The real point that meditation addresses, and that makes it quite relevant and universal, is this: You have a mind but you are not the boss of your mind, often your mind is the boss.
Your mind is your most valuable asset. What’s going on in your mind can make you happy or miserable, successful or broken, energetic or lifeless. In short, the quality of your mind determines the quality of your life.
So, then, what is the value of meditation? It helps you to know your mind, and master your mind (gradually). And this affects everything else, in all spheres of your life.
To be really specific, I believe there are fours main “skills” that meditation offers. These are so great that I actually prefer to call them “superpowers.”
- Zooming In
The first skill that you gain from meditation is improving your ability to focus. Focusing means that you can zoom in your attention on anything, and sustain it there, ignoring distractions. The length of time you can sustain your attention increases with practice.
It’s quite evident how the ability to focus is essential in all spheres of life: career, education, finances, and performance (be it in work, sports, or art). We live in times of continuous distraction – our attention span keeps getting shorter. We lack focus because so many things are auditioning for our attention, and as a result our mind easily gets dispersed everywhere.
There are also many other expressions of focusing in daily life. Focusing allows you to:
- Be more present in your daily activities, rather than getting lost in your mind
- Be a better listener and communicator, because you become more present
- Not fall into the trap of multitasking, enabling you to become more time and energy efficient
- Enjoy more deeply the blessings of your life, however small (a good meal, time with your family, your favorite hobby, etc.)
- When there are competing voices in your head (such as the voice of fear and the voice of confidence) you can zoom in and focus on the voice that is most empowering to you.
In meditation, we are training this skill every time we zoom in our attention into the object of our focus (breath, mantra, etc.)
2. Zooming Out
If zooming in gives you focus, zooming out gives you perspective. It’s the ability to not get sucked into mental and emotional stuff. It’s the ability to see with clarity and serenity
Sometimes we don’t want to zoom into something, but we just can’t help it. Emotions are usually the driving force for this. They can get sticky and messy pretty quickly.
- Maybe it’s a traumatic incident from your past, or an addictive emotional pattern such as victimization or negative self-talk.
- Perhaps everything is going well with your day, until someone says something that triggers you to fall down a rabbit hole of confusion, anger, and doubt.
- Or maybe it’s just your thoughts bullying you into interpreting things through the lenses of fear and pessimism.
In situations like these, zooming out comes in handy. It frees your mind, allowing you to see the bigger picture.
It won’t stop those pesky thoughts and feelings – but it will make them be more like a cup of salt thrown into the ocean, rather than a cup of salt thrown into a small bucket.
In meditation, we train zooming out every time we realize that we’ve gotten sucked into a stream of thoughts, and reclaim our attention by removing it from that thought-funnel.
This is the skill that most people associate with meditation.
When we live in an unconscious, automated way, we become the product of our environment. We react, rather than respond. In this mode, we are acting on the loudest impulse in our heads. We’re reproducing our past conditioning.
Living a creative and fulfilling life requires just the opposite. It means to be intelligently present in the moment, acting fresh. For that, the ability to pause is essential.
Pausing gives you the space to:
- Prevent your from acting on anger or other destructive impulses that ruin relationships and lives. (In a way we can say that when pausing is absent, regret takes its place.)
- Break bad habits
- Find clarity about what’s really going on
- Make wiser decisions based on the needs of the moment
- Re-align your actions in life to your core values
- Think less, worry less, and be more
Reacting without thinking is easy – it’s the path of least resistance. Pausing is harder – it’s a skill that needs to be trained, a virtue to be developed.
In meditation, we train pausing every time we notice that we’re distracted, and we interrupt that stream of thoughts. It’s a condition for you to be able to zoom out.
4. Changing the channel
The powers of pausing, zooming out, and zooming in come together as the ability to “change channels”.
Think of your mental world as a TV with several channels. Some of them are informative, entertaining, or useful. Others are full of bad shows, even though you might find them addictive.
The problem is that this TV doesn’t obey you all the time. It randomly pops up shows from channels you dislike, and doesn’t even allow you to mute them. Sometimes you try to change the channel, but after five seconds you find yourself back to the old channel.
The more you develop the abilities to pause, zoom out, and zoom in, the more you fine tune your remote control. As a result, your favorite channels get more screen time, and the crappy ones end up being discontinued due to lack of attention.
The formula for changing the channel is:
- Notice that a unhelpful channel has come up. It could be fear, anxiety, self-hatred, etc. Sometimes labeling the feeling can be helpful.
- Pause it. Breathe in and take a step back. Don’t fight with it, but rather realize that you don’t really need to be watching it.
- Zoom out. See the bigger picture – your consciousness is larger than this thought/emotion. Let the thought be there, but realize that you don’t need to zoom into it.
- Switch channels, and then powerfully zoom into a more helpful or enjoyable channel
This is changing channels. It is a natural exercise of control over your attention – reclaiming the power to decide where it should be focused on. It is not repression, and doesn’t involve any self-violence.
In meditation this ability is trained every time we gently return our attention back to our chosen object (breath, mantra, etc.). So basically hundreds of times!
5. A New Baseline
What is your baseline emotion(s)? By that I mean, what are the feelings that are always there in the background of your mind during most of your day?
For many people it is anxiety, depression, fear, self-pity, or greed. Or perhaps an intangible sense of dissatisfaction with oneself and one’s life.
Meditation helps you become aware of your baseline emotions, and slowly uproot their causes, or at least “change channels” before you get all sucked in.
For me, my baseline emotion was a sense of restlessness and a hunger for something. After years of training, that cooled down. Now my baseline emotion is peace, contentment and a solid sense of self.
Having said that, it is misleading to say that meditation alone will accomplish this. For most of us, it is meditation coupled with continuous self-reflection, contemplation, and radical self-honesty. Studying spiritual texts or personal growth literature can also help; and so can therapy, deep relationships, and making real changes in your life.
Feelings come and go. Yet our baseline emotions seem to persist for much longer, and define what is our level of wellbeing. So for me it seems like a good idea to put some love into upgrading it.
These are some of the reasons why meditation is valuable to me. I view these skills are as a form of mastery over my attention, over my mind.
I’ll be the first to admit that you don’t get these “superpowers” quickly, they are muscles that develop with consistent practice. But in knowing that, its great to also be aware that every time you meditate, you are taking solid steps in increasing these natural superpowers.