Do you meditate? Or, do you wonder why people bother with meditation? After all, most of us are not concerned with reaching some higher plane of existence or gaining some "special powers." We have relationships to maintain, jobs to perform, and bills to pay. Meditation does provide us with some tranquil time, but we still have to function in this world—and cannot, therefore, go floating around in some "la-la" frame of mind. So, what does meditation really provide us? What if, we are able to not only reach our personal meditative goals, but also see the growth and change that is actively occurring?
If I, personally, were to have a personal growth goal, it would be about connecting with more peace and fulfillment in my life. So, how do I achieve that? How can my meditative practice help me to get them pragmatically? I want to be able to do it in a targeted way and not just left to the winds of fate...but how?
It seems like, even after thousands of years of teachings by enlightened beings, we are still living at the whim of our internal baggage. I wanted a practical, accessible meditation technique that worked within my daily life, and that did not entail spending extended time in a forest or ashram—but how? These where the questions I asked myself as I set about trying to create a method for finding more peace and fulfillment in my life—which, once developed, I called Applied Meditation.
What is Applied Meditation? I mean actively using our meditative practice to make pragmatic, trackable changes in our lives, rather than only passively by just doing the practice of meditation.
Many years ago I was in a very difficult place in my life. I had just been laid off from my engineering job, and needed to get my stress levels back down to a normal level. (The fact that I even had these thoughts about stress levels is a damning statement about how we are living our lives today.) I had heard that meditation was a way to lower stress levels, so I started my quest to learn how to do it.
Never quite sure what a successful meditation was supposed to "feel" like, I tried several techniques to experience that "magic feeling" that everybody seems to talk about. The problem was that I had no idea what I was supposed to be feeling. Was it "floaty?" Present (whatever that is supposed to feel like)? Peaceful? Calm? Still (which, for the life of me, I had no idea what was supposed to feel like)? So I went back to the basics, to find a practice that held my attention enough that my mind did not keep wandering off. In this case it was focusing on a candle flame. After trying this for a couple of weeks I noticed that I felt very different inside after meditating. I wanted to understand what it was that I was feeling, so I sat down and asked myself how would I describe how I feel inside to someone else. By asking myself that question it helped me to get a more tangible connection to the feelings. I avoided words like "good," "nice," "better," and "relaxed," as they were too generic and could easily apply to how I felt with a tub of ice cream or a bar of chocolate. After experiencing the feelings over several practices I concluded that I felt peaceful, calm, and...there was another feeling, what was it? My mind was not racing; in fact, it felt like someone had just pushed the pause button on it. I asked myself, how does my mind feel? What does "pause" feel like? As I sat there trying to pick a word to describe the feeling, it suddenly hit me—still! Wow, this is what stillness felt like! I then wondered, had I just succeeded in meditating "correctly?" I thought about it for a bit, and then decided that it did not matter—the point was that I felt as though I was in a much better place with my feelings. I wanted a catchy phrase to describe these feelings so that in my journal I could refer to them without having to keep writing out all three descriptions. I thought about it for a few days and came up the phrase, "the Meditative Feeling." (Yes, that was as good a description as any, I thought.)
So, I now had a technique that helped me to create this new "space" inside myself where I was more at peace with myself and the world around me. However, I noticed that after a short time I went back into my old, discordant mode of how I thought, behaved, and felt. At this point I wondered, what was the point of meditating? Sure, I felt good while I was doing it, but it only lasted for a short time. So what was the point of it all? Then, the logical, engineering part of me came to the fore. I thought to myself, what if I were to treat the Meditative Feeling as a platform for change? I knew that while I was experiencing the Meditative Feeling my perceptions of myself and the world were less judgmental, and that I felt more resilient against the chaotic, tidal flow of the world around me. There must be a way that I can use this feeling to make active, tangible changes in my life rather than the passive ones that would come from just doing the practice of meditation.
There had to be a way that I could use this Meditative Feeling. I just had to sit down, contemplate a bit, and logically figure it out. These became my first few steps into the development of the Applied Meditation process.
