Recently, I shared research that compared the benefits of meditation to other activities that focused the mind. That research found mediation had no significant advantage over other relaxation techniques, like listening to music. (Blog 5/7/15) Despite that report, I ended the blog on a note of doubt, even though I had no proof for my feelings. In the April/May edition of AARP Magazine, Bill Stump puts his finger on the heart of the matter. (“Find Your Inner Calm,” by Bill Stump, AARP Magazine, April/May, 2015 pgs 52-54.)
What meditation does for Stump, and for me, is lengthen the space between our thoughts. The empty spaces are where we confront ourselves without the distraction of reflection. Confronting ourselves means we have an opportunity to master ourselves. (Ibid 54.) As a Buddhist monk once said to me, “We are not continents that must suffer the winds and storms of the elements. We can chose our climate.”
Finding the silence and holding it for increasing periods of time is the goal of meditation. Stump’s method is to sit in a chair and take 3 long breaths to induce relaxation. Next, he gives himself permission to think about anything. That permission, he observes, startles his brain into a temporary silence. Then he begins to count his breaths and when an idea creeps in, he notes it then allows it to float away as he continues his count.
Stump’s meditation method is not mine. Many paths are possible. For me, sitting quietly and waiting for the silence to come works best. When it does, I try to lengthen the interval by observing it, the way I might explore the inside of a black box. When a thought breaks the silence, I observe it, too, and wait, without judgment, for the next interval to follow. My task is simply to observe.
Many have written about the benefits of meditation. As an amateur, I’m not qualified to write with authority. I only know that in the silences I am not defined by my concepts. I am in control and free to be an accepting person.