Just like beginning a physical exercise program a meditation practice take a while to become a habit. And also like an exercise program, it takes a month or two to begin to see some real benefits. However if we can make it over the hump of our initial investment of time and effort, it isn’t long before we start to experience some surprising effects on our lives.
The first thing people usually notice when they begin a meditation practice is that the quality of their focus improves. This has a lasting impact on every area of life because the more present you are when you do something, the better you do it. Your ability to be present can improve both your relationships at home as well as your performance at work.
The second thing people notice after practicing meditation for a while is their increased capacity for what psychologists sometimes call “cognitive flexibility”. This basically means that you are less likely to get stuck in the same old ruts. Rather than getting so caught up in your old habits and repetitive trains of thought, you begin to choose new and creative responses to situations in your life. When an old way of thinking or emotional reaction comes up in your awareness, you see it for what it is, and discover that you really don’t need to go there anymore. As a result, the conditioned responses from your past begin to weaken, and you can better see the objective reality of a situation for what it is and act accordingly. This deep attunement to reality is one of the foundations of flow and an important key to the meditative state.
The third thing that people tend to notice is a change to their pace of life and sense of humor. One of the great benefits of meditation is that it teaches you how to laugh at yourself. It isn’t long before you begin to realize how much time and energy you have been unconsciously wasting on imaginary worries and concerns. And it’s amazing how much the ego likes a good drama. But as you awaken from a largely automatic and semi-conscious way of life you begin to see how unnecessary and silly all of this drama really is. This naturally leads to a slowing down and a clarification of what is really important. And before long whenever you are tempted to take such things seriously again you find yourself chuckling at yourself for being so foolish. This moment of insight is sometimes called the Buddha’s Laugh.
Taken together all of these subtle changes lead to a newfound sense of inner peace, and a new appreciation for each moment of life on its own terms. And these initial glimpses of the benefits of meditation practice are the carrots that keep us going when things get difficult. In fact it is quite common to have initial experiences of presence or the witnessing state for brief moments - with long periods of mundane practice in between. And over time you will learn that in order to truly proceed on the meditative path you must eventually face and accept many elements of your experience that at first might make you afraid or uncomfortable.
Meditation is one simple thing you can do that will positively affect many areas of your life. If you can make it through the initial investment of time and energy that is required when you begin your practice, it won’t be long before the benefits of meditation practice start to speak for themselves. And it won’t be long before your meditation practice becomes just as important to you as getting to the gym.