Recently I read Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda. In it he talked about one of his early memories of another yogi who couldn’t stand working anymore, so he quit and just meditated all day long from then on.
Damn, I thought when I read that. I still love working.
I have a long way to go.
Turns out I’m not a yogi yet. And let’s face it: I probably never will be. In spite of many past efforts–most of them enjoyable, even–sitting meditation just isn’t my thing. Working is. Doing is. Moving my body, getting stuff done. I know it’s not what spiritual people are supposed to say, but … I think I was meant to be a doer.
I think it’s my calling to be non-Zen.
And when I look hard enough, I find a little bit of encouragement for this seeming flaw. In Anita Moorjani’s Dying To Be Me, she makes an impassioned plea for people to find God in doing things they love–mundane things, sensual things, unusual things. Whatever makes you happy. And in several of Eckhart Tolle’s audio recordings he discusses this idea, too, saying that it’s actually better to live life and bring stillness to the living of it rather than becoming a monk somewhere. Life gives us plenty of opportunities to grow, he says. No need to seek a special kind of pain by sitting uncomfortably on an ashram floor. Unless you really want to, that is.
Finally, in In The Presence of A Great Mystery, another audio recording of Tolle’s, he makes another interesting statement. During the question and answer session a man asked him how to not fall asleep during meditation. First, Tolle answered that this is normal, that he’s seen many a monk sleeping during their 4 a.m. meditation session. But then he adds that what’s important in forming a meditation practice isn’t how long you stay in the state of no-mind, but how often you return. In other words, it’s better to hold short meditation “sessions” all throughout your day. “Even ten seconds is enough,” Tolle says.
I can do that.
All this to say that if sitting meditation is your thing, please, please don’t give it up. It helps so many people, in so many ways, and one day I will likely return to this practice (though maybe not in a totally committed way). But it’s not for everyone. Not for all times and seasons of life.
And it really doesn’t have to be.
And now, the questions.
Does this spiritual practice work against depression?
Of course it does. Can’t argue with science.
Have you tried it? For how long?
I did sitting meditations for about two years, though not daily. There was a time, though, when I sincerely wanted to attend a local meditation class every day of the week–I couldn’t get enough. These days, with three kids instead of one infant, I am unable to go to meditation classes at all, which is unfortunate; I greatly prefer the experience when I’m with others. It keeps me from jumping out of the chair.
What were your results?
I loved sitting meditation while I was doing it. It did bring me inner peace, though it’s hard to say how much.
Does this practice change your mood right away? How so? What do you feel?
Sometimes it does. When meditating, I usually feel quite happy, particularly if I meditate on a pleasant mantra, which I love to do. An example: “All is well. It is good.” Try saying that to yourself in silence for an hour, and you’ll feel pretty good, too.
What’s the downside?
Time. It takes time. And Type A people like me struggle to keep their commitment to it for long.
What’s the upside?
Huge upside. Benefits too numerous to list here.
How long did the effect last? Did it taper off after a few weeks or months?
For me, my first few long sitting meditation sessions were the best. After that, there were good days and bad days–though, as any dedicated meditator would tell you, any day you sit is a good day, no matter how you feel during or after.
How does it work? What do you do, exactly?
Sitting meditation isn’t just one kind of meditation–it’s many. The focus (breath, a sound, one’s thoughts, a mantra, etc.) can change. So can the body position and more. In my experience, most types are roughly equal in effectiveness, though personally I never focus on the breath as it always causes me to lose my breath. (Weird, huh?)
Is this practice scientifically backed?
Yes. Read The Mind’s Own Physician for more details.
How effective do you think it is against depression? What is your overall rating?
My super-scientific, highly accurate, soon-to-be-patented Depression Effectiveness Rating for the spiritual practice of sitting meditation: 7 on a scale of 1-10
Read the rest of this series at Spiritual Practice Success Stories.