I’d like to address a common misperception I have heard from the public in their attitude towards meditation or people who meditate. This misperception is that practitioners of meditation are escapists. They meditate in order to escape reality. They escape to the mountains or to retreats in order to get away from things because they cannot handle life. This misperception is contradictory to the true meaning of meditation. To Quote Psychologist and Mindfulness Expert, Larry Cammarata, “meditation is not an escape from reality but a running into reality.”
Meditation is not worrying about what we said or what other people said in the past nor is it thinking so much about the future that you ignore what is happening in the here and now. It is not escaping reality by becoming addicted to a substance, cause, person or mindset. It is a running into reality. Meditation is focusing on one thing with utmost clarity. It is being aware of the present experience with acceptance.
Why is this important? Have you ever had a hard time focusing on one thing? Practitioners of meditation call this “suffering.” Often, we dwell on matters we have no power over. We dwell on our anger and insecurities. We can’t stop thinking about what this or that person said. We worry about our future and what needs to get done when we should be doing what needs to get done here and now. As a result, nothing gets done. Because of this, we feel guilty. This leads to more suffering. Meditation helps us end this suffering.
All meditation is, is focusing on the present moment without judgment. It is important that we do not judge ourselves or others because our “ego” can lead to suffering. In yoga class, if we take the focus away from our bodies or breath and focus on how the lady next to us has a much prettier pose than we do, we will suffer. This suffering will diminish if we focus only on our own breath and feel the workings of our own body. Putting extra focus on our yoga practice and not on our egos will lead to a more fulfilling practice and a sounder mind.
If we take some time out of the day to focus on something as simple as our breath, the mind will clear itself from other worries that cause us suffering. Studies have shown that sixty percent of our population does not breathe properly. Shallow breath can lead to many diseases such as high blood pressure, anxiety, and other stress related disorders. By focusing our mind on something as simple as our breath, this can calm our physical anxiety. Our minds will also find stillness as we have taken our focus away from our worries.
If you have a problem that just keeps bothering you, meditate on that. It is amazing how running into reality can help us solve the root cause of the dilemmas that cause us so much suffering. During my yoga teacher’s training, we had an assignment to write about several meditations. Some of us meditated specifically on a problem that bothered us. Those of us who meditated on a problem either found the solution to the problem right away or learned that we never had a problem to begin with. Taking a few minutes out of the day to run into reality, saved us countless hours of worrying and suffering.
Another benefit of meditation is cortical thickening in the brain and growth of neurons. This shows that meditation strengthens the activity of the brain, creating mental hardiness. In terms of physical meditation, focusing on the present moment leads to physical hardiness. A great athlete is focused on nothing but the moment when he is scoring that winning goal. Future success is a byproduct of his ability to focus on the moment.
The best advice I have received on how to balance motherhood with my career was to focus on the present always. When you are with your family, put all your focus on them. When you are at work, put all your focus on your work. When you are relaxing, focus on relaxing. Organize your time so you know exactly when and what you should be focusing on. This philosophy worked for the successful woman who told me this and it has been working for me. Worrying about your job when you should be spending quality time with your kids is futile. Worry about your job when you are doing it. This is the key of living a fulfilling and stress free life.
As far as escaping reality goes, if you need to take time to yourself to sort things out, I can see nothing wrong with this. Sometimes our environment can be toxic and removing ourselves from it in order to find clarity can be an intelligent step to take. I have done this in my past and the experience has changed my life as it has helped me to know my true purpose.
So if you are brain fried from clutter, take one thing — anything, and focus on it. Try it and let me know how it goes.
By Rhea Morales