Understanding this meditation thing. In 10 easy pieces.
Hang on people, before we start…some caveats:
Caveat #1 – meditation cannot be summarised. That sounds like a fairly odd thing for a page that is trying to summarise meditation but there you go. The legendary American physicist Richard Feymann once quipped that “if you think you understand quantum mechanics… then you don’t understand quantum mechanics”. Meditation is like that. The more we start to understand the mind and how the way we see affects the world we experience the more mysterious, the more miraculous and more beautiful the world becomes. We want to say it all at once but know that it’s actually impossible to do. This can be a little infuriating for people who like things in black and white. But the world isn’t like that is it? And that is a good thing.
Caveat #2 – we are not talking about ALL meditation. Meditation is a broad term and while there can be many similarities between what two people call meditation there can also be some quite significant differences. Here at buddhify unless we say otherwise, we are talking about what is normally called mindfulness or mindfulness-based meditation. So if you’re interested in forms of meditation where you stand on one leg, chant till you’re blue in the face or take hallucinogenic substances with exotic names then sorry, this is not the place for you. Sorry
Caveat #3 – meditation is a contact sport. Reading about meditation and trying to understand the framework for what it is and how it works is a really important part of the journey of understanding. But if that’s all you do then it’s like going to a restaurant, getting all excited over the menu but then never actually ordering or eating the stuff. That’s sort of why we created buddhify
Ok enough caveats already, let’s get on with it. The 10 most important things about meditation that we at buddhify HQ think you need to know are…
1. Meditation works, people in lab coats confirm. There is now an emerging body of good ol’fashioned scientific evidence of the benefits and effects of meditation – especially mindfulness-based meditation. Since it’s only recently that we’ve been able to do detailed neurological studies on meditators, it’s fairly new stuff but the research is showing that even a relatively small amount of regular meditation can lead to psychological and neurological benefits. If you’re into your science stuff, our friends over at Headspace have got a good summary of the research here. Most of the work has been in clinical practice and so buddhify is part of taking those benefits out into the mainstream.
2. Meditation is not what you think it is. When you say meditation to most people they tend to think of what they think it looks like rather than what it actually is. Because it was the alternative/hippy movement in the 60s & 70s that brought meditation into pop culture, the association with meditation and nice yoga-loving/granola-munching/tofu-buying/tree-hugging* type people has stuck. But let’s not mistake the wrapping paper with the gift. Meditation does not look like a Californian vegetarian or Zen monk any more than exercise looks like that impossible athlete in the Nike advert. This is because meditation is a process and not a fashion statement. And what that process is doing is making the effort to develop positive mental qualities in your mind – and that’s actually how we define this meditation thing.
3. The purpose of meditation is NOT to reduce stress. HANG ON we hear you cry…but that’s what the poster said and that’s what I turned up. Let’s be very clear…meditation can be an incredibly effective tool in the reduction of stress in our ever so busy lives but it’s not the purpose…just as the purpose of going to Ikea on a Saturday afternoon is not to get a bit of a headache and wish the world would swallow you up there and then…that WILL happen but it’s not the purpose. The purpose of meditation is to understand how our minds work – to learn about how the ways we see the world actually directly influence the way we experience the world. And when we really understand that, we learn to let go of all the patterns of mind and thought that keep us feel trapped and limited. So stress reduction and reducing the seemingly incessant commentary and noise in our heads is part of that but it’s not the whole picture. But if we make that the whole picture then that’s all we’ll get. That’s why here at buddhify HQ we talk about keeping all options open with regards what particular results or understandings might come…we might just be surprised about the level of freedom that is actually possible as our practice of meditation grows.
4. Mindfulness-based meditation comes from the Buddhist tradition. This is an important point but one that can get passed over. For various reasons, our culture has an almost allergic reaction to anything vaguely religious, probably for the fear that it will inevitably bring trouble and conflict (or worse) in its wake. But let’s be 100% clear and honest…mindfulness-based meditation was first taught and codified by the Buddha back in the day. An extraordinary man in an extraordinary time, he would be the first to say that he was not a religious sort but instead was only interested in helping people understand their minds, understand their lives and develop as human beings in a positive way.. All the Religious stuff (note the capital R) came later as institutions formed and the inevitable politics kicked in and whatever else happens when people and organisations form. The reason buddhify is called buddhify is because a) it’s recognising its roots and b) it’s a killer name and in no way teaching Buddhism with a capital B nor interested in doing that. But in the same way that if you changed a few notes on Mozart’s kickass Symphony in G Major and then said oh no, that’s not Mozart, that’s just classical music, and music is just a common thing to everyone…then you’re pretty much ripping the guy off if you don’t at least reference him. It’s just good manners. So thanks B-Man, you were clearly awesome.
