Perhaps the most wonderful thing about meditation is that it can facilitate huge change. The benefits of meditation – which in recent years have become well publicised in the media – are truly profound, the stories of those whose lives have been transformed by this practice provide us with encouragement and inspiration. Yet something which is not often discussed is the subtle way in which this change often comes about.
When we want improve our lives, we often think in terms of dramatic, overnight transformation.
Whether it’s “get shredded in six weeks!” diet plans or a list of New Year’s Resolutions as long as our arm, it’s easy to believe that if we just apply the requisite willpower life will get better almost instantly.
Unfortunately, however, these plans often prove to be impractical – and we fall back into old habits as quickly as we attempt to reject them.
Imbedded, habitual behaviour – from flopping down in front of the TV after work to repeating negative patterns in our relationships – is extremely difficult to break free from. Guided by our subconscious, we replay sequences of actions without even thinking about it, with neural pathways in our brains formed over years of “trigger, behaviour, reward”.
In order to put an end to these habits, we have to think about it – mulling over our motives and applying self-discipline – which is what makes outright change so challenging.
Meditation and Small Shifts in Thinking
Not long ago, meditation was thought of as something of a niche interest, so it’s encouraging to see it become a regular feature of our cultural conversation. Whether it’s self-care tips or articles about the performance-boosting habits of super-successful people, we now read and hear more about meditation than perhaps we ever did. But in between the glossy features on exotic retreats and listicles about the daily habits of super-entrepreneurs, some of the nuances of meditation sometimes become lost.
The power of practicing meditation doesn’t lie in a sudden ability to juggle hundreds of tasks with complete emotional serenity and living in a state of Instagram-like perfection. It’s unlikely that all our problems will disappear after a few weeks and meditation isn’t an instant fix – but what it does facilitate is extraordinarily profound.
As I mentioned above, consciously trying to change our habits isn’t impossible, but it is often prohibitively hard. The advantage of meditation is that circumvents this conscious strain through gradual and effortless change, enabled through almost imperceptible shifts in the way we think and feel.
It’s these shifts which slowly but surely change our outlook, decisions and circumstances. For instance, we may start meditating because we want to become more efficient in our high-pressure job. In the short term, the fact that meditation makes us less reactive to stress means that it easier to achieve this goal. But over the long term, meditation can help us to see more clearly, and feel less held back by the subconscious fears and worries that stop us from making the best decisions for ourselves.
We become more able to make bold choices, and may realise that instead of slogging through, we don’t want our super-stressful job, and perhaps life won’t fall apart should we leave it.
It might be something like better engaging with therapy if we’re experiencing poor mental health, or
feeling more open in our relationships because the influence of niggling, painful memory has naturally dissolved away. It may not be a startling transition, (although it is of course possible to experience revelationary moments of clarity through continued meditation practice) but it is a tangible, permanent improvement that inevitably leads to a happier and healthier life.
It isn’t always easy to see how the small things relate to the big picture, but in doing so, we can begin to understand the true benefits of meditation, and reap the rewards for years to come.
Holly Ashby is a wellness and meditation writer who works with Will Williams Meditation, a meditation centre where people can complete transcendental meditation courses in London, taught in it’s original,