Be conscious of yourself, watch your mind, give it your full attention. Don’t look for quick results; there may be none within your noticing. Unknown to you, your psyche will undergo a change, there will be more clarity in your thinking, charity in your feeling, purity in your behaviour. You need not aim at these — you will witness the change all the same. For, what you are now is the result of inattention and what you become will be the fruit of attention.
– Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj
Lately, I’ve been enjoying a sense of well-being and spaciousness that seems to stem from formal sitting practice and an increase in mindfulness throughout the day. It feels like my practice is reaching a ‘critical mass’, where the benefits are spilling into my day to day experience in a much more tangible way.
How does meditation lead to this feeling of well-being?
Holding something in mindful awareness changes our relationship to it. Being mindful with an object means not only placing our attention on something, but being open to it; dropping resistance to it. Over time, being mindful with more and more of our experience begins to change us as well. Being open with mindfulness to more of our experiences translates into our simply being more open as beings. Dropping resistance to more of our specific experience translates into our experiencing less resistance in general. Having less resistance to the phenomena that arises is obviously beneficial, in that it causes less tension and reactivity – but it gets even better. When the objects of mindfulness are themselves part of the mind, like thoughts and emotions, then holding them with mindfulness and being fully and open and present to them can allow them to become less hardened, less dense. They soften and begin to flow, move, change and even… dissolve. This allows us to not only experience less resistance, but also more spaciousness.
Let’s take an example. Mental chatter. Monkeymind is one of the first things a meditator will notice upon starting practice. We talk to ourselves constantly. Bringing our attention to our internal talk is a huge part of meditation and especially so in the early years. As we bring awareness into this part of our being, we get more and more familiar with aspects of our internal talk that were previously unconscious. Some of our internal talk is quite obvious (even manifesting as actual external speech, as in “someone talking to themselves”) while some is quite subtle like an internal mumble or partially formed thoughts. All of this can be subconscious or it can be made conscious, through practice.
Once we develop a habit of watching our thoughts, becoming conscious of them, things can change. We don’t automatically ‘feed’ the thinking process. We learn to let thoughts come and go. We see patterns. We can see unhealthy patterns. We can slowly learn to identify these, stop feeding them and let them go, too. Through mindful attention, we are slowing down the reactivity; we’re not adding as much fuel to the fire. Eventually, this leads to a little more quiet time in the mind. Less chatter. More spaciousness. More freedom to be with our other, moment-to-moment experience! Walking around with a quiet(er) mind is a joy! It has the taste of freedom.
At first this veil of constant chatter was not even conscious. With practice it became conscious, but seemed like a fixed feature, a given — and then with a lot of practice, familiarity, and acceptance – it begins to soften, to lessen, to sometimes even yield to silence. The sense of freedom here is the sense of having, to some small degree, gotten ‘out of our own way’. Experiencing freedom from it, we come to see that the constant chatter has been a nearly omnipresent veil obscuring so much of our present-moment experience. Being in the world with a quiet mind feels like looking through a clean lens, or better yet, an open window.
Anything that can be experienced can be held in mindful awareness — from the gross to the very very subtle. This sounds simple, but it is profoundly powerful. Just like the chatter, once seen, any experience can become an object of practice and eventually cease to obstruct our awareness of the present. When we start to clear our consciousness in this way, we become aware of more areas where we are ‘holding’ or ‘solidifying’. We begin to make some space, allowing us to discover new, perhaps more subtle aspects of ourselves where we are ‘stuck’ or ‘congealed’ and as these become more fluid, more clear, and less in the way.. we experience more and more freedom. In this way, meditation continuously unfolds as a process of getting out of our own way and becoming free.