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Meditation: Sticking With It

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It’s easy to start something new, isn’t it? A new diet, a new exercise programme, a new hobby, even a new relationship – starting off with the best of intentions and zealous enthusiasm is the easy bit. The tricky part is keeping it going.

So often, enthusiasm starts to wane as the novelty wears off, as we meet obstacles, or get lazy, or grow bored, or become interested in something else. As Homer tells Bart in one of my favourite episodes of The Simpsons, “If something’s difficult to learn, son, then it’s really not worth doing.” Whilst this is undoubtedly one way to approach life, it doesn’t seem to be the most skilful way of living.

Generally speaking, it takes time and patience to learn the things in life which are valuable, precious, and important. As they say, “If it was easy, they’d all be doing it.” Nothing could be truer than when it comes to meditation – it requires courage to sit with the mind on a regular basis and be present with whatever arises.

Meditation is not some quick-fix, self-improvement programme. We are taking time out to train the mind; we are fundamentally shifting the way we relate to our thoughts and feelings. At first, that can sound a little overwhelming. But the benefits are experienced by repeating this exercise little and often, slowly but surely building a stable sense of awareness that starts to filter through to the rest of our life. The more frequently we practice being aware, the more beneficial the meditation becomes.

Of course, the repetitive nature of meditation can lead to resistance; the very mind we’re training can create boredom, excuses, indifference. We might even convince ourselves that we’ve cracked it after completing the Basics, or a series of meditation courses, in the Headspace app.

That’s why our motivation is key. If we take the time to clarify the principles of meditation — to understand the right way to approach the technique, and to appreciate the potential it has for transforming our life — then we’ll have no problem at all in keeping it going. Being clear in our motivation, knowing why we’re doing what we’re doing, means that we’ll rarely have trouble sitting for at least ten minutes.

The beauty of taking this time out is that it provides us with an opportunity to reflect beforehand on what our motivation is. The reason we started to meditate might not be the same reason weeks, months, or years down the line; our motivation can change over time, either with the changing circumstances or with a shift in our perspective.

Either way, the stronger and clearer the motivation, the easier it is to apply. Clearly, the broader and more altruistic the intention, the easier it might be to continue the practice, no matter what obstacles are faced along the way.

But it’s always worth remembering that our motivation not only defines our experience of meditation, but also the benefit we experience in life as a result.

posted Jan 7 by Syed Zubair

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+1 vote

We all dream of ageing like good wine, getting better and better as the years progress. And we all know that this dream is rarely realized: growing old comes with its fair share of losses and challenges. Memory loss accelerates, the digestive function becomes more finicky, aches and pains seem to spring out of nowhere and moods may be less predictable.

The good news is that there are steps we can take right now to make the goal of “ageing gracefully” more attainable. Mindfulness training is one of those steps; research has clearly shown that regular meditation comes with a wide range of physical, mental and emotional health benefits should particularly interest seniors.

Top 6 benefits of meditation for seniors

1. Slowing down the progression of Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia are progressive illnesses prevalent among the elderly. It’s estimated that up to 50% of all people over 85 have some form of dementia. However, the National Institute on Aging reminds us that “it is not a normal part of ageing. Many people live into their 90s and beyond without any signs of dementia.”

Dementia destroys memory, disrupts crucial mental functions and can wreak havoc with emotions. However, a recent study showed that a combination of meditation and breathing exercises can help slow down the development of dementia-related diseases. Other studies suggest that mindfulness meditation helps people cope better with the anxiety, stress and depression that often accompany memory loss.

2. Enhancing digestion

Our digestive functions can be affected by a variety of factors, including diet and age. Luckily, it seems that meditation can improve digestion. The deep breathing that occurs naturally during meditation improves circulation and increases oxygen levels in the blood. For the elderly, regular meditation may afford relief from digestive issues that aren’t caused by other ailments.

3. Developing a sharp, focused mind

One of the great benefits of mindfulness is its ability to sharpen mental alertness and ward off decline. Regular meditation causes the brain’s physical structure to change. For example, the amygdala region that’s associated with processing negative emotions such as stress, worry and anxiety often shrinks, while the areas responsible for self-awareness, personality development and planning (such as the prefrontal cortex) increase. As a result, meditators experience improved focus, creativity and cognitive function: a great boon for seniors.