5. Meditation is not anti-modern, anti-digital or anti-speed. Because meditation has come to 21st century western culture via a journey of hippies and Asian monastic or yogic traditions, again it gets associated with the mountaintop as opposed to the marketplace. But it’s in the latter where we all tend to live, in the busy, digital, fast reality of urban life today. However because as we know now, meditation is what happens when we decide to develop positive mental qualities in the service of understanding and mental freedom, we can recognise that that doesn’t have to live in a particular place. Yes, being in an environment of quiet and nature and slowing-down can really help the process but that does not mean that meditation can only be learnt and the benefits felt in those conditions – nor indeed does it say that fast is bad. To say that would be really quite disheartening since that’s not where we are. What meditation does say is that fast is neither good nor bad, it’s just fast…but it’s not the only option. So again, let’s not limit ourselves and give ourselves a disadvantage before we even begin. Why not let’s try and find out what a way of bringing in authentic meditation into this buzzing world might mean? Again this wrong perception is one of the main reasons buddhify was created.
6. Meditation is what happens when awareness, intention and interest come together. Ok while that might sound like a bit of a mouthful (or is that a mindful?) – we’re now into the nitty gritty of what the practice of meditation actually looks like. While there are a gazillion different types of meditation technique even within the mindfulness meditation tradition, they all tend to centre on one simple instruction:be interested in what is happening. That’s it. Sounds simple doesn’t it? The buddhify meditations go into the practical aspects of how to meditate in much more detail but for the sake of this Top 10 List it’s important to know the main elements that go into this noticing-what-is-happening thing. Firstly it’s about your awareness – you are paying attention to what is happening to your experience – body or mind – and not adding an extra layer by judging it as good or bad but just knowing what’s going on in its rawness. It is also about intention – you have decided to pay attention in this particular way for a particular reason therefore there is some direction and overall purpose. And thirdly, you are interested – meaning that this is a learning process. And what helps all that is the ability to keep doing it for some length of time – stamina if you like. Oh dear, this has turned into quite a technical sounding description of meditation hasn’t it? If in doubt, just think “be interested” and be done with it.
7. Meditation is not about trying to fix the world, it is about freeing our relationship with it instead. While all the bits&pieces in this list are important this is very important. Very very very very important. The way we normally try to make ourselves happy is through stuff. Getting stuff. Getting rid of stuff. Getting the right look. Getting rid of those last few pounds. Getting the right partner. The right car. The right house. The right job and on and on until you finally get dead. Oh dear. That really does sound like a lot of work and not much fun. But it is often what our society and our culture most supports. Meditation says hello to all that sees that that game is impossible to win since there is always more. So it asks a different question. What if we spent as much time working on how we relate to that stuff rather than spending all our time fixated on the stuff itself? Then whatever stuff happens, we’ve got the ability to roll with it – sensitively, vibrantly and freely. Yes please.
8. The way that meditation works is actually quite simple. SSSSHHHHH…we’re about to tell you the Big Secret. When we take life really personally, we have a really bad time. When we learn to hold life more lightly, we have a good time. And meditation builds our capacity to do that. That’s it. Done. And before you think that this means that all meditators are emotionless, flat, grey blobs then hang on a minute. Pick up something small near you…your mouse, a pen, a phone whatever. Now hold it really tightly. And notice whether that is a painful or stressful experience? Now just open your hand while still holding the object in your palm. How does that feel? Are you still holding the object? Can you see the object better than you could before when it was all curled up in your fist. The practice of meditation basically the process of moving from a life dominated by the fist-like tension to a life where more and more often you are enjoying the freedom of the open hand. Life is still there. But the relationship is now free. Cool, eh?
9. Meditation is a creative discipline. As you begin to understand the general framework and process by which meditation works, by making it fit your life in whatever way makes most sense to you can have amazing effects. Those who have gained the most from meditation are often the most playful. When we play, we can’t really get stuff wrong. We can only get better. And have a lot of fun along the way. buddhify has been designed as a creative response to the inability of people to find the time or inclination to meditate despite having some interest in it. And we hope that you will use it creatively too. It’s not a coincidence the main button on the app is called Play.
10. Meditation is not about you. There can be a common perception that since meditation is in the main an individual practice, then it is of no value to the rest of the world. Let’s put that one to bed once and for all as being just plain wrong. The purpose of meditation is to love better. We learn the skills which allow us to hold life more lightly allowing us to be more generous, more sensitive and more loving. And it’s just training…doing practice by yourself isn’t the end it’s the means. You might teach yourself a language using an audio course of whatever and that’s pretty cool in its own right. But it’s even better when you use your new skills to have a meaningful conversation with a person you’d never be able to communicate with otherwise. Meditation is like that. And so to encourage the social nature of meditation, buddhify has its innovative 2 Player Meditation and buddhify modes.