Why I Meditate

Meditation Series: Part 1

Meditation pose at a Cambodian temple

There came a time in my life when I became conscious of the number of thoughts that went through my head in any given day. Or in any given hour, or even just a few minutes during stressful times, for that matter.

This was especially true with a very full schedule both at my job and outside of the work day. I would come home each day and find it difficult to turn my mind off for the night.

All sorts of replays of the day were running through my head. I was worrying about sick patients I had seen that day. I was thinking about my next student loan payment. I was also reliving a conversation I had had with someone who was rude to me – thinking of the perfect comeback five hours too late.

That’s not to say that all of the thoughts I had were negative. I was also figuring out what interesting and fun places I could visit on my next vacation. I was generally making plans for the future, thinking of where I wanted to be in five years, ten years, and even further down the line. I was remembering a nice interaction that I had with someone during the day, or thinking about a hobby I’d like to start “when I have more time.”

However, even positive thoughts could prevent me from fully resting in the evenings because my mind was always thinking and planning. My subconscious was always hard at work.

In addition to the marathon of thoughts running through my head, I also found that much of my evening time was sucked up by gadgets. I’m a pretty mild Facebooker, but even just a short amount of time checking updates seemed to add up to a surprising amount of input overload each week.

Even if I was feeling tired – or on some days, exhausted – I never seemed to get to bed at a reasonable time. I always felt like I had too much to do. However, I’ll admit I sometimes spent too much time planning my to-do list rather than crossing items off of the list. Sometimes I suffer from analysis paralysis.

Basically, all of this equated to a lot of energy being chewed up by distracting thoughts. My brain was getting a pretty thorough workout every day, and I felt tired most of the time.

It was worse during times of stress, as I tend to obsess and try to control every little thing. I knew I needed to make some sort of change, especially considering the physically harmful effects of stress.

So, how do you get rid of negative, worrying thoughts? There are a lot of theories out there. It helps to focus on the positive. However, a lot of the time, when someone tries to just ignore a train of negative thoughts, it doesn’t really go away; rather, it just gets a thin coating of positive thinking in the conscious mind, while meanwhile negative ideas continue to persist in the depths of the subconscious mind.

I no longer believe it’s possible to really get rid of all negative or worrying thoughts. However, I do know, from personal experience, that it’s possible to take their power away and to avoid their damaging effects. It’s a lifelong practice, but the results are worth the effort.

For me, the practice of meditation has made a huge difference. I still have all sorts of worries enter my head, but I don’t focus on them as much as I used to.

The theory behind this is surprisingly simple. Basically, you give your strength to whatever thoughts you choose to focus on – and that puts the power of choice back into your hands.

Meditation is defined as the act of focusing the attention on one thing for a period of time. So, if you focus on a negative thought or worry, you are actually meditating on the issue. However, you can choose to focus, or meditate, on something else.

In my practice, meditation is done by focusing on a light in the heart. It can be a spiritual practice, but it doesn’t have to be – the light can also just represent a calm center on which to focus.

By focusing on this center, it is easier to refer back to this calmness during times of stress. With practice, this center can become your default, so that your mind is more controlled and not carried away by any challenges that come up.

Incidentally, this has the added benefit of improving your mind’s ability to focus on just one thing at a time. This is helpful for being more productive at work, and for any form of studying.

I mentioned that this practice is simple. However, that doesn’t mean it's easy. Like practicing anything else (an instrument, a new language, etc), it takes time to develop the skill.

Actually, in the initial stages it can even seem like you worry more – this is because of the fact that sitting quietly causes you to become aware of the thoughts that are already present in your mind. However, just like an addiction, becoming aware of the issue is the first step.

There are many different forms of meditation practice available, so there is really something for everyone. I highly recommend my practice, which I am continuing since discovering it in 2010. It's called Heartfulness.

For more information, check out heartfulness.org. While on the website, also look for the online magazine, and the guided relaxation.