to Just Sit There – to experience the world exactly as it is, no filters, no assumptions, no baggage. Of course, you don’t actually get there – even the “enlightened” tend to say they only experience satori for a moment – but the view of the world does change.
Over the past few weeks the feeling I’ve gotten from meditation was that it was a refueling of my resilience. Kind of like the Green Lantern charging his ring at the the Power Battery, every morning that fifteen minutes of sitting was fifteen minutes of not stressing about money, about work, about deadlines or relationships or blog posts – my job, for that fifteen minutes, was just to be sitting there.
Recently I realized that the feeling was actually even more than refueling. I was experiencing the world a bit more directly, stepping outside of the set of assumptions I call “My Life” and the thought came to me: I can handle it. For some reason all of the hectic things and hopes and disappointments seemed…bearable. It felt, as I “experienced” my world, for just that moment, that I could meet and survive any obstacle that might come my way.
Of course, shortly after that thought – the same day, in fact – I ran into some stresses that I did not handle well. In fact, I behaved rather spectacularly badly, hurting people I cared about with some thoughtless words and emails. At first there was a lot of recrimination, beating myself up – but after a surprisingly short time the you suck, Gray! inner monologue was replaced with Did you do what you could to mitigate the damage? Yes? Then try not to do it again. And like coming back to the breath after a monkey-mind detour, I came back to trying to live my life with the solid understanding that I am human and just as capable of thoughtless mistakes as the next hominid.
So those were the two unexpected benefits of meditation I found this week: One, Life doesn’t seem so overwhelming. You get the feeling that you can handle it, even with some grace.
And two, when you’re wrong and you don’t handle it gracefully at all, you don’t beat yourself up about it quite as much.
How about you? If you meditate, has there been anything that has surprised you, positively or negatively? And if you don’t meditate…what do you think might change if you did?
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