If thinking about what you say, before you say it, can bring a little less pain into someone’s life, that is a tangible social benefit to meditation.
With 14 “mindful days” I launched my meditation practice in April of 2020. A “mindful day” being a day I took 10-15 minutes to sit and listen to a guided meditation. As I near my one year anniversary, I am grateful that this practice of meditation has taken root in my daily life – I miss it if I have forgotten or been so busy I could not take the time to meditate.
I have cultivated an awareness of what I am thinking about… a meta perspective that (at times) can observe the stream of consciousness, perhaps slow the stream and occasionally reconsider what comes out of my mouth before I say it. That last piece for me was the key to making meditation a regular practice. I had thought for years (maybe 40?) about meditation, but it not only demanded a bit of discipline, it seemed a bit selfish to me. Holed up by myself for a period of time each day. Or longer if you went on a retreat.
But that view of meditation, as it turns out, is misguided.
By taking the time to cultivate and practice an awareness of my thoughts, not only in meditation, but carrying that into my daily life, ultimately benefits others. The first of the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism is that every life contains some amount of suffering. The term “suffering” in this context can represent unhappiness, pain or stress. Think about the anxiety many of us carry around or concern about work, money, our children, a headache or the challenges of the last year during the pandemic. All of these are forms of “suffering”. One of the benefits of meditation: awareness of thoughts creates the opportunity to select my words more skillfully in a conversation by being aware of my thoughts and deciding whether or how to share those thoughts. By taking this conscious step, I can potentially reduce the suffering in someone else’s life by selecting my words more skillfully. Perhaps avoiding hurting someone’s feelings, not escalating tensions, or making a joke. That is a big win!
A year ago, I had to close my practice due to the pandemic. Soon after I sent out that announcement to my clients, one client replied with a handful of constructive ways to spend my newfound free time… one of them was meditation. She suggested a couple of different applications that could provide a framework for learning. I decided to give 10 Percent Happier a try, because for the first time in decades, I had an unknown amount of free time in front of me.
And here I am today. I made the 15 minute commitment– most days- and am thankful for it.
I remain a neophyte, but I can see the benefit to myself and to others. It’s funny, about 30 years ago, my wife and I were seeing a couples counselor. In addition to the personal work we were doing, the counselor recommended two things for homework: a book called “Everyday Zen” and to cultivate the ability to count to 10 before replying to something someone said (particularly your spouse). I have read and reread the book enjoying an introduction to the philosophy of Zen Buddhism. But I never mastered the pausing before I reacted. In fact, I never tried very hard to learn it. Fast forward to today and with a modest investment, I feel like I am making progress on this second point. Turns out, this is useful everywhere in life. And it comes with a key bonus: less regret.
Don’t wait 40 years like I did to at least explore some form of meditation. There are free apps you can download, guided meditations available on YouTube (search for Joseph Goldstein, Sharon Salzburg or Jack Kornfield).
And one final comment on meditation and massage. Meditation and breathing go hand in hand. Focus on calm, steady, easeful breathing triggers the “rest and digest” or parasympathetic aspect of your nervous system, bringing relaxation and focus. Developing this skill will also improve your massage experience. By relaxing, sports massage is often less challenging to muscles and your nervous system allowing more work to be accomplished with less effort!