Why Meditate?

My blog postings are usually inspired by something that has happened recently: world events, news stories, conversations with friends, students, or colleagues; or a personal contemplation.

This posting has been inspired by all of them. Why meditate?  What do you have to lose if you close your eyes for five minutes just to see what happens?  Well, you might say, I could have sent two or three emails, read a couple of pages of a spreadsheet or proposal, updated myself on Facebook, texted most of my friends, called my mom, eaten lunch, run a quick errand, gone to the bathroom, walked the dog (assuming yours "goes" fast)...in fact, it's quite amazing what you can get done in five minutes!  

So, why in the world would anybody want to spend five minutes with their eyes closed contemplating thought?  We can be so much more efficient if we just squeeze into the margins a productive activity. This is what our country has been built on. This is why we are among the world's leading economies. This is why our colleges are competitive and world-renowned. Many of us learn these behaviors at university or when we join the workforce. Younger generations are learning to do this in high school, packing their days with classes, studying, extracurricular activities, time with friends, checking off their lists, and at all costs overachieving.  

Filling spaces is ingrained in our culture. I often find myself doing it at stop lights, checking my cell phone for new emails or text messages until the light turns. So productive!  So efficient!  And so incredibly not present - until the person behind me blares their horn to wake me up to the reality of a green light. 

Since the 1960s, psychology and neuroscience have been digging deep on this thing called meditation and other mindfulness practices. Hundreds of scientific studies and five decades later, scientists have found that not only does meditation enhance focus and concentration - and actually make you more productive - but it can also make you a better person. 

My contemplation, in fact, is not about productivity at all. You will become more productive if you choose mediate. Your emotional brain will slow and your rational, logical brain will grow. You will become more focused in your everyday tasks and you will become more efficient and effective. But I believe there is a more important reason to do it. 

Why meditate? Because you, my friend, sometimes are not a nice person. Me too. We all have those moments when we are not our best selves, when we direct our anger at someone else - oftentimes a loved one and, in the saddest and most shameful of moments, at a total and complete stranger (a store clerk, a waiter, a woman on the street) whom we choose to deplore for our own emotional gain and who has nothing to do with the root of our anger. In these moment, our anger is us and we are the only source of our anger. We embody all the aspects of the anger we feel inside and we rear our ugly, fire-breathing dragon for the whole world to see. We feel self-justified, complete, and righteous. And we leave the ashes of those scorn in our path. 

And we do it because we DO NOT meditate. Because we do not have a mindfulness practice that allows us to see ourselves in these moments - to be mindful of our actions before they happen. To judge everyone around us simply for "being in our way", rather than stopping before we denigrate ourselves and others. We insist on filling every little space in our day with something productive, something "more important", something externally stimulating, something, something, something, something, something, something, something...

Why meditate? Because the world is so much bigger than us. Because we need to get over ourselves. Because when we do not meditate we lose consciousness of who we truly are - we are, in fact, not our anger - but if you asked someone else to describe us, they might say, "that person is angry." Because we have completely forgotten that the people around us - loved ones, store clerks, waiters, and people on the street - are just like us. There is no "us vs. them", "me vs. she", "ours vs. theirs". Collectively, we are trying to keep this planet running together and yet we cannot even recognize our own humanity. Why? Because we are too busy, too productive to meditate. 

So stop. Just stop. And take five minutes, to meditate. The world will thank you for it.