ABOUT

Ryan J. Bush, Ph.D. is a fine-art photographer, author of The Music of Trees and co-author of A Singing Wire, and Reiki master/teacher based in Los Gatos, California. He has been photographing seriously since 1996, using techniques such as abstraction, multiple exposure, 3-D photography, and video art to explore themes of consciousness, oneness, our connection with nature, and the sacred hidden in the mundane.

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Why Meditation Matters

For thousands of years, people from all cultures and traditions have talked about the importance of meditation, mindfulness, contemplative prayer, and similar practices. Even though there have been countless eloquent teachings about how to practice meditation, how to make progress on the spiritual path, and grow our consciousness, a great many people today don’t understand what the point is of meditation. There’s no point talking about how to meditate, unless people understand why to meditate.


Some people may think that meditation is just about relaxing, or taking a break from reality. While meditation can in fact be deeply calming, and we may feel connected with something much larger than our ordinary reality, there are a great many reasons why meditation can be extremely helpful.


In this article, we’ll talk about many different reasons why meditation can be not only helpful, but transformative and life-changing. As we’ll see, meditation can be a really beautiful experience that we give to ourselves, rather than a monotonous chore, and it’s compatible with all faiths and philosophies. Besides, meditation doesn’t have to take a long time — as little as eight minutes a day can be very effective, but whatever we can do is great, even if it’s just a minute or two.

Here’s the quick summary of the benefits of meditation that we’ll discuss:

  1. recognizing what our ordinary minds are like

  2. being able to find a gap between our thoughts

  3. developing single-pointed focus

  4. calming the mind, body and energy

  5. developing all-over consciousness (witness consciousness / non-duality)

  6. recognizing our true nature (subconscious + ordinary self + higher self = full spectrum of consciousness)

  7. balancing and raising our energy, (e.g. applying opposites, using Reiki, breathing exercises, chanting)

  8. gateway to awakening experiences (aka illumination, the great bright light, satori, samadhi, fanaa, transcendence, etc.)

  9. being humble

We’ll discuss each of these in turn, but they all basically add up to knowing who we really are, and being as effective as we possibly can, at whatever we choose to focus on.


1. Recognizing what our ordinary minds are like

One of the benefits of meditation is that we can get insights about what our minds are really like. From the very first time we try to meditate, we may notice that we constantly get distracted. Whatever we’re focusing on, whether it’s the breath, an object like a candle, or a photograph, or a question, our body, or just being aware of whatever arises, it’s much harder to stay focused than we’d think. We may find ourselves distracted every few seconds, as thoughts may come up, or our emotions have us all stirred up, or we’re bored, or hear a noise, or whatever.

Calming our minds is much easier said than done (even experienced meditators get distracted, including myself), but it is valuable just to realize what our minds are usually like. We’re not as rational and focused as we might think we are — our ordinary minds are called the ‘monkey mind’ or ‘grasping mind’ in Buddhism, because our minds tend to jump all over the place, or constantly want more, more, more. (We’re definitely getting intensive lessons on the grasping mind these days!)


No matter why our attention wandered from our focus, we can gently return to our focus with love and compassion. Thoughts may come, or emotions, images, or bodily sensations, but we don’t have to hold onto them. We can just watch things arise like waves on the ocean, then watch them subside. We don’t have to hold onto them, or identify with them, or get annoyed that they are distracting us. It’s all just energy of various kinds.


2. Being able to find a gap between our thoughts

Another benefit of meditation is being able to find a gap between our thoughts. Once we start to notice that our minds are quite often distracted or darting all over the place, or holding on to all kinds of different things, it is possible to start to lose a little bit of hope, thinking that our minds are just completely unruly and there's no way to ever make any progress. Actually, even if meditation only helps us be conscious one second, out of the entire session, if we are just constantly distracted, and then only when the bell goes off, at the end, do we remember, “Oh, I'm supposed to be focusing on something or another.” Well, even if each session only makes us 1% more conscious, or just one tiny iota more likely to remember whatever it is we are focusing on or how we were hoping to be able to act.

