When you focus and hold your attention on a single object or on your own mind-body processes, you are meditating. An age-old metaphor for thought, captured in the phrase “a train of thought,” can be helpful in differentiating thought from meditation.
If you are riding inside a train of thought, carried along in it, you are thinking; but in meditation, you are watching multicolored train-cars passing through the station of your mind. You are observing thought, rather than being carried within it.
When you become adept at meditation, the station may be quiet for stretches of time: no trains. Sometimes you faintly hear a train approaching from a distance, yet it does not end up coming through . . . your attention dissolves it and it never arrives.
Why set aside time in our busy lives to recondition our minds through meditation?--To be awake, yet quiet, peaceful, aware and focused. Peace. Awareness. Focus.
So, why aren’t more people meditating? Well, actually, we are. But for those who aren't, it may be because changing our habits is hard, even when new habits can mean the difference between life and death. For instance, in many studies of patients who have undergone coronary bypass surgery, only one in nine people, on average, adopts and stays with a new exercise and dietary program.
Trying to change our habits requires a lot of attention. At first, looking closely and steadily at things as they are, as one does in meditation, can lead to feelings that many people find uncomfortable. So they opt to avoid really looking. But, if you will persist, stay with yourself, hang in there and refine your observational abilities through the practice of meditation, you will find that the mind is, in fact, not as hardwired as you thought.
Aside from the many health benefits of meditation, which are now widely known and accepted, meditation strengthens your ability to modulate your own reactivity, so that you do not resort to self-destructive coping mechanisms; such as, drinking alcohol or other palliative forms of escape from the feelings that can arise while facing reality. You also are less reactive to others, kinder, more compassionate.
Meditation gets to the root of distress and equips you to live a more wholesome, meaningful, relaxed and insightful existence, even when uncertainty, hurt feelings, or doubt come through the station.
In a world of meditators, we would find many social problems dissolving and evaporating. Big-picture and long-view thinking, grounded in wisdom, would be commonplace. Consideration of and reverence for the natural world would be central. Enjoyment and fulfillment in life’s simple pleasures would be written on our faces. Appreciation of diverse cultures, habitats, spiritual expressions and perspectives would be manifested in steadfast investment in and preservation of them. A large-scale maturation of the human animal, a new evolutionary stage would be evident everywhere.
©Jari Chevalier, 2008
Would meditation promote a “web of deserved trust” as described by Munger?
Thanks, David. Spiritual societies of meditators, such as those found in Thailand, Burma, Vietnam, India and Tibet, are some of the models we have so far. Generally speaking, these societies have flourished, with periods of peaceful, empathic, reverential and ritualistic culture, and the people have lived stable, harmonious lives for a time. Then, invaders with utter disregard, storm in and drive the people off their land, their temples and art are defiled, and those who stick around are oppressed by a spiritually immature regime. So, among the meditators, yes, this web of deserved trust does develop. But that doesn’t mean the neighboring non-meditators leave them alone, and this can leave the meditators, people who have found their way to their own innocence, let’s say, pretty vulnerable to those who haven’t: those who live by might makes right and empirialism/materialism. Meditation can be separated from religion and ritual, and be practiced all over the world now as a mental hygiene, the way civilized and educated people take a shower or brush our teeth, because if we don’t, there will be many undesirable consequences, not least of all being that we might stink and rot.