Put simply, meditation is designed to still the mind—to give us a break from its constant inner noise and activity. Put scientifically, the benefits of simply 'stilling the mind' via meditation are far-reaching and literally brain-changing.
The truth is, most of us live our lives with an almost incessant monologue going on in our heads. Evaluating, planning, criticising, comparing, stressing—it's as if there’s a continual narrative of our entire lives going on the whole time. Sometimes we wish we could just shut it off—to control it instead of it controlling us.
Interestingly, in moments when the mind IS still—for example when we are engaged in a nature-based activity, walking on the beach, or listening to some peaceful music—somehow, in that moment we feel aware of something that feels good—a connection to another part of ourselves that is richer, calmer, non judgmental, more contented, happier. The name of this state is not so important. But the state is.
Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking,” Steve Jobs said. “Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice.
Meditation is designed to build a stronger, more continuous connection to this 'inner' state, or 'inner voice', so that we gradually learn to access it at any time—even in times of stress, anger, or emotion. The stronger we forge that connection, the more accessible that state becomes to us. We feel more in control. We become more able to manage stress, and are less easily affected by external influences. We find we may sleep better, our health improves, we feel a little more creative, a little more inspired, and generally we just feel happier. These changes tend to come on gradually as we build our meditation practice.
It’s often other people who comment first. "You seem a lot less stressed these days. You’re a lot nicer to be around."
"Come to think of it… I am," you realise.
Life’s ups and downs don’t seem to have the same power to destabilise you—to throw you off centre. It’s not that you become a zombie, unfeeling and inert. Quite the opposite. You feel more alert, more engaged, more effective, more energetic—because you are not burning as much emotional energy in dealing with your mind. You naturally develop deeper insights into things. The people you touch in everyday life feel affected too—in a positive way. All these things are by-products of living in a more conscious, connected state brought about by the regular practice of stilling the mind. Put like this, it sounds like something everyone should do—a life skill that somehow we missed out on. Fortunately, it’s never too late to learn to meditate.
Who can meditate?
The short answer is anyone—young or old. Provided you can think, you can meditate. Meditation involves training the mind to allow you to move beyond the mind. This sounds contradictory, but your first experience of this will make you realise that the state we hope to achieve feels very natural, very comfortable and very familiar in a strange kind of way. Many people report it feels like ‘coming home’.