The first consideration was how to maintain the feeling—that is, the Meditative Feeling—outside of the practice. If not, all I'd be doing was trying to change but doing so with my old discordant thoughts and feelings, which would feel the same as trying to push wet spaghetti up a hill. So, I needed a place and time when I was not having to rush to do anything after the practice. I decided that mediating on a morning at home was a good starting point. I would practice for ten minutes, first thing, and then get on with the rest of my day. I did not need any longer, as I could create the Meditative Feeling within that time. However, if I wanted to stay longer with the feeling, I would just stay there and enjoy it, but the primary goal was to simply create it. I made it into a game. Do my practice and then get ready for work or do a few odd jobs around the apartment, checking in with myself to see if I still felt the Meditative Feeling. In the beginning it would only be for a few minutes. I would write this down in my journal, and over a period of several weeks, noticed I was holding the feeling for almost ninety minutes. This was fun!
It was all well and good holding the feeling while in the comfort of my apartment, but I needed to be able to hold it when the world was getting in my face, whether that was on a busy freeway or some place else. I called this aspect "building my resilience" of the Meditative Feeling. I now had three stages to develop with respect to my meditation practice: Create, Hold, and Build. Create the meditative feeling, hold it outside of the practice, and build its resilience to the outside world.
My next step was to figure out how to build up the resilience without falling flat on my face all the time and getting disillusioned. The solution came to me by accident. I went into a shop that just had negative energy in it. I did not realize at the time, since I had been so used to going there that the feeling of negative energy was "normal" for me. On this particular occasion I had just meditated and was in my Meditative Feeling when I went in, and after only a few moments I felt that the Meditative Feeling had been knocked out of me. Initially I was a bit put out that it had happened, but then suddenly, in a moment of inspiration, I realized that I could use this place as a training ground to build up the resilience of my Meditative Feeling. I would meditate, go into the place, and then start to time how long it took for the Meditative Feeling to dissipate. I would consciously try to hold on to it by checking that the feeling was still there. It became a new game. After a few weeks I was up to thirty minutes, and then an hour, and then, very quickly, the entire time that I spent there.
After discovering how to build up the resilience I then wanted to try it out on other situations in my life. I needed to decide how to take baby steps with this technique. I knew that if I tried to hold the feeling in a very challenging place or situation that I would fail and get discouraged. I had to look at all the places and situations that would occur and order them from high to low. The lowest few I started to call, "the low-hanging fruit." I then split up the remaining challenges into "medium" and "high" fruits. I then worked on holding the Meditative Feeling for about three of the low fruits. The amazing thing was that, not only did the feeling change how I perceived these situations, it also altered how I behaved in them (and, as a consequence, how any other involved people behaved). It was almost like magic. In keeping my inner peace, I felt as though, while I was a part of it, life it was flowing around me and instead of knocking me around.
One trick I used in helping me to be specific with clarifying my goals for change was the acronym I had used in my time in corporate America, which was SMART. Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. Using that as my guide, I could pragmatically set goals for changes in my life and see them happening. It was amazing. Here is an example of how might work. Suppose I get angry during my daily commute to and from work, with all the traffic on the roads, and since I am always, while behind my own wheel, giving other drivers "advice" (which they will never hear) on how they can improve their driving. (I'm confident I'm not alone in this habit.) My SMART goals would be:
I realized that, after a few weeks, using my meditative practice to make trackable changes in my life was working. As previously noted, I decided to call this practice Applied Meditation. Why Applied Meditation? I studied physics while in college; while there, I had classes in both Pure and Applied Mathematics, with Applied Mathematics being more related to everyday applications. Therefore, in a similar naming fashion, Applied Meditation would be more closely related to our everyday activities.
So, how can you, too, turn meditation into something that can help you make changes in your everyday life? Start by finding a meditation practice that easily (you should be able to create it with five minutes on an average day) creates the feelings of peace, calm, and stillness within you. While in a safe place (one where you are not being distracted by having to talk or listening to others), keeping checking in with yourself on whether you are still feeling those feelings and have fun tracking, perhaps in a journal, how long you can hold the feelings. Watch as the time increases from week to week. While you are doing this, create a list of your low, medium, and high "fruits." I'd recommend not trying to tackle any of the "fruits" until you are able to hold the Meditative Feeling for about a couple of hours. You need to prove to yourself that you can hold it outside of the practice for that long.
A. Paul Miller, PhD, (San Jose, CA) is a therapist and meditation teacher who has been working with clients for the past fourteen years. He teaches his methods to a wide range of people, from children to yoga teachers to ...