Why Meditate? The Answer Is A Secret.
There is so much evidence out there affirming the benefits of meditation that it’s almost annoying. Science has determined that meditation lowers blood pressure, strengthens immunity, reduces anxiety, etc, etc. Those are true side effects, but physical benefits are not why ancient yogis lived in caves for years or why spiritual masters spent solitary time in the desert. Meditators know this.
The real reason why we meditate is a secret. It’s an open secret, but still a secret to most. Many philosophers, sages and regular people have eloquently described their meditation experiences. However, what happens during meditation cannot be described with language. Meditation is the letting go of the mind. Words don’t work when you travel beyond the mind. As the ancient sacred Indian text, the Upanishads, state, “words turn back frightened,” when trying to describe truth. Without understanding the principle effects of meditation, one must take a leap of faith when beginning a practice.
So… why spend the time meditating when you really don’t know what to expect? The reason can be found in another ancient and foundational yogic text - The Yoga Sutras. The Sutras were written around 500BCE by Patanjali (known as the father of yoga). The Sutras sum it up:
Book 1 Sutra 2: “Yoga is the quieting of the mind”
Book 1 Sutra 3: “And then the seer can abide in her own true nature”
When we quiet the mind and abide in our own true nature, we experience a stunning truth and an astounding secret:
We are not our mind.
That narrator in our head navigating us through life and through all of our feelings and emotions is not who we are, but rather it is an aspect of the mind. Most people assume that the narrator or inner voice is who they are. According to the yogis, this is a tragic misunderstanding and a root cause of suffering.
The way to realize who we truly are is to meditate - to experience our own true nature that is behind the mind. There are other ways to experience the true self. Entering the flow state while participating in sports can provide a glimpse beyond the mind. You may have experienced playing a sport or running, the world goes blurry and it is you and a one-pointed focus toward the goal. In that state you know and feel that nothing can stop you. Dropping the mind can also occur in a life-threatening emergency. There is no thought, you do what needs to be done, sometimes exhibiting extreme strength or calm, in what feels like slow motion. Whenever the mind steps back, the true self is revealed.
Meditation is typically not as dramatic, but through steady practice, this state becomes more integrated into daily life. It manifests as a feeling of presence, peace, or joy for no reason. It is what the eastern traditions call being awake or enlightened.
Meditation reveals the true self freeing us from being a prisoner of the mind. But the mind is powerful and will not cede control easily. As the yogis say, “the mind is a wonderful servant but a terrible master.” The mind will work to convince you that meditation is futile and foolish. The next time you sit down to meditate and start to hear the excuses coming from the mind; you’re way too busy, you have to check that email, or call that person, or run that errand, be amused at the mind jockeying for control. Know that you are the master of the mind as you find your meditation seat.