Updated: Dec 3, 2020
To transform anything, we must first deeply understand its current shape. All change begins with a clear awareness and acceptance of what already is. These are not passive stances towards our lives or the world. Instead, they are necessary first steps towards the freedom to choose something different. If we don’t know what actually exists, we are powerless to change it. Meditation is our most central and important practice because it brings the awareness that leads to change. Change expands our choices, and each new choice expands our freedom.
We are not yet free. We are deeply constrained and limited by structures that impede the expression of our full potential. Some of these structures are too large and complex for any individual to change on her own. We will come to these social and institutional structures later. Equally important, however, are the structures that we impose on our own lives. These are the patterns of thought and action that prevent our growth, forcing us instead to repeat painful and frustrating experiences.
Meditation refers to a wide spectrum of practices, which vary dramatically in their structure and benefits. Here, I’m focusing solely on the style of silent meditation that brings greater awareness of our inner world: our thoughts and feelings. Although there are many more benefits to this form of meditation, self-awareness alone is enough reason to practice it. Self-awareness is the key to beginning to know who we truly are and how to become who we truly wish to be.
Meditation redirects our attention inward. Typically our attention moves outward, as our senses and thoughts move us towards action. A noisy neighbor arouses our anger and we yell through the wall. The smell of freshly baked cookies makes our stomach growl as we imagine the delicious taste. The stress of daily life depletes our energy, and we are lured again into our screens and the tantalizing visuals, addictive gameplay or social validation they offer. Living this way, life carries us from moment to moment. We have no freedom to choose a different path.
With our attention directed inward, however, we begin to see our life in a new way. As we sit in silence, we naturally realize that thoughts and sensations do not require us to respond as we typically do. Instead, we discover a place of stillness beneath all the commotion at the surface of life. As we choose to stay in stillness, we come to see our old reactions were only one of many possible choices. The meditative space within us, which at first appears utterly empty, paradoxically is full of insights like these. The more time we spend in meditation, the more we learn about ourselves, and the more freedom we gain to choose new ways to be.
Freedom is choosing silence when we would normally react in anger. It’s choosing compassion towards others who put their anger upon us, when we know it is beyond their control. Meditation brings the awareness we need to interrupt old patterns. It breaks the spell of control the world casts on us. It gives us a chance to create a different life for ourselves, from a place of freedom. This is true growth.
It doesn’t happen overnight. Although we may experience flashes of insight from time to time, single meditation sessions do not create this growth. Meditation is a daily practice that works through consistent repetition. We have to commit to doing it every day to see these results. Many are discouraged by this and seek a quicker fix than meditation or they practice it only sporadically. Ultimately, this only delays the process. At first, we simply need to commit, knowing eventually we will feel the benefits of meditation so deeply that we naturally want to practice it every day.
We’ve already lived for many years in a default mode and developed many ingrained patterns of thought and action. It takes time to redirect our attention inward so that we can interrupt and replace these patterns. The time it takes will vary, so we never judge the practice based on how we feel on a given day and we never compare ourselves to others. As we look back over weeks and months of daily practice, we will begin to see subtle yet profound changes in how we feel and act.
At first we might simply notice a new sense of ease that we carry with us. What used to be stressful, or frustrating, or painful in whatever way, no longer disturb us with the same force. The change may be so gradual that we don’t know how it happened, but we have a strong sense it came from our meditation practice. The practice is taking root, and our old patterns are loosening their grip. We are making room for new choices. This is what meaningful growth feels like.
As we take this journey to freedom, please join me in cultivating a daily meditation practice. It’s worth it. I’m here to support you, so please reach out and share anything that holds you back. Any questions, confusions, or hesitations are welcome, and surely there are others who feel the same. Whatever difficulties we face, we will find the way together.
drawing by isabel gryschka