Manoj Dias of Open sets the record straight.
With the world slowly opening back up, we are finding ourselves headed back to the office, frequenting our favorite restaurants again, and hanging out with friends and loved ones whom we haven't seen in over a year. Although everything seems to be headed back to normal, we must not forget the countless hours (and days and months) that we had to self-reflect while living in lockdown or the coping mechanisms we used to soothe ourselves through such a hectic (and, dare I say, unprecedented) time. During the pandemic, people started meditating more than ever—in fact, within the first month of lockdown alone, there was a 70 percent increase of users tuning into livestream meditation sessions.
And it makes sense—according to a 2013 study analyzing the effects meditation has on our cortisol levels, "mindfulness meditation lowers the cortisol levels in the blood, suggesting that it can lower stress and may decrease the risk of diseases that arise from stress."
Yet, for those who are meditation novices, it may seem that all your efforts to calm your mind and live in a moment of zen are for nothing. When you meditate, you might not experience the same euphoric state of relaxation that wellness marketing often tries to push to consumers. Instead, you encounter racing thoughts about the noises around you, what you'll have for dinner that evening, or maybe even think of something that happened to you years ago. We are here to tell you that it is OK that you are experiencing these thoughts—in fact, it's completely normal.
So, to start, what is the point of meditation, anyway? "For some, it's to sleep better, ease stress or anxiety. For long-term meditators, it's to self-actualize, to learn about one's mind and what gets in the way of happiness. Some people call this freedom, liberation, or awakening," Manoj Dias, co-founder of Open and author of Still Together, shares with Coveteur. "I like to think the reason I meditate is to cultivate more happiness and less suffering for myself and the world around me."
Meditation isn't a one-way ticket to a state of absolute relaxation. Rather, it's a way to ground yourself in the moment that exists around you, whether that is as simple as hanging out alone in your apartment with your pet, or if that environment is full of children needing your attention, or a work inbox whose fullness is looming over you. Dias states, "Most meditations are designed not to clear the mind, but work with how we relate to the contents of our mind. Meaning, if we're angry, sad, stressed—meditation isn't a magic wand that rids us of these things. Instead, over time, we learn to be less reactive to these things and respond to them wisely, not react blindly."
Simply put, meditation is not a way to rid the mind of thoughts completely to enter a mode of hypnosis, but rather to experience those intrusive thoughts racing through the mind with compassion. Says Dias, "It's less about deflecting thoughts and more about relating to them in healthy ways. Similar to how we can't avoid intrusive things happening in life, we can't do this during meditation." Meditation is essentially like a workout for your brain. By being mindful and compassionate during a meditation full of racing thoughts, you can train yourself to remain in the moment and to be kind to yourself when abrupt and intrusive moments arise in life.
And it would help if you didn't worry about noise or any other distractions during your meditation. Dias explains, "This is the beauty of practice; everything—even noise—can *be* our practice. If I want a few moments of mindfulness in between meetings, I start by noticing my feet grounded on the floor, and then when noise takes over, I shift my awareness to the noise. I notice all the different sounds and how it touches my ears." Awareness of your environment during meditation is crucial. The more you practice accepting the things you cannot control in your environment, you'll be better equipped with the tools necessary to find control and awareness in those real-life moments where everything seems to go awry.
Now, does this mean that every single meditation of your life will be full of thoughts about your daily docket or strange podcast ideas you have in your back pocket? Not necessarily. Like any other workout, meditation trains your mind to accept thoughts as they come and live with them in harmony. Over time, you'll certainly still have thoughts here and there, but you'll have trained enough to accept them and return to your breath with ease.
Dias mentions, "We all start with noisy, busy minds—in that respect, you're not special if you have one. We learn through meditating that our practice isn't about getting good at meditating. It's about getting good at life. The more present, aware, and compassionate we can be with our own mind, the more we can show up to the world around us with the same qualities."
If you think you're meditating incorrectly because you just can't turn your mind off, don't throw the towel in just yet. There really is no correct way to meditate, so continue on, even if you haven't found your moment of serenity just yet.
Photo: Courtesy of Instagram/@op_e___n
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