This article was originally published on Wanderlust.com
It’s not just about closing your eyes and breathing. It’s about connecting to your most private self.
Meditation is not something that you do. It’s not only closing your eyes and focusing on your breath, though for many people that’s a good start. Meditation is a merging of the meditator’s awareness and the object of meditation. Uniting with the universal consciousness—The Mother, God, Spirit, whatever name you would like to give—is the state of meditation.
We can’t talk about meditation or analyze it to truly understand its effects. Dissecting meditation doesn’t get us closer to the experience. And it’s not as if the experience is the same for all people: It can be reached in infinite ways. Some people connect through rock climbing, scuba diving, writing, dancing, looking at the ocean, or being with their child. There is no right or wrong way to be.
I have spent years sitting down cross-legged on the floor focusing on my breath. Sometimes I’m agitated with my “monkey mind” jumping here, there, and everywhere; sometimes I’ve slipped into a state of extreme peace and stillness, feeling the pulse of the universe.
The struggle, the varied experience, the challenge: This is the practice of meditation. The biggest misconception about meditation practice is that it is bliss. Years ago, I went to a 10-day silent meditation retreat. Was I ecstatic, levitating, and communing with God? No, it was grueling. My knees hurt, my back ached, and I couldn’t wait for meal times.
But the lessons were deeper than just those of my physical needs and limitations. I learned to the extent that my ego or personality wastes energy, through mindless talk and habitual responses to people. I felt the juxtaposition of silence and solitude versus how connected and loved I felt, as opposed to being in a busy city surrounded by people and feeling alone.
Sitting still, we are able to observe the tendencies and craziness of the mind. We therefore gain some perspective that our thoughts are, in fact, separate from who we are.
But if we are not our thoughts or even our emotions, then who are we? This is a question humans have asked themselves since time immemorial, and one that we must continue to ask.
Life feels so personal. Me—my—mine! We connect and cling to our thoughts and emotions as though they are real. But how can something be so real when it’s constantly changing? If you are your thoughts, then what were you thinking last Thursday at 2:15 pm?
Sitting down to meditate is to still the body and train ourselves to let go of strong attachments. It’s to release identification with the idea of who think we are, who we “know ourselves to be,” if only for a few minutes.
Gaps between thoughts are where magic and beauty lie. Those are the moments in which we experience peace and safety, in which we are reminded that we are not alone as we struggle through life trying to survive.
You do not need to take a lot of time in your day for meditation. Even 5 or 10 minutes as a daily practice will have a profound effect on your physical, mental, and emotional well-being.
The universe does not want us to suffer. The universe wants us to wake up to the power, creativity, and joy that we are. The universe is constantly inviting us to remember that we are a soul in a body, floating in a sea of consciousness through this magnificent and mysterious expression of life. Meditation can bring us there.