Every new meditator has the same thought, “am I doing this right?”
It’s a valid thought – not one you should be giving any attention to while you’re meditating – but outside of meditation you should know whether you’re doing it right or not. Otherwise why would you keep doing it?
We could hook you up to some medical equipment to see if your heart rate, breathing rate and blood pressure are coming down, which should happen when you’re meditating. But even then we still wouldn’t know for sure. You could just be in a very relaxed daydream or falling asleep – neither of which is meditating.
The best way to know if you’re really doing it right or not will show up when you’re not meditating – when you’re just going about your day. After just a couple of weeks of meditation, you should notice a positive difference in the way you behave and feel.
It Starts with Little Things
A colleague who is normally very cheerful and expressive walks by, but today she gives you a quick nod and continues on her way. Before you started meditating, you would have found this curt nod a slight act of aggression and you might have spent the next hour or more deeply upset and offended by it. That’s what an untrained mind does – it immediately leaps into victim mode. When your mind is trained you know the universe does not revolve around you, that people can be in bad moods and it has nothing to do with you. Knowing this, you aren’t upset or offended – you remain calm and balanced.
You’re at the grocery store, you’ve just got a couple of items so you go to the 10-items-or-fewer checkout lane. You’re standing there patiently and you notice the person in front of you has 15 items – 5 more than you’re supposed to have for this lane! In the past, you would have silently cursed that person into oblivion – rehearsing the dress down you’d like to give her, even though you never will. But this time you don’t react, you don’t wish this person to be executed on the spot for such a violation. You recognize that this has nothing to do with you and in reality you haven’t really been that inconvenienced. You remain calm.
You might find yourself in a conversation where the other person is angry and starts speaking rather harshly to you but instead of feeling immediately threatened and angry yourself, figuratively putting up your hand, you actually hear his words and are able to respond to what he is saying. You’re not fanning the flames making things worse, you remain calm and diffuse the situation skillfully.
The Point of Meditation
The main purpose of meditation is to see things more clearly; to see yourself more clearly. This is why meditation is so effective. Until you see for yourself how you are creating unnecessary chaos in your life; causing yourself distress, anger and unhappiness over and over again, you won’t change.
Intellectual Understanding vs. Knowing
Reading books, going to therapy and being guided by meditation teachers can point you in the right direction and help you gain an intellectual understanding of how you’re misinterpreting situations and then reacting in a way that’s harming yourself and others, but UNTIL YOU SEE IT FOR YOURSELF YOU’LL NEVER CHANGE.
The analogy I like to use is telling a small child not to get too close to the stove or you’ll burn your hand. We were all told this – and we all eventually got too close and burned our hands. But we only did it once.
That is the difference between intellectually understanding something and knowing it to be true.
Every day you get too close to the stove and burn your hands. Too much time is spent caught up in your own stories, where you are always starring as “The Victim.” Taking things personally and overreacting when you don’t get your way when most of the time you are not even aware you’re doing it.
Meditation isn’t just sitting and watching your breath – checking out for 20 minutes to feel more relaxed. It’s learning to calm your mind to a very clear and rational state so that you can see for yourself your own patterns of behavior. You see how you overreact again and again in the same types of situations, each time causing yourself pain. You recognize that so much of what happens in your day really is beyond your control. The only thing you can control is how you respond.
When you are very clear that you no longer wish to cause yourself pain you change the way you respond to life. You change your habit of reacting unconsciously and start responding consciously, skillfully and wisely. The result is that you are happier, have better relationships, less conflict and more peace, regardless of what’s happening around you; and that is how you know you’re meditating correctly.
Need a quick meditation refresher? Click here for a short instructional video with a 5-minute guided meditation.