Meditation ≠ Relaxation

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I like relaxation, who doesn’t? Meditation at times can be very relaxing! I’ve actually had a few times where I lost focus on my breathing and ended up dozing off during meditation, only to jolt back into consciousness wondering how I drifted off. The practice of meditation can often lead to a very calm mind, and there is certainly nothing wrong with this. It should be noted, however, that the purpose of meditation is not relaxation. Nor is the goal to be calm of mind. Quite often, the practice is often not tranquil. I remember my first attempts at meditation were anything but relaxing. I found holding the sitting position with legs crossed to be uncomfortable, and my lower back ached. My brain was swirling in thoughts, and I had a difficult time getting the inner monologue to shut the hell up. Meditation was the time where I got a front row seat to the turmoil inside my skull. Rather than the crazy person in my head being an accompaniment to my daily tasks, it had become the key note speaker with my full attention – a Ted Talks of my own personal viewing displeasure. Meditation was a laborious venture, something that I initially didn’t enjoy. Being a spectator to your crazy is never a fun activity.

To this point, I need to emphasize the mechanics of meditation. Mediation is heightened sense of awareness. In our day-today lives, our monkey brains are wrapped up in the minutia of life. Sometimes its thinking about that family member or friend, or a social event that happened in the past. Or maybe something that is about to happen like an office meeting or wedding. Our brains are running all over the place without going anywhere, creating new worlds within the mind and playing out scenarios. Often the mind is not observing the here and now, which we refer to as mindfulness. Mindfulness sits in the present. It sits in the observable moment where our senses are giving us real time feedback. Rather than letting our mind paint pictures, we instead listen to what is happening now. Meditation is the practice of mindfulness, a technique for listening to the hear and now. Often, the hear and now is not pleasant. We may be experiencing physical pain, we may be experiencing emotional distress. One’s state of mind could be in any number of places when doing the practice of meditation.

In Buddhism, the practice of mindfulness ( known as sati) enables us to go beneath the surface level of our moment-to-moment life experiences, which are clouded with emotions and habitual thinking, and allows us to see the truth of what is happening. The idea is that being an observer to ones own situation allows for a greater perspective. If you are angry, observing the here and now can lead to a heightened awareness of the cause(s), triggers, and acceptance of the emotion. It can, in practice, allow one to find balance – perhaps even to calm down. Or , perhaps, jump out of the way of that speeding truck. Mindfulness is not necessarily that pathway to all things calm and serene. It is the technique used to stay present. It is, simply put, being aware of the now. And through this practice, the overactive brain can be focused on the now – which is the only space where one ever truly is.

Stacy Mizrahi

Stacy Mizrahi  is an IT consultant, speaker, instructional designer and advocate of meditation.