Lately, I’ve been chatting with a lot of people in the clinic about meditation. We all know that it is good for us – it relieves stress, improves your mental health, gives your brain a boost, it can reduce inflammation and pain and can even enhance your immune system. With all those benefits, why wouldn’t you want to have a meditation practice?
Well, the most common reason I am hearing is “because I can’t keep my mind empty – I just keep having thoughts.” And therein lies the problem. Somehow, we have come to believe that the point of meditation is to have an empty mind, that we should be able to sit down and empty it, spend some time like that and then be done.
But it’s the act of returning the thinking brain back to focus (or “emptying” it) that is where the magic really is. One of the best explanations for this that really changed the way I think about it is from the book “Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path to Achieving Success, Happiness (and World Peace)” by Chade-Meng Tan. His goal is “to enlighten minds, open hearts and create world peace.”
In the book, he explains that it isn’t the empty brain that is what benefits us, it’s the practice of bringing it back to that emptiness/focus. He says each time you bring your mind back to focus, it’s like doing a bicep curl for your brain. That’s right – it’s the act of re-focusing that builds your meditation muscle. So every time I find my brain wandering during meditation, I take a deep breath and refocus.
The meditation gurus also remind us that the purpose of meditation is NOT to empty the mind, but to acknowledge our thoughts without spending time on them. In other words, thoughts are ok as long as you don’t get caught up in them. Therefore, meditation is all about allowing the thoughts to come in and leave without detouring your brain down the rabbit hole.
Meditation has so many benefits and honestly, everybody can do it and should do it. So the next time you’re feeling anxious, you’re unable to sleep, you’re feeling irritated or emotional or you’re suffering from pain, make the time to meditate for at least 10-15 minutes. The more frequently you do it, the more efficient you will become and the better you will start to feel.