I’ve been promoting meditation as a way of health, sanity and spiritual connection for many years now. Meditation and mindfulness are becoming increasingly mainstream and popular and I think that’s a great thing. I also think it’s great that meditation has emerged from its religious context and people from all different backgrounds can practice meditation and get the benefits.
The benefits of meditation are numerous, mostly because so many health problems these days are caused by stress, therefore something that promotes relaxation and a calm clear mind goes a long way to help heal the body and the mind from many stress related diseases. However now that I have been teaching meditation and doing one on one coaching sessions for hundreds of people I have to say that meditation is just the beginning. Overcoming stress, anxiety and depression to create a healthy mind is just the beginning. What’s also needed is using the wisdom and clarity developed in meditation to make conscious actions of love, compassion and a healthy life for ourselves and others.
Meditation is just the beginning of a good life which is engaged in transforming your own mind and heart and making the world a better place to live in for yourself, others and future generations. The Buddha taught as his central path to enlightenment and ending suffering the eigthtfold path which includes meditation and mindfulness but is also founded on ethical principles of non-harm, love, compassion and even includes doing work that does not harm others. In other words Buddha taught not just sitting but also engaging wisely and compassionately with the world.
Wisdom is developed through meditation not for the purpose of winning arguments on Facebook or even for astral travelling but to clearly know what skillful actions will bring peace and happiness for yourself and others.
“Meditation leads to the wisdom to make the best choices in life for your own and other’s happiness.”
In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, which is a mindfulness based therapeutic model, firstly you use mindfulness to accept the present situation without fear or neediness and then act by expressing your core positive values into any situation. It is not goal orientated in the sense of future goals but aims at bringing positive values like kindness, equality, justice into the present moment. In this mindfulness model first is mindful acceptance and then valued actions which will definitely help to create a better world.
Positive action is needed in today’s world where corruption, pollution, social injustice and inequality are all too prevalent. McMindfulness is a term used to criticise modern mindfulness techniques of just being aware and accepting of all situations. This depoliticises mindfulness from being a revolutionary force of awakening and political awareness to a creator of obedient zombies reducing their stress levels with mental awareness techniques.
However mindfulness can be revolutionary when it includes seeing the big picture and connecting your actions with the effect they have on others and the bigger picture. Buddhist Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh is a firm believer in being engaged in the world and has even started a new Buddhist movement called engaged Buddhism which adheres to 14 principles. This is what Thich Nhat Hanh has to say about mindfulness:
“What is mindfulness? Is it just taste and sensation? If I eat at McDonald’s or purchase Nestle’s chocolate, am I mindful of the McLibel case or the shameless exploitation by Nestle of breastfeeding mothers in poor countries? Go deeper. If I eat a banana grown in the Caribbean am I aware of the struggle for better working conditions by Caribbean workers against the fruit cartels? Do I reflect on the way American and Caribbean economic development, which also helped fuel the industrial revolution, was in large part based on the trans-Atlantic slave trade?”
Connecting our actions to the big picture and being mindful of being a part of an interconnected world we can begin to use our wisdom to make choices in what we consume, how we spend our money and how we act. Conscious and wise individuals collectively united can make a huge difference in the world without relying on politicians to change things.
Violence, corruption and exploitation have a common cause of somewhere someone acted without concern for their effect on others. This kind of selfishness can first be stopped within ourselves by breaking the habitual reacting from fear, selfishness and ignorance and replacing it with reacting or better yet responding with kindness, non-violence and concern for the welfare of others. Meditation and mindfulness help to put a break in the chain of habitual reacting and give you some inner space from a situation so as to be able to choose to act consciously and wisely. As Deepak Chopra suggest:
“Every time you are tempted to act in the same old way ask yourself; do I want to be a slave to the past or a pioneer of the future?”
We don’t meditate to become great at sitting still, meditation creates sanity, inner stillness and peace of mind but not as the final goal but as a resource to use in everyday life. Meditation does not stop thoughts happening in our everyday life but it can give you the space to choose which thoughts you listen to and act upon. The inner stillness becomes the calm wise starting point of every interaction where we are free to create beautiful relationships and bring forth our inner light into the world.
Acceptance of a situation is always the best place to start affirmative action. Acceptance does not have to be passive like in McMindfulness instead acceptance becomes the clear seeing of a situation to effectively transform the moment to achieve your goals, manifest your dreams and make the world a better place.
The Beginning Of A Special Kind Of Attention
Meditation in its most basic form helps you to pay attention properly. I guess my teachers were right when they yelled at me in class to “pay attention!” Paying attention is the foundation of learning and is absolutely necessary to develop understanding and wisdom.
Meditation teaches you to pay attention in a skilful way which includes the focus and concentration of what we normally expect attention to have but also teaches us to be relaxed and completely open without any pre-conceived ideas. This is essential to take in new information without corrupting it with what we already know. To be able to recieve to new information without judging it or placing it in a familiar category we are like children learning for the first time and we can truly develop what Zen masters call a ‘beginners mind’.
To look at things freshly is to experience awe and wonder and avoid the jaded cynicism that can come from information overload.
Paying attention is the beginning of science. To look objectively and to notice patterns, see how things work and develop theories that can be tested. All of scientific enquiry starts with a pure type of observation.
Paying attention to your life and noticing what works and what is not working is essential for personal development. To bravely look and notice things and then act responsively and with your own best interests at heart. It sounds easy enough but this type of honest self enquiry is lacking in so many people who just do the same things they did yesterday swept along in the same old patterns without ever stepping back and simply observing.
Even enlightened experiences in meditation are just the beginning. As Jack Kornfield talks about in his popular book After Enlightenment The Laundry. Jack says that merging with oneness and other mystical experiences must be followed by periods of integration into everyday life. Another meditation master says that spiritual practice is whatever you are doing right now and anything else is fantasy. As one Zen master puts it:
“Enlightenment is just the beginning, is only a step of the journey. You can’t cling to that as a new identity or you’re in immediate trouble. You have to get back to the messy business of life. Only then can you integrate what you have learned.”
From a place of deep meditation and stillness we can break free of all the habitual patterns in our life and touch a creative resource within that can see things in new ways with fresh innocent eyes. We need creativity, courage and great love to overcome our personal difficulties and to help tackle the bigger problems we face as a society. Meditation is the perfect place to start but it is just the beginning.
Written by Chad Foreman
Chad Foreman has been teaching meditation since 2003 and is determined to bring authentic meditation practices into the lives of millions of people. Chad is a former Buddhist monk and spent 6 years living in a retreat hut studying and practising meditation full time. He is now a fully qualified meditation teacher with the Australian Institute of Meditation and has designed a unique 21 day meditation challenge to guide people gradually from the basics of mindfulness and relaxation to profound states of awareness. Click Here to learn more about the 21 Day Meditation Challenge.