In Spirituality: A User’s Guide on several occasions I urge the reader to meditate. I want to expand on that admonition now. Meditation is hard work. It takes lots of discipline, persistence, and courage. It takes you closer to your pain when you could just ignore it or distract yourself. It takes time, when you could be watching a screen somewhere near you or interacting with your kids or friends. It can seem so futile, as your mind rabbits on about everything and anything.
So is it worth the effort? Everyone who has persisted gives this question an unequivocal ‘yes!’ Let me try to put more words on why this is the case. Our world is extremely left brained dominant; that is, rational thinking is the only mode valued, promoted, and generally accepted. But rational thinking, while useful for problem solving applications, is very limited otherwise, often draining of our energy when used inappropriately, and easily manipulated whether by our internal distress or external forces.
When we are feeling anxious, distressed, or otherwise insecure, our rational mind takes it upon itself to try to solve the problem. It wants to know, ‘what did I do wrong?’, ‘why am I always making a mess of things?’, ‘where is the next bit of danger coming from?’, etc. You no doubt have your own list of go to questions for tormenting yourself. If asked in a calm, focused way, some of this analytical mindset can be useful, but that’s not what I’m talking about here. It’s the washing machine effect, of going round and round in circles that wears us out, a total waste of time and energy. The only healthy solution is to notice what is going on, and to make the effort to refocus on something else, like your breath, or the feel of your environment, or a repeated word. (The unhealthy solutions are mentioned in my blog post on escape.) In this way, you refuse to let your rational mind control you in an irrational way. It can’t solve these sorts of problems, but it hates to give up!
It takes a fair amount of practice over time to get better at taking back control of your consciousness from obsessive thinking. Even in the short term it does help to settle your nerves and remind you that the rat on the wheel is going nowhere. But once you do get more space in your head, you give yourself the possibility of experiencing the other part of your mind – the expanded part. Unless you get free of the rational mind, you can’t access this wonderful and energizing state of being. The transition from one aspect to the other generally isn’t instantaneous. It takes at least a few minutes to gradually sense the glimmer of something other than the presence of words or fear.
It is notoriously difficult to try to describe this other experience, because words are the tool of the rational mind. So this effort will have something of that old adage about five blind people trying to describe an elephant. They each have hold of a different part of the beast; each is accurate, but none grasp the full picture. It is only the experiential being there that can know that, but it is beyond words. Here are the aspects that I notice as I am transiting into that part of me.
Most of the time, I notice that my body starts to relax a bit more – around the eyes, the jaw, the breathing, the shoulders. Then I feel my mind slow down and sort of expand. This expansion reflects the movement into the volume of the universe, all that is. This is quite palpable. You’ll recognize it if you’ve ever had a mind-expanding insight. As the rational mind fades, and as you allow the other side to inform your awareness, you may notice a warmth or a flow of energy in your body. A sense of peace ensues, and you feel like you could be with that for a long time. But the rational mind isn’t to be pushed aside quite so deftly and before you know it, there’s a thought and you’ve been hijacked! But not to worry, just let the thoughts go and return to the peace. This takes practice, and if your fear is too ingrained in your body, you may need to deal with it before you can maintain your dwelling in this other side of your being.
Once you have begun to access this other part of your consciousness, it’s very helpful in dealing with the challenges of life. It provides you with strength, love, and peace. It is your still point in a chaotic world that lets you stay focused on being true to who you are while responding creatively to those around you and the wider world. Without this sort of inner resource, life can be overwhelming. I started trying to meditate when I was 19, and I thank my lucky stars that I did. The younger you start, the better. But it’s never too late to begin!