To me, meditation is one of the most important keys to happiness.
I’ve been practicing Vipassana since 2009 and I’ve been on a meditation retreat. It changed my life in ways I could not imagine. The biggest benefit must be the freedom from the constant stream of thoughts (in Buddhist tradition it’s called the monkey mind).
“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
Here’s how meditation can make you happier:
1. The main benefits of meditation
With regular meditation, you stop identifying yourself with all the crap that comes out of your subconscious mind. You’ll feel free to just observe your thoughts, observe reality, to take in the world as it is – without casting judgment on everything. It’s something beautiful. I’ve also found that meditation makes you less egotistic. Normally the focus is always on you. You have to meet your needs, don’t you? But meditation enables you to look outward and be interested in other people. You become more compassionate and try to understand the perspective of others.
“If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.” – Amit Ray
2. The transient moments of bliss
And then, there are the moments of transient bliss. They happen on beautiful days. Let me describe them from the first person point of view: I’m just walking down the busy street, and the warm sunshine reaches me through the undulant trees. And suddenly, I look at the world as if for the first time. Vivid details of things I haven’t before noticed pour into my mind. The intrinsic unity, the elegance, the flow of reality – they are all there. And then it fades and I’m back. But bathed in the afterglow of this experience.
3. The scientific basis of the meditation-happiness conundrum
You don’t have to pack your bags and go to the mountains to meditate (although that’s highly recommended). Even ten minutes a day of simple breathing meditation can improve happiness. Research shows that regular meditation also increases your level of concentration and creativity.
“To understand the immeasurable, the mind must be extraordinarily quiet, still.” – Jiddu Krishnamurti
4. Meditators are more ego-free
Chuck Raison, a professor at Emory University recorded talks between meditators and non-meditators. He found that meditators are more polite, and calm and use “I” more rarely.
5. Even an 8-week meditation course can make you happier
Researchers from the University of Wisconsin tested meditators with the MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). They showed that the region responsible for positive thoughts is “lighting up” more frequently in the brains of meditators. (The subjects meditated only for eight weeks). So if you want to be more cheerful and optimistic, place your buttocks on the chair, close your eyes, and breathe. On the web, you will find lots of information on how to start your practice. The book I recommend the most is The Mind Illuminated: A Complete Meditation Guide. The key is to cover the breath with your awareness. When the thought arises, just let it pass and keep coming back to the breath. That is the essence.
6. Starting Your Meditation Practice
Make it a habit to meditate every day for twenty to thirty minutes (if you want to make real progress, one, 45-minute session is recommended). Put it on your calendar and decide to meditate for twenty-one days in a row. If you fail, just start over. Soon, it will become automatic and you will start to look forward to your sessions. It’s best to do the meditation first thing in the morning. It’s easier to manage, your mind is less cluttered and you set yourself up for a beautiful day.
“An awake heart is like a sky that pours light.” – Hafiz
7. The healing power of guided meditation
If you’re a beginner, start with guided meditations to gain some confidence. I would recommend sessions by Sam Harris available on his blog. Also, you might check out guided meditations by Jon Kabat-Zinn.
8. Take a deep breath and feel happy with yourself
After learning a bit from the guided meditations, you can practice on your own. It’s good to sit still and feel the sensation of your breath. I’ve also found the meditation audio tracks highly beneficial. Just put on your headphones, listen to relaxing music Alpha wave music, and breathe The tracks usually last for about thirty minutes so it’s not too long even for beginners. The good thing is that you don’t have to set the alarm. You just wait until the music calmly fades. I use tapes prepared by Dr. Jeffrey Thompson I recommend you check them out.
Additional resources on meditation
If you want to get into the subject a bit deeper in a secular context I would recommend two books. One is called “Waking Up – A Guide to Spirituality without Religion” by Sam Harris. The second one is “Mindfulness in Plain English” by Bhante Gunaratana.
“Undisturbed calmness of mind is attained by cultivating friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and indifference toward the wicked.” – Patañjali
Next up, you may want to explore a list of the top spirituality book publishers.
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