How and why to meditate

A meditative practice splits the world into two parts:

1) A task, or object of meditation

2) Everything else

To meditate, you apply awareness. You feel the sensation in your hands? That's awareness that allows you to do that. You're applying awareness to that sensation. Notice that you weren’t aware of that feeling before I mentioned it. This shows us the limits of awareness: you aren't aware of everything all of the time.

The basic idea of meditation is to repeatedly bring your awareness back to your object of meditation, whenever it wanders, over a period of time. Doing so develops your awareness as a kind of muscle.

So let’s take breathing as a simple example. You might put all of your attention into the sensation of breath entering and leaving your nostrils, and concentrate on that. Soon, a thought will come along, and you'll be distracted. You might even forget you were supposed to be meditating. But as soon as you notice, you’ll bring your awareness back to breathing again. You can think of this like a ‘rep’. You’re building your awareness muscles.

At first, if you’ve never meditated before, you’ll probably be scattered and easily distracted. It will be difficult to keep your attention on one thing for any given period of time. That’s ok. That just means that it’s even more important to develop the practice, and that you should very quickly see the benefits.

So there you have it. Meditation is actually really simple. Your object of meditation can be anything at all. As long as you concentrate on the task, and you repeatedly bring your awareness back to it, you’ll see the benefits. I've made a list of some simple examples for beginners here to get you started:

The benefits of doing this are many and varied. Below are just a few of them. You can expect to get these benefits regardless of the technique, and they should develop and grow over time.

Your will be less distracted. This is probably the most obvious benefit.

Your ability to clearly notice the different aspects of your experience will improve too. For example, for breathing: you might notice the feeling of your nostrils vibrating, the heat of the air in each out breath, and the different ‘component’ sensations that make up breathing, more vividly and clearly and frequently than you did before you started doing the practice.

You’ll develop the ability to let go of and be, at some level, detached from the different aspects of your experience. During the practice, strong emotions, sensations, or thoughts will arise, but with time, you’ll realise that all of these are temporary, and none of them are really you, or have any power over you aside from what you give them. As a result you’ll find that you can experience a painful feeling more objectively and with less suffering than you could before.

There are also benefits that are technique specific. This is a good reason to try out different techniques. For example, if you bring your attention to generating reasons to be grateful for your life, as your object of meditation, the emotion of gratitude will likely arise, and then bleed over into the rest of your day.

In time, as you practice, these benefits will start to carry over to your the rest of your life. It's hard to imagine just how much of a difference that just these benefits can make: I mean, just changing your relationship to negative emotions alone is significant. And these are just a few of the benefits. A quick google search around the reported benefits of meditation will reveal many more. And the science on this is still young. Just how many other benefits are hidden away? And what effects might these have?

Hopefully this post gave you some inspiration to start meditating yourself!

Good luck, and happy meditating.

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