The reason that's important is because meditation isn't just about developing skills for while we're in the meditative state. These skills are applicable in our daily lives as well. If, during meditation, we manage to remember that we were supposed to focus on something and then gently come back to that focus. That's a skill that completely carries over to daily life because in our daily lives it can be very easy to get distracted or get stuck in our thoughts or emotions. After all, these things have quite a lot of inertia as our thoughts and emotions can spin, on and on and on with all the force of out of control freight train. Every time we notice that we're distracted during a meditation session makes it that much more likely that we're going to be able to notice when we're distracted in daily life. Some estimates say that 80% of our thoughts don't need to be thoughts because so much of the time we're off ruminating about the past or worrying about the future, or trying to plan or think all these stories about why things might be happening, and so forth.

Think of all the time we would save if we were able to get back on track whenever we find ourselves distracted, without wasting as much time as we might otherwise. That's basically a summary of the benefit of meditation that I call being able to find a gap between our thoughts. After all, one way of talking about what we do during meditation, as we try to bring ourselves back on track after being distracted, is noticing that we've been distracted and noticing the thought or emotion or image or whatever that's arisen, and then let it go, don't hold on to it. Then as long as we've calmed our mind enough, sooner or later, we'll find a gap between our thoughts, where we don't immediately have another thought or emotion or image or whatever arising and there's a pause, a gap. It may be just for a tiny moment, it might be for a minute, it might be for longer, but sooner or later, we will start to notice these times of stillness that are much different from a state of being bored, or just checked out.


In general, the goal of meditation is to develop the ability to work with our awareness, to not automatically identify with our thoughts or emotions or images. Once our thoughts have subsided, even if just for a moment, it is an opportunity for us to realize that we are still there, like how the screen is still there in the movie theater after a movie stops being projected onto it. That speaks to the true nature of our minds as pure awareness, which we'll talk about in item six below. If we are able to find a gap between our thoughts, then no matter how difficult the situation might be, we're a little bit more able to not get swept away in strong emotions, thoughts, or complexes, and remain centered and balanced. That's why being able to find a gap between our thoughts is important.


3. Developing single-pointed focus

The next item is developing single pointed focus and that's basically the ability to focus on one particular thing. For example, we might meditate while focusing on our breath, on an object like a candle, on chanting a phrase, on a question or a topic, or anything else that feels appropriate. There are other ways of meditating where we don’t focus on anything particular, such as meditating on just being present or on whatever arises, which we will discuss in item five coming up.

When we first start practicing meditation, and perhaps for many, many years afterwards, it may be best to focus on something specific — the breath is a good thing to focus on, no matter what one's level of expertise, because it’s always there, and is always available, and is so essential to the flow of energy through the body. However, there are countless different ways to practice. The most important thing is that these skills carry over in daily life, not just while we're meditating. The more we are able to concentrate deeply on something, the more effective we are in the world. We'll be more likely to follow through on things that are important to us, whatever one thing we're focusing on at this moment. In fact, there's great power from being able to concentrate our attention like a laser beam. Since energy follows attention, when we do energetic practices like Reiki, it's especially important to be able to focus our attention or awareness. If our minds are scattered all over the place, then our energy will be scattered as well.


4. Calming our mind, body and energy

That brings us to the fourth benefit of meditation, which is calming our mind, body and energy. So far, we've been talking mainly about benefits that are relatively abstract, but meditation isn't only about the mind — it's also about all parts of ourselves, including our body, and our energy. There's been a lot of research for decades now documenting the benefits of meditation on stress levels and stress chemicals in the body and calming down the fight or flight reflex, as in the field of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (or MSBR) and Jon Kabat Zinn’s very thorough and helpful book Full Catastrophe Living. Meditation certainly has a strong impact on our energy as well, as anyone who has taken classes in Reiki or other energy traditions can tell.

When our minds are busy, it’s difficult to get Reiki energy to flow, it’s as simple as that. However, when we calm our minds, balance our energy and raise our frequency as in Reiki practices of entering the Reiki space, then something beautiful happens — we not only reduce stress and become calmer, we may catch glimpses of another way of being that is profoundly different from our ordinary way of being (which we will talk about more in #6 below). Rather than being so often stressed out, overwhelmed, and anxious, there is a deep part of ourselves that is always okay and always connected to resources, and practices like meditation and Reiki can help us be in that state more and more often. It’s not about escaping from reality, it’s about calming our mind, body, and energy so we can embrace our whole selves, and all levels of reality.


