Jordan James Sterns
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The Unseen Benefits of Meditation

May 02, 2023


What comes to mind when you read the word meditation may be an esoteric practice where monks sit around with their eyes closed in an attempt to detach from reality. This point of view couldn’t be further from the truth. Meditation in essence is the practice of living life with more focus, awareness, and openness. When practiced with right intention one is not running away from the troubles of life but instead facing life’s challenges courageously. It is akin to planting oneself in the soils of reality and embracing the sunshine, the rain, and the winds.

From a scientific perspective, studies have shown that a consistent meditation practice increases grey matter in the prefrontal cortex (the area of the brain that governs thoughts and decision making). More specifically, in the field of neuroscience over the last couple decades it has been proven that our brains are malleable — we build neurons or strengthen existing neurons through our habits. Our brains are literally changing from moment to moment. This fact reveals the truth that a man’s character, is a culmination of his habits. We become what we repeatedly do. We are our habits.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” — Aristotle

A consistent meditation practice can reduce activity in the amygdala. The area in the brain that allows us to experience emotions, specifically the emotions of fear and anxiety. Meditation where one’s awareness is focused on loving-kindness/compassion as well as the breath cycles have been shown, when negative stimuli are perceived, to decrease the amygdala’s response. From this perspective, meditation can cultivate a flexible and resilient mind and thus, can be a fine addition to anyone’s well-being regimen.

Spiritually, meditation will help us adopt a spirit of gratitude. In our consumerism age it is easy to take for granted the things we have and to instead focus on what we are lacking. The inanimate objects we own, such as our clothes that keep us warm, our homes that shelter us from the sometimes-harsh conditions of nature, and our cars which allow us to get from point A to point B are often neglected and unappreciated.

Besides cultivating gratitude for our material possessions, we can further our experience of appreciation by cultivating gratitude for our bodies and all they do for us. All the work that goes on beneath the surface by our internal organs. Our bodies fight off infections, circulate blood, digest food, and filter out impurities in the food and water we consume. our bodies are often neglected and we do not treat them with care. But, yet, despite our ingratitude our bodies still work for us in spite of how we treat them; perhaps we can look to our organs for a lesson on unconditional love.

Meditation is like a fixed star in the night sky whom we can always rely on. Below there are 7 benefits of a meditation practice that are often unseen but felt only through consistent practice.

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities. In the experts there are few.” — Shunryu Suzuki

Meditation Will Deepen Your Relationship with Yourself

‘To Know thyself’ said Socrates “is the beginning of all wisdom.” Meditation is the practice of doing just that. By consistent practice we become familiar with the internal world. We begin to notice the sensation of our emotions. As a natural consequence, we become more emotionally intelligent. By understanding our emotions, we grow in empathy and growing in empathy we learn to relate to others. This skill, when cultivated, will allow us to cross cultural, social, religious and economic boundaries. Which will lead to a deeper relation, not only to oneself, but to our planet. One may even begin to realize how his, or her actions impact the world at large. Enhancing our ability to feel, does however come with a cost: Compassion. We will begin to feel deeper which means our capacity for both pain and pleasure will be enhanced. This allows us to come to understand the suffering and joy others feel in relation to our own. We learn to walk in our own skin and in doing so, realize that every human is just like us. Meditation, despite looking like a retreat from life, is like diving into the deep end of our humanity. We experience life — the good and the bad — fully.

Meditation Will Benefit Your Health

Meditation equips us with the ability to make decisions that lead to a healthy life. How? Because during our meditation practice we allow ourselves to see what is arising, to accept it and then to let it go. Things are constantly changing, including our desires. When we are caught in an unhealthy and habitual patterns, be it drugs and alcohol use, or food (all emotional responses to alleviate suffering temporarily and to gratify our desires) we begin to observe, that this too shall pass and instead, we can adopt healthier modes of being that will lead us to a life of health and longevity. Health from this perspective is based on our choices and is always in our hands. Of course, we cannot always control how physically healthy we are. But if we do become sick — temporarily, chronically, or terminally — we now have the presence of mind to view our situation through an objective lens which, now, gives us an alternative way of viewing our sickness.

Meditation Will Allow You To Think For Yourself

To truly live fully we must know who we are as individuals. However, if we do not take the time to be still then we may never come to understand what we value. Thus, knowing thyself becomes impossible. If we do not choose our values, the world will choose them for us. We may become victim to ideologies that do not serve our individual growth. And as important as the collective is, we should never sacrifice who we are to appease the masses, particularly when social values conflict with our own. Without the ability to think for oneself, our strings may be pulled because speakers, leaders, advertisement agencies and the like, use our own emotions as weapons against us to convince us of an idea, to sell a product, or to propagate divisive and polarizing messages. In our connected age, news is a constant. In our polarized world it is all too easy for us to be coerced into viewing the other side as the enemy just because they do not think as we do. When we spend time in quiet, we nurture our own nature and for the time spent alone we are free from the demands and opinions of others. Just as meditation allows us to feel, it also allows us the ability to think. Not what to think, but how to think.