4. Managing moods and emotions

Managing moods and emotions is a challenge for most of us, regardless of our age. As we grow older, physiological changes may impact mood stability and make it even more difficult to control our emotional reactions. Add to that the difficulty of adjusting to the loss of independence and, often, the passing of people and pets who are near and dear to us, and it’s no wonder that experiences of loneliness, sadness, and even despair are prevalent among the elderly. Meditation, with its focus on non-judgmental presence, teaches us that we can observe our emotions without being compelled to react to them. There is also evidence that meditation enhances positive emotions of well-being and empathy for young and old alike.

5. Improving memory

Meditation stimulates the memory centres within the brain. And since memory loss is one of the undesired “side effects” of ageing, improved memory and cognitive function are precious allies as we grow older. Preliminary evidence indicates that mindfulness helps maintain both long- and short-term memory functions.

6. Promoting relaxation and calmness

Ultimately, we all need to take a break and just breathe. Putting aside time to simply smell the roses, take a walk or connect with loved ones does wonders for everyone, regardless of age. Mindfulness for seniors has a calming effect that can’t be achieved by prescription drugs. Meditation helps the elderly relax, organize thoughts more efficiently, and maintain a clear perspective.

Still, need convincing? A first-hand account in AARP online details what a few minutes of regular meditation have done for one fellow navigating the eddies of ageing. The author, journalist Bill Stump, cites a number of benefits, saying that his emotions “no longer drag me around like a dog on a leash.”

Taking 20 minutes of your day to sit still and meditate can work wonders for you too. Potential results include better focus, enhanced calmness, less stress, and improved sleep. You’re also likely to be happier and more mentally alert. 

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The profound opportunity that meditation gives you is the chance to completely free you from any adherence you have to your current interpretive framework. That means letting go of all of the ways that you make sense of your experience so that you can feel the ecstasy of non-conceptual pure awareness.

If this doesn’t necessarily sound good to you, read on.

Meditation is an Embrace of the Way Things are

Not Really Experiencing Reality

You see, all the experiences we have, which means every sensation that runs through us, passes through an elaborate and largely unconscious interpretive mechanism.

The result is that we don’t experience reality the way it is. We see reality the way that we’ve been taught to see it.

Our past relationships and experiences, our traumas and disappointments, as well as our successes and triumphs, have conditioned us to experience reality in certain ways and not others.

See Reality As It Is

The great miracle of meditation is that it can allow us to see reality as it is. This is when we can finally respond to reality the way it is rather than to our ideas and fears about it.

So often we’re not aware of the process of interpretation that is generating our experience of reality. It’s happening unconsciously.

We don’t see the interpretive processing going on so we assume that we are seeing things the way are.

Too often we find ourselves responding rationally to the way things appear to be and not getting the results we would logically expect.

We never seem to be able to accomplish this or stop doing that. Why do we feel so stuck? It can make us feel a little crazy.

A strong meditation practice can bring us in touch with the way things really are and that changes everything. So much more becomes possible for us once we are in direct contact with reality.

Letting Go

Letting go, truly letting go, not only of our conscious ideas about everything, which is already hard enough but even of our unconscious assumptions about everything, is the profound opportunity of meditation.

And there’s no way you can let go like this through an act of will. You can’t make it happen. You have to allow it to happen.

It’s not something you can do consciously because it’s not happening consciously.

The only way you can let go is by not engaging with anything that is going on in your mind which means disengaging from anything you feel and anything you’re thinking about.

Meditation is the practice of sitting and simply allowing anything that arises in your mind to pass away without getting involved with it at all.

That means every physical sensation, all of your feelings, your thoughts, your thoughts about thoughts, even the thoughts that feel like you talking to yourself, you just have to let them all pass away. If you can do this, you will inevitably fall through and beyond all of the interpreted experiences of the mind. You leave the world.

Disengage from Thinking

So in meditation, I invite you to be as physically still as you possibly can and let every single thing that arises in consciousness pass away without touching it, without getting involved in anyway whatsoever. That’s it.

No matter what arises in consciousness you just let it go. You don’t discriminate between anything and anything else. You let it all go by, untouched. And if you recognize that you’ve gotten involved with something you don’t even need to look to see what it is you’re involved with. As soon as you get the very first hint that you’re involved with something, you just let it go and allow it to pass away.

If you can do this with enough focus, you’ll start to feel like you’re becoming dislodged from the world.

If you start to feel that, let that feeling pass away too. Don’t get involved with trying to see what’s happening. The temptation to want to see how you’re doing is ever present. Let the temptation pass away without touching it. As soon as you realize you’re touching something, let it go.

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