5. Developing all-over consciousness (witness consciousness / non-duality)

The fifth benefit of meditation we're discussing is developing all-over consciousness, which is often called witness consciousness, non-duality, or all-over focus. Once we have enough experience with meditation focused on various kinds of objects (such as our breath, a candle, our body, a concept or topic, chanting a phrase, etc.), we can start doing meditations where we don't have any particular focus. When we do these kinds of meditations, after we settle into an appropriate meditative posture (such as sitting, lying, or standing, spine straight but not tense, neck extended upwards, chin tucked, tongue against roof of the mouth etc.), we can just remain as centered as possible, gently observing anything that arises without getting attached to it or getting lost in any thoughts, emotions, images, or associations. As Osho said, “You are not the doer, you are the watcher. That's the whole secret of meditation... only one thing is not allowed- your centering should not be lost.”


6. Recognizing our true nature (subconscious + ordinary self + higher self = full spectrum of consciousness)

The sixth benefit of meditation that we’ll discuss is recognizing our true nature. So far, we've alluded a few times to our ordinary self, also known as the ego or monkey mind, or grasping mind but meditation can also help us recognize that we are much more than that as well.


Different people would answer the question of what our true nature is different ways, but I would say that our true nature is a spectrum of consciousness, consisting of three main subparts. There's our ordinary self, also known as the ego, waking consciousness, monkey mind, or grasping mind. It’s easy to think that’s all there is to ourselves, because by definition our ordinary self is everything that we are aware of or pay attention to.


However, there’s another part of ourselves that is even less conscious than our ordinary self — what some might call the lower self, the subconscious, unconscious, shadow, pain body, or id. In certain respects, we could also call this the somatic self or the animal self. There are various different ways that we may act when we are not fully conscious, and some may be more knowingly hurtful than others, but the fundamental characteristic of the lower self is not being aware of what we are experiencing or doing, just being on auto-pilot.


In addition to our lower and ordinary selves, there's another part as well which various traditions would call the higher self, the superconscious, the Self, Buddha consciousness, Christ consciousness, the luminous self, the wisdom, mind, and many other names. Our higher self is the deepest and truest part of ourselves, the part of ourselves that is always there across the entirety of our existence, including any times when we’re not in our physical body. In other words, this is our soul, the most essential part of our energy, but it's only usually revealed in certain moments like during awakening experiences, in out-of-body or near death experiences (OOBEs and NDEs), or in dreams or visions. Some people have had experiences where their ordinary self or ego falls away and they don't feel identified with their self on an ongoing basis, as in Suzanne Segal’s book, Collision with the Infinite, where she no longer felt connected with an individual sense of personal volition and desires, and the term “I” didn’t feel relevant. In not as extreme a way, many people feel that after repeated awakening experiences, the intensity of their desires calms down, as in the Buddhist term nirvana for when the winds of desire stop blowing. After all, when we feel connected with the divine, we simply don’t need anything else.


Our relationship with our ordinary, lower, and higher selves may change over time, as we may feel more or less connected with each, but we are always a combination of the full spectrum: what we are conscious of, what we are unconscious of, and the superconscious that is always full of wisdom and connected with the entirety of being.

Most of the time, we only experience ourselves as a single unitary whole, but that's because most of us aren't aware of our lower or higher selves. Through work with our subconscious (as in various kinds of dream work, Jungian analysis, body work, etc.), and with our superconscious (as in awakening experiences, deep meditation, active imagination, shamanic journeying, etc.), however, it is possible to integrate all our parts together and become more completely whole.

Everyone will have to decide for themselves what their own true nature is, but meditation gives us all the tools we need to find out.


7. Balancing and raising our energy, (e.g. applying opposites, using Reiki, breathing exercises, chanting)

The seventh benefit of meditation we’ll discuss is being able to balance ourselves and raise our energy. It's important to note that this benefit doesn't happen automatically for all ways of meditating. Any kind of meditation will help us become more balanced in some ways, like learning to apply opposites — for example, if we are tired, we can apply alertness, while if we are hyper-vigilant, we an apply calmness, etc. That is a skill that can be very helpful in our daily lives, but certain kinds of meditation can help us balance ourselves more completely, by working with our energy.


