I blogged last month about starting a meditation habit. Despite knowing about zazen, or zen meditation–my preferred form of meditation–since my college days, I just recently began a regular practice! Meditation is one of those deceptively simple activities that isn’t easy at all; in fact, its difficulty is part of what makes it so worthwhile.
Since starting my meditation practice, I’ve meditated for 5-15 minutes most days. For the past few days, I’ve meditated for 15 minutes several hours before bed, and I’ve experienced something I hadn’t for at least the past year: probable REM sleep (indicated by vivid dreams) right up until I wake in the mornings! I’ve also felt more calmly alert and attentive during the day (in short, I’ve felt fresh), even though I’ve only gotten about seven hours a night (which, previously, was not enough for me). I haven’t made any other changes to my lifestyle, so I’m doubtful that anything else could account for the new REM cycles.
I feel that my attention span has broadened considerably. I’m much better-attuned to the world around me. Layers of thought and mental impressions, many of them barely conscious, have been lifted, revealing a calm, clear view of things. Meditation, for me, is about “lifting” the “layers” of thought and consequent feelings that obscure the truth. I’ve solved harder problems correctly, I’ve made fewer mistakes overall (before, in haste, I would occasionally bump into things and hurt my finger or my toe or my knee), I’ve become more cognizant of and attentive to all important matters, I’ve become more calmly (instead of harriedly) efficient, etc.
The sum of all these and other effects of meditation has been something truly priceless: a much higher quality of life experience per moment of time. The overall quality of my life has risen considerably.
I’ve learned that if I want to see the forest and the trees, then I should meditate. I look forward to continuing and deepening my meditation practice!
P.S. These are the zazen instructions that work for me. They work because they stress the importance of non-striving, of not pursuing a goal while meditating, which is critical to getting “behind” your barely conscious thoughts and “lifting” them out of the way. (Pursuit of a goal, or striving, can itself be a near-unconscious ambience of thought that colors your mind a certain way, with consequent anxieties and behaviors you wouldn’t otherwise engage in.)
P.P.S. Meditation, for me, is strictly practical. I ignore the spiritual/religious side of it. Remember that Buddhism became a religion only after the Buddha died–he did not want to make it a religion, he did not want to be worshipped, and he did not make any claims about a higher power(s). The religious transformation of his movement came about after he died.