Benefits of Meditation and Dharma Practice
Some Commonly Enjoyed Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation and Dharma Practice:
1. Increasing Concentration
Concentration is the ability to focus on whatever you deem important in the moment. Being able to stay present without spaciness, distraction, anxiety, boredom or becoming lost in thought is an incredibly useful life skill, both for getting things done and being able to relax into appreciation of this moment.
2. Increasing Clarity
Clarity means knowing what is happening in your own heart and mind in each moment, including your "subconscious" mind (making it more and more conscious). This means clearly knowing the difference between thoughts and emotional feelings, and clearly differentiating what you see and hear in the world from the thoughts, both visual and verbal, in your head.
If you think this is trivial or that you already do it well, you are probably not seeing it clearly. Did you ever say or do something stupid or harmful and then wonder why you did it? Or hear something differently than what someone said. The inevitable distortions in communication come from a lack of clarity about what we actually hear another person say vs. what the voice in our head tells us they said. Past experience, conditioning, projection, expectations and fear distort what we see, hear and feel. This lack of clarity causes arguments, conflicts, delusion, stress, confusion, depression, alienation, etc. With clarity comes a much deeper knowing of ourselves, others, and the world through direct and undistorted experience.
3. Increased Equanimity
Equanimity is not resisting, clinging to, trying to change or repress our experience in each moment, but instead radically loving and allowing each moment's experience to be here fully. This doesn't mean we cannot or should not try to change external conditions, but we can't do that by resisting our experience of them. We need to allow ourselves to fully experience how things actually are, with equanimity, and then if appropriate work to change what is causing that experience in the world. As conditions are not always perfectly pleasant, or changeable, building our capacity for equanimity is essential for increasing our happiness and well being.
4. Increased Ease, Love and Well Being (Metta)
In moments of increased concentration, clarity and equanimity, regardless of what is happening, there naturally arises an underlying sense of ease, well being, love, kindness, peace, safety, connection, and compassion. These positive states are a great reason to meditate, and can be practiced and increased directly through specific techniques.
4. Becoming Happier
Thomas Jefferson posited "the pursuit of happiness" as the central purpose of life. The Buddha seems to have agreed, though their understandings of "pursuit" and "happiness" are quite different. Jefferson would probably see this as the freedom to pursue pleasant and pleasurable experiences while decreasing unpleasant and painful ones.
The Buddha saw that pursuing that kind of happiness, with life's inevitable pain, loss, old age, disease and death, is doomed to failure. For the Buddha the only reliable path to happiness was to eliminate craving for pleasant experiences and resistance to unpleasant ones, and instead to be fully with how things are in each moment (equanimity). This does not mean pleasant experience is to be avoided, only that we fully accept every experience however it comes.
Seeing through the attachment to pleasant and the aversion to unpleasant is a serious undertaking, but it works. You can still enjoy pleasure without being attached to it, making it even more fulfilling, and while the unpleasant is still painful, without resistance to it there is no added stress or suffering. This is a counterintuitive and revolutionary insight, and one of the reasons Mindfulness Meditation works.
5. A Better Life
The goal of our practice is not to be a great meditator, the goal is to have a better life. The path doesn't end with a better life, the path is a better life. Year to year, things get better. We become more relaxed, less reactive, more loving and accepting, less driven, more present, softer yet stronger, and overall less stressed.
6. Spiritual Awakening
What we most deeply yearn for, even though the self that wants it is not going to get it, is awakening. No one wakes up, no one realizes anything; we wake up out of that self, into our true nature, non-separation, not-self, no-self, or whatever you want to call it. Words fail here. Even though this is nothing like anything expected, it is worth whatever it takes.
Ingredients for Strong Progress and Growth:
1. A Daily Meditation Practice
Regular practice is essential for learning Mindfulness and bringing it into our daily lives. How long? More is better, but some is far better than none. Even 5 minutes of meditation is infinitely greater than no meditation at all, so if you don't have time for 20 or 30 minutes, sitting for even a few minutes can help to establish and maintain a regular daily practice, which you can then expand later.
While meditating, we need to concentrate on our effort, but not judge the results. Results are up to nature (or God if you prefer). Try to not judge your practice, and to not believe those judgements (they are false) when they arise, but to simply do sincere, patient work. While effort for all of us includes the more masculine aspects such as using will power and dedication to stay with regular practice; effort also includes the feminine aspects of acceptance, surrender, and loving what is, right now. When effort is appropriate and free of judgment, it feels intuitively good.
2. Retreat Practice
There are important things you can only get from silent retreats. Gaining deeper concentration, purifying resistance, and experiencing insight are much more likely while on retreat. Try for at least 7 days a year if you can; the more the better. You can do retreats in day-longs, weekends, a week: whatever combination works.
3. Regular Contact with a Teacher
In learning a new skill, the value of an experienced teacher or coach is paramount, and that goes for meditation and the Dharma. A good teacher who knows you and your practice and is available to check in with periodically is invaluable, and can help you stay motivated and on track, while focusing your efforts and avoiding obstacles.
4. Sangha (Community)
Sangha, the third jewel, tends to be underdeveloped in the west. Sangha used to be a monastery, but nowadays Insight practice is often done at home alone, or on retreat with people we don't know. Learning how to create meaningful Sangha that supports all levels of practice in our lives is an ongoing challenge. Sitting groups, dedicated groups, classes and local retreats can all contribute to Sangha.
5. Ethical Conduct
Working to live and act more ethically and less harmfully is extremely important, because we actually become what we think, say and do. We need to learn to use our thoughts, words and actions to heal and grow our minds and hearts. Non-harming, generosity, gratitude, forgiveness, lovingkindness and compassion are all important parts of this path, and all can be developed and increased with deliberate practice.