There are a lot of different ways to raise our energy or our frequency, but some various methods that people use are doing Reiki, any kind of deep breathing exercise like Reiki’ s joshin kokyu ho, pranayama breath exercises from Hinduism, or chanting a phrase over and over. All of these different methods increase the amount of energy flowing through our body, usually using the breath as the engine that drives the process. Regardless of how we add energy to our system, it will help us both in the short term, and in the long term.

In the short-term, these kinds of exercises and meditations are ways to ‘tune’ ourselves, helping us raise our frequency to shift our current state of being. If we’re currently at the lower level of functioning, such as not being conscious, or being stuck in emotions, complexes, or pain, etc., these kinds of meditations can bring us up to the ordinary level of functioning. Or, if we’re already at the ordinary level of functioning, these kinds of meditations can bring us up to the level of connecting with the higher self.


Similarly, if we keep doing these kinds of meditations over a long term, they can help shift what state we’re usually in — not being stuck as often in the lower level of being, making it easier to have awakening experiences (which is the next item in the list we’ll discuss), and making it easier to make progress on our personal and spiritual paths, whether we’re the kind of person that that has “big” experiences or not. No one way of being is any better than any other, but meditation makes it vastly easier to make progress and be more fully whole, no matter what our goals might be.


We’ll discuss the notion of frequency more in other articles, but frequency is basically the rate at which our energy vibrate (wavelengths per second). Each part of our body may have a different frequency, as energy flows more or less smoothly, or nerves resonate at different frequencies based on their length and the amount of tension. Personally, I find the concept of frequency incredibly helpful, because as Penny Pierce notes in her book Frequency, this term isn't as charged with associations as other concepts about consciousness and spirituality may be. Generally speaking, anything that makes us contract lowers our frequency, while anything that helps us expand raises our frequency. So, the so called ‘negative’ emotions like fear, sadness, greed, and so forth are contractive, while the so called ‘positive’ emotions, like love, compassion and joy, raise our frequency. Anger is interesting because in some ways it raises our frequency, building up our energy, but at the same time it keeps us stuck in our ego and our subconscious — ultimately, anger doesn't let our frequency raise above a certain amount.

These days with the vast amounts of stress that we're all under, we have a global epidemic of our frequencies being kept low. Personal stress can severely lower our frequency, as can environmental factors, stressful news, interpersonal conflict, and many other kinds of stressors. Fortunately, practices like meditation, Reiki, and various other wisdom and spiritual traditions gives us many different tools to be able to raise our frequency. However, none of them work if we remain stuck in the subconscious level of functioning, and forget to use our tools.


In general, a key benefit of meditation is being able to be more balanced overall, more able to keep an even keel even in the most challenging storms that life throws at us. Given how extremely stressful and challenging our modern world is, aren't these some benefits worth exploring? Meditation doesn't take that long each day (many people find that meditation can be effective in as little as eight minutes a day or so), but it pays huge dividends down the road.

8. Gateway to awakening experiences (aka illumination, the great bright light, satori, samadhi, fanaa, transcendence, etc.)

That brings us to the eighth benefit of meditation that we’ll discuss, which is that meditation can serve as a gateway to awakening experiences. Pretty much every spiritual or wisdom tradition has some name for these awakening experiences. For example, these experiences might be called kensho or satori by Zen Buddhists (for briefer and fuller experiences, respectively), samadhi or moksha by Hindus, fanaa by Sufis, or the great bright light or the dai komyo space in Reiki. Some would call these experiences illumination or enlightenment, because light can be such a central part of these experiences, though these terms are easy for people to misunderstand, such as thinking that one experience suddenly makes someone infallible, completely perfect, or somehow better than others.


