Why do we meditate?

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This dharma post is the result of a week of receiving answers to a question I didn’t know I was asking. It started when I came upon a quote by Zen master Suzuki Roshi: “We meditate so we can enjoy old age.”  Regular meditation helps us to befriend the nature of impermanence and understand the interconnectedness of all life. That makes it easier to be with whatever arises in our experience, including aging and death.

Then I came upon a slender volume of poems I wrote in my twenties. Back then I wasn’t concerned with aging and death. I was struggling with self-doubt, depression, and feeling stuck. These impediments to my creativity softened or disappeared when I began to meditate. The poems were the fruits of my meditation practice.

The next day a student sent me a quote from Rick Hanson that spoke to her, and it offered me another reason to meditate: it teaches us how to love life even if we don’t like everything about it.

The day after that another student sent me Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem Kindness . It reminds us that by paying attention to all that arises, our sorrows become seeds to cultivate kindness rather than turn us into instruments of suffering. Paying attention is what meditation trains our minds to do. And cultivating lovingkindness is a core part of our practice.

The next morning in meditation it came to me that we need to meditate the way sea mammals need to come up for air before diving into daily life again. Yes, we love to swim around and dive deep, but too long without coming up for air we suffer and ultimately drown. Remembering to come to the surface and reconnect with the breath is what we do in meditation. We open to the infinite blue sky of awareness and we rest in the light of infinite lovingkindness. We may not all call it ‘meditation’ or do it in the same way, but we all need that time out from hyperactivity to simply be, to simply breathe.

Speaking of breath, in class, two students shared that they have trouble remembering to breathe and that meditation helps them to notice the breath. Another student said that meditation helps her come into balance. Having lived so much in her mind, meditation brings in awareness of the body and spirit. Another student shared her sense of interconnection she feels at a molecular level when she meditates. One woman whose busy life is filled with children and work said she meditates as a gift to herself. Indeed it is a gift, an important one for all of us. Meditation is not selfish. It enables us to handle all that arises skillfully and to be there for those we love. A couple of students said it helps them feel more peaceful. Meditation helps calm the striving need to know the answer to everything and the fear of missing out. We come to understand that we don’t know and although it’s in our nature to question, the answer to the biggest questions can rest in a state of wonder, loving the question itself. (Learn more on skillful self-inquiry.)

To end this list, for now, I’ll add a reason to meditate that came from a dream, a dream that was so illogical I woke up. It’s funny where we draw the line. I mean, we all have dreams that make no sense yet we keep going along with it and buying into it. But then there’s a dream event that for whatever reason we say, “Hey, wait a minute! That makes no sense.” So we wake up.

Waking up is what we also do through the regular practice of meditation. We see the nature of life the way we see the nature of dreams. We can engage, enjoy, learn, and co-create a kinder more beneficial world for all beings, all while holding it lightly, more lucidly. We perceive and accept the nature of impermanence and interconnectivity of all matter, and we see how we create suffering for ourselves and others when we lose that awareness and rail against it.

So why do you meditate? To enjoy your old age? To cultivate kindness out of sorrow? To come up for air? To find balance, peace, and creativity? To wake up? To find the joy of being fully present in this moment, just as it is? Maybe all of the above, or something else. I welcome any comments or questions.

If you don’t meditate, or not as regularly as you’d like, I hope this inspires you. Check out the Meditations Basics page on this website. And please share this post with others to inspire them. What a gift!

Let me know your thoughts on this.

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