If you can think and not make thoughts your aim….” — ‘If’ x Rudyard Kipling

Meditation Will Increase Your Ability to Pause Before Acting or Speaking

Because a meditation practice creates distance between us and the emotions we feel, we are able to create space between stimuli and response. During everyday situations we come face to face with triggers that stir our emotions. Meditation cultivates our presence of mind, a guardian if you will; a gatekeeper that protects our mind from impulsive reactions.

The cost of some decisions weighs more than others. None the less, meditation prepares us to make wholesome decisions and to consider the consequences of our words and/or actions. Thinking before you act can eliminate making mistakes or saying things that you may later come to regret. It will enable one to make the best decisions for the best possible outcome for one’s life. The more wholesome decisions we make day to day the more fulfilled our lives will be at the end. Consider this: We are, more often than not, the cause of the calamities that appear in our life. Taking a moment to pause, can save us from unnecessary misfortunes.

Meditation Will Strengthen the Ability to Overcome Life’s Difficulties

Life in its totality is not only pain and suffering. However we can’t escape the reality that pain and suffering exists to some degree in every human life. From a Buddhist perspective, we suffer more than necessary because we attempt to avoid pain and indulge only in pleasurable. In our discrimination of suffering and our indulgence of pleasure we create, within our mind greed, hatred, and ignorance. Buddhists call this understanding The Four Noble Truths: The truth of suffering, the truth of the cause of suffering, the truth of the ending of suffering, the truth of the cause of the end of suffering.

This art captures Siddhartha at the moment of his enlightenment. Amidst the chaos of the world, The Buddha — meaning ‘the enlightened one’ in Sanskrit — sits unflinchingly beneath the Bodhi tree. This is the ultimate aim of our practice. (I do not own the rights to this photo)

Meditation helps us to overcome suffering, but how? Because as we quietly and peacefully sit, we at one moment or another come face to face with our own pain. One may think the cause of pain is the outside world but what causes us pain is often our relation to these occurrences (both internal and external) and our aversion to negative experiences.

A meditation practice must mirror everyday life to truly be effective. We sit, we feel bored. We breathe through it. The boredom dissipates. We feel elated. We think of our loved ones, we feel joy. We breathe through it. We think of someone who has harmed us. We watch the memory. We feel a deep hatred. Again, we accept and breathe through it. Through our practice we transcend both pain and joy. Think for a moment that potentially, difficulties come to serve us. Just as calamities are our own doing, they also serve as our teachers. In our misfortunes hide the possibility for fortune. If we can adopt this approach, one will be the calm in any storm.

Meditation Will Strengthen Discernment

Can you say with an unwavering belief that you truly trust yourself? If not close your eyes follow the breath and observe how your heart, despite no effort on your behave, is still beating. Open your eyes, do you trust yourself?

In a world filled with noise, saturated with opinions, and unable to sit still, it is easy to get swept away and mislead. Even by those who have good intentions at heart. But at the end of the day, it is our life, and it is our responsibility to fine tune our discernment capabilities. We do this by bringing both heart and mind together and trusting ourselves and our judgement above all others. Discernment begins with self-trust. Self-trust is refined through our meditation and spiritual practices. It is only in trusting ourselves that we can truly trust life and the people in our life.

Meditation Will Deepen Your Spirituality.

Some believe God is real and that there is only one God. Others have a polytheistic view on the higher powers that be. Some are atheist and their God is science and they worship the human intellect. All these beliefs pose danger if one is not in harmony with the life directly in front of them. There is nothing wrong in pursuing a spot in heaven in the afterlife. But during this life, directly in front of us now, there are endless opportunities to grow. We must learn to be intimate with our immediate life and not rush to escape what the moment offers.

I define spirituality as the ability and practice of relating to the world around. In the first benefit — Meditation will deepen your relationship with yourself — I discuss meditations aid in deepening our relationships; with ourselves, with others, and with life. By life, I mean God and by God, I mean life. God is all around us, yet inside of us too. Is ‘God’ a man, or a woman? A Muslim or a Christian? I do not know, but what most worship is not an awe for life, but worldly idolatry. And we all, at one time or another, hoist up a golden calf as our god: Money, celebrities, politicians, and the symbols of religion. “Who or what is God then if he is not the cross?” asks the Christian. Who or what is Allah if not the Quran or the crescent moon?” asks the Muslim. “Who or what is God if not the Star of David, or the synagogue?” asks the Rabbi. Perhaps God is all of these things, expressed differently. Or perhaps he is none of these things; maybe so profound, yet so simple is the nature of what God is, that he may be here right next to me as I type this and right next to you as you read. and again, we may find him when we step outside, she may be riding on the back of the wind that blows, or be the seed and the water and sun that makes it possible for trees to grow. He may be the light. She may be the darkness. I do not know. But through meditation these words do not matter. When we are still. Then we know.

For a presence much greater than language awakens the mind.

Final Thoughts

We must be present in our lives to hear. We must learn to be aware of the day-to-day opportunities to spiritually grow that come gift wrapped in conflicts, and in peace. The truth that our life is not forever, will teach us the importance of presence, the importance of love, the importance of life. Meditation, in the modern world is, to me, a necessity. It is becoming ever more distracting to be a human. But there is a way to reclaim our minds.

Meditation can help us transform our life into art.

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