14 January 2016

The 2 major benefits of meditation – what to expect, and how predictable are they?

Unrealistic expectations seem to interfere with many people’s meditation progress and satisfaction levels. Experience tells me that one big group of meditation benefits is reliably predictable – with the more you learn and practice, the more directly you benefit.

But then there is a whole other class of benefits that are far from predictable, and unrealistic expectations in this arena can lead to frustration and disappointment.

So this week, a revisit of meditation’s benefits, what to expect, and how to get the most from your practice, but first

        Thought for the day

As you continue to practice the method,
Then meditation slowly arises. 

Meditation is not something that you can “do”; 
It is something that has to happen spontaneously, 
Only when you have perfected the practice.

                       Sogyal Rinpoche

Heading off for my own personal retreat where I get to be a participant – mostly - do lead a few meditations – caused me to pause and reflect…. Why do I keep going? Why do I keep meditating daily? What is in it for me? And what can you reasonably expect?

When it comes to meditation, it seems there are 2 big classes of benefits. There are the obvious, and the subtle.

The many obvious benefits of meditation
In our modern world, the obvious benefits are being well researched and we can say they are now
reasonably well proven. Without wanting to overstate things, pretty well any area of human activity that has been studied – and there have been a lot – seems to get better when the people doing them meditate.

You are probably familiar with these benefits – relaxation, stress management, better sleep, better performance at work and in sport and education, better resilience and mental state generally. Many healing benefits – accelerated healing with evidence of many diseases including mental health issues being improved in both quality of life and outcome. And on and on….

Now the good news for all these obvious benefits is that they are reasonably predictable. Get good instruction – ideally from a teacher, but many find a book or on-line platform works – apply yourself, and results will follow.

The more you learn and practice, generally speaking, the more the benefits. And these obvious benefits tend to build in a fairly linear fashion. As time passes, as your practice builds, things get steadily better.

The subtle benefits of meditation
Traditionally, people meditated for what we might call subtler, or more esoteric reasons. They were seeking the truth of who they really were, a direct experience of the divine, or of themselves as some traditions would express it.

Experience tells that some people started on this path and almost immediately had profound and life-
changing experiences. However, I personally know quite a few who have put in years of effort, years of study with good teachers and years of diligent practice, and are still searching for some elusive and ephemeral experience.

Plenty can be said about what helps lead into these deeper experiences – my books and other blogs go into all this – but for now, it seems worthwhile pointing out this difference. The difference between what comes easily, and what seems more unpredictable.

The point is, if one is seeking the essence of meditation – the profound insights and deeper experiences that are definitely there to be had, one does tend to need patience; and perseverance.

Also, paradoxically as many will know, while with the obvious benefits it is quite reasonable and effective to have expectations of benefit, with these subtler benefits, the more we let go of expectations, the more the benefits flow. Tricky

So why go on a meditation retreat?
Speaking personally again, I go on at least one annual, personal retreat for a few reasons - not the least the venue - Myall Lakes north of Sydney.

Firstly the obvious reasons for meditating are highly valuable and are a function of study and practice – it is worth continuing to learn, and taking the opportunity to deepen the practice.

Of course, I teach meditation, so for me this is also a bit like going to a summer school.

There is always more to bring back to those I teach.

But then, for those more subtle benefits, creating conducive circumstances is one of the most reliable ways to experience the more profound benefits. So withdrawing from daily life for a while, having a good teacher, being in like-minded company; all that does make for increased possibilities.

And also, there is the fact of being with those like-minded people each year. It is one of the things Ruth and I enjoy in our own retreats. As the years roll on, it seems more people form friendships at our retreats and come back as groups to renew and deepen those relationships and to enjoy practicing together.

So Happy New Year. Happy meditating and may you feel the obvious and subtle benefits of your own practice.

Related Blog
Meditation retreats - 4 good reasons to go

Peace of Mind

Meditation – an In-depth Guide

Meditation Retreats
Full details of the meditation retreats Ruth and I will lead in 2016 CLICK HERE