A friend of mine asked me the other day “why do you meditate?, ya know, some people go to the gym because they want to look good, others run because it makes them feel good, what makes you meditate?” My first response was not the highest quality response and was something like “well, I do it because it is the path to enlightenment”, which, upon further inspection, is not really why I do it. I told him I would spend time on it and get back to him with an answer. This blog is my attempt to answer it for myself before responding to my friend…
There are all the physiological benefits that are well documented in Altered Traits and have been studied by the scientific community for decades now and the practitioner community for millennia now. I have enjoyed many of these physiological benefits including reduced blood pressure, lowered resting heart rate, and better sleep. These are nice benefits, and, after inspection, not why I meditate.
I then inspected enlightenment and the reduction of suffering as the reason to meditate, which was my initial response. I probably said this as a mostly follow the Mahayana tradition of Buddhism and one of the goals is to reduce the suffering of all beings. When I inspected this, I couldn’t find any indication that this is my reason other than an aspirational belief that this is the right thing to do. I believe it was ego that answered this way, wanting to have some higher purpose for spending hundreds of hours practicing meditation. Although meditation might create necessary pre-conditions for enlightenment or accelerate the path to enlightenment, it is not really the reason why I meditate.
Yesterday, as I was meditating, l realized how good it makes me feel. I also know that attachment to that feeling can be a hindrance to further insight. I believe I have benefited in three ways from meditation that encourage me to continue:
1. More calm and blissful moments
2. Better decision-making
Calm and Bliss – I have become a better parent, husband and colleague because of meditation. The quality of my response when under stress is better, and I have more compassion and empathy for my colleagues, friend and family. Due to my practice, I can feel thoughts and emotion arise, and choose to attach or not attach. I am aware when a transgression is triggering a programmed response and can interrupt that programmed response with a higher quality one. Also, the feelings of bliss and happiness, while a trap, feel really good while you are in them and can be accessed easily now after practicing for a few years.
Better decision-making – With meditation (or from the benefits of focus), I can better inspect a new condition and the filters that my mind applies to it. This skill enables me to see the condition or situation more clearly and objectively which leads to better decisions.
Wisdom – Maybe this is the overriding purpose or reason why I meditate. I have always searched for more meaning since I was a young kid, questioning the religion I was raised in, looking for alternate states, and reading philosophy to understand why we are here. With Buddhism, I have found that you don’t have to engage in a leap of faith (which I always struggled with), you can follow the practice and know the results. You can experiment and prove or disprove the philosophy with your own practice. With each experiment I find that I get slightly closer to seeing things as they are, with equanimity.