Ultimately, the name doesn't matter as awakening experiences can be profoundly wordless, difficult to describe to others, and many people are reticent to talk about their own experiences to avoid seeming like they're bragging. However, there are some general characteristics of awakening experiences that can be gleaned from people all over the world, and throughout human history. I’ve talked at more length about these characteristics in previous articles (including various steps that can help make awakening experiences more likely, such as decalcifying the pineal gland), but awakening experiences may include some or all of the following: strong flows of energy rushing up the spine, through a tunnel, and going out the crown of the head; light seen with the inner eye; feeling indescribable amounts of love, wisdom and oneness; and, connecting with the deepest parts of ourselves, coming to know our true selves for the very first time. These kinds of experiences are life changing, and can have a significant impact on our intelligence, creativity, and intuition. For example, all of our various types of intelligences may improve (e.g. our rational intelligence, emotional intelligence, bodily intelligence, interpersonal intelligence, etc.), we may feel connected with a deep well of creativity and intuition, and may feel able to face challenges we never before were able to face. No matter how anyone might interpret these experiences, they usually involve connection with something much greater than our ordinary self, whether we think of it as the divine, the Source, the Tao, the Brahman, the Great Bright Light, God, Allah, the fundamental ground of being, or simply everything.


Once we have caught even one momentary glimpse of our whole selves, then everything changes. We know who we really are. We know that we're not alone. We're not just a tiny body cut off from everything else. We're all part of the same vast oneness, and everything is indescribably beautiful — despite, and in many ways because of, how flawed this world is. Yes, it is indescribably sad and challenging, but I see great beauty in how we manage to keep going despite the challenges. I've been dealing with agonizing back pain for almost four years, but every single one of us has our own challenges. But, our challenges become much, much easier to deal with once we really know who we are, and why we’re here. We understand that this world is in some sense an illusion, compared to the deeper level of reality that we may glimpse in awakening experiences, but we're here for a reason — to learn, grow, and increase our capacity for love.


Unfortunately though, this world is extremely easy to get lost in — to get distracted by the vast amounts of entertainment, food, drink, or other bodily pleasures, or to get lost in sports, hobbies, competition or conflict, in amassing riches or reputation, or all the many other ways that we can become distracted, or less effective than we can be at whatever we came here to do. Awakening experiences help us be more effective in the world and meditation is a key tool to help us get there. As a reminder, no experience is necessarily better than any other, as we can learn from everything, and everyone is where they’re at — we can’t learn lessons until we’re ready for them. And, we shouldn't become attached to awakening experiences or to anything else. If we're constantly striving and grasping, then we’ll always be stuck in the ego.


9. Helps us stay humble

The final benefit of meditation that we’ll discuss is helping us stay humble. No matter what we’ve experienced or haven’t, we can still get distracted during meditation — we’re all human (or rather, we’re all spiritual beings having a human experience, which limits us in many ways due to constraints of attention span, the vast amount of stimuli we’re bombarded with, etc.). Meditation gives us a chance to remember to be humble. When we first start out, we may be amazed at how quickly we get distracted, but even after many years of meditation we can still get distracted. Or, we may fool ourselves during meditation into thinking that we’re focused, because some of our attention is focused on our breath, chanting a mantra, or whatever, while part of our attention is off on something else. For example, we may still be chanting (or focusing on the breath, or whatever), while we’re also thinking about other things. That shows us how divided our attention can be, and how much more effective we are when we keep our focus on just one thing at a time. Meditation is a great way to remind ourselves to stay humble, and keep coming back to our focus over and over again, with as much love and compassion for ourselves as we can muster.

Conclusion

As a reminder, here are the nine benefits of meditation that we discussed, though there are many others as well:

  1. recognizing what our ordinary minds are like

  2. being able to find a gap between our thoughts

  3. developing single-pointed focus

  4. calming the mind, body and energy

  5. developing all-over consciousness (witness consciousness / non-duality)

  6. recognizing our true nature (subconscious + ordinary self + higher self = full spectrum of consciousness)

  7. balancing and raising our energy, (e.g. applying opposites, using Reiki, breathing exercises, chanting)

  8. gateway to awakening experiences (aka illumination, the great bright light, satori, samadhi, fanaa, transcendence, etc.)

  9. being humble

All these benefits basically add up to knowing who we are and why we’re here, and being as effective as we possibly can at whatever we choose to focus on, so we and the world can all be transformed.


If anyone has any thoughts or questions, please let me know.

Peace, love, and blessings.



"The Forest and the Trees", by Ryan J. Bush