I’ve written much about the benefits of meditation, from stress management to mood stability, from increased creativity to breakthroughs in psychotherapy.
Mindfulness and Transcendental Meditation are all the rage right now, and they seem the therapy of choice for many of our ills.
But it’s a lot of work.
Most studies of the physical or emotional benefits of meditation use subjects that undergo rigorous mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) training — eight weeks of intense practice, with one two-hour class each week and 45 minutes of practice each day.
Transcendental Meditation requires two 20-minute periods a day. Not everyone has the time, or the desire, for such dedicated meditation practice. Yet this level of practice may be necessary to accrue most of the claimed benefits of meditation. If the subject stops meditating, the benefits may disappear.
At the classes and workshops that I teach, and at the weekly drop-in meditation groups I facilitate, few people are interested in establishing such a deep, time-consuming practice. Most seek a rest from the demands and 24-hour availability of our world. They just want to disconnect for a time. I believe this is as noble a goal for meditation as great spiritual fulfillment is. And it takes a lot less work.
Two broad categories of results can sum up most people’s purposes for meditating. The first is to fully experience the present moment and to encounter thoughts and bodily sensations without judgment. The second is to enter a place of calmness away from the reactivity that can overwhelm us.
One meditator sails into the maelstrom, the other seeks a temporary shelter from the storm. The most interesting thing is that each result comes from the same basic techniques. So what the meditator seeks, and how much time he or she is willing to put into it, determines the outcome.
Many meditators want simply to rest for a few moments of stillness before re-engaging with the stresses of life. And for these people small, occasional periods of meditation work just fine. And a person who stops to take a deliberate break every once in a while may even find themselves more productive or less reactive.
It is unlikely that a meditator such as this will achieve the grand benefits claimed by mindfulness-based stress reduction and transcendental meditation. And the non-spiritual athlete will not find enlightenment. But smaller, yet still valuable, benefits will accrue.
The important thing is that the demands of a meditation practice should not add more stress to your life. Resting in stillness should result in freshness, not austerity. One must not be too goal-driven in the practice of meditation. You have enough in your life that overwhelms you already.
If you can’t dedicate big chunks of time to meditation you can still benefit. Just stop every once in a while and breathe. The world that challenges you will pause with you, and possibly even seem a bit more manageable as you reenter the fray.