Can I meditate?

waterfallPresumably, if you’ve got this far, you’re interested in meditation. But you may be wondering whether you’re “cut out for it”. I hear a lot of people saying things like, “Oh, I could never meditate; I’m too easily distracted”.

I’d like to reassure you that anyone can meditate, and that you don’t need any special abilities to follow this path.

In fact, the “I’m too distracted to meditate” attitude really betrays a misunderstanding of what meditation is about. (It’s OK to start out with misunderstandings, incidentally. How could we not start out with misunderstandings of something we know little or nothing about?).

The idea behind meditating is not that we’re seeking to have “perfect meditations”, like an Olympic gymnast going for a perfect 10 in a competition, but that we’re doing some basic work on developing our minds, more like when we go to the gym and do some exercise.

When we go to work out, it wouldn’t be a very helpful attitude to think, “Oh, I can’t work out, I’m not strong enough or fit enough”. The whole point of working out, as we know, is to start from where we are and to develop greater levels of strength and fitness.

It’s the same deal with meditation. If we’re very distracted, or very anxious, or we keep getting irritated by sounds in our environment when we’re trying to meditate, that’s just what we’re starting with. That’s our raw material.

Meditation helps us to become aware of these habitual tendencies, and also helps us to work with them so that they become less prominent in our lives, so that we become a bit less distracted, less anxious, more accepting.

And just like working out at the gym, where we don’t make some sudden leap to athleticism, in meditation we change gradually. Breath by breath, meditation by meditation, day by day, we work changes within our hearts and minds; changes that accumulate over time.

It’s worth bearing in mind that lots of research has shown the benefits of meditation. For example, a study by Richard Davidson at the University of Wisconsin looked at what happened when workers in a tech company meditated for eight weeks. One of the major findings was that those people’s brains changed. Activity was lowered in parts of the brain associated with negative emotions, and was increased in parts of the brain associated with feelings of wellbeing and happiness. Also, the participants in the study were given a flu vaccine at the end of the study and were found to have an improved immune response. One important thing to realize is that there was nothing special about the participants in this study, or in the many other studies that have shown the benefits of meditation. They were ordinary people with ordinary jobs and ordinary lives.

It’s possible to change from being a very anxious person to a very confident person; to move from being habitually stressed to being more laid-back; to move from being prone to bad moods to being happier. We just have to do the practice.