One of Chinese Medicine Central’s readers, Katrina, mentioned that she wonders about the benefits of meditation for students. There are a hundred and one articles out there showing simple meditation procedures, equally as many discussing the health benefits of this practice.
So, I thought I’d take a slightly different angle and discuss the specific benefits I have experienced from meditation and then list the methods I recommend in brief. My hope is that this information will help students to see the benefit of meditation and encourage them to add a regular practice to their already busy schedule.
My meditation journey
My first experience of meditation was at school. But not college, not graduate school. Elementary school! I went to a public school in Idaho. When I was probably in second grade, we had a group of folks come and teach us simple meditation techniques along with self massage and acupressure. That I was exposed to this at such a young age in public school in the United States is pretty remarkable.
I didn’t think much about meditation as such again until I was a teenager. As I hinted at in the first installment of my life story, I experimented liberally with different spiritual systems between ages 14-18. Many of these systems included some kind of meditative practice. In particular, I used Taiji forms as a form of meditation and also used some rituals from neo-pagan traditions as an anchor for silent, sitting contemplation.
At that time, I found it very difficult to meditate. Focusing my mind on anything for very long was like trying to catch angry wasps in a thimble. But I kept at it. For a couple of blissful months when I was living on Whidbey Island in Washington, I meditated nearly every day amid the company of the Puget Sound and bald eagles. I credit that period of time with cementing the idea that meditation is a good thing firmly in my mind.
My interest in meditation really skyrocketed the summer before I began school at NCNM. After meeting Heiner Fruehauf for the first time, my mind seemed to have been shaken loose from some kind of previously unknown bonds. The result was that my thoughts came fast and loose and all of them demanded to be captured and acted on.
This led me to investigate methods for quieting my mind so that I could observe what was going on in there in a useful way. Since then, I have tried to meditate every day in some way and I have seen the positive impacts it has had on me from the perspective of academics and professional development. These positive effects include, but are not limited to:
1. Less desire to drink/smoke/space out
Smoking, drinking, playing games and watching television excessively are all terrific wasters of Qi, Blood and perhaps most importantly – time. Meditation has helped me to enjoy every part of my life, including difficult and frustrating times. I’m not sure how this has happened, but I suspect it has something to do with developing a greater state of acceptance.
This radical acceptance has grown from the methods I list below, but also from my readings in Daoism. One of the important tenets of Daoism boils down to this: “Accept things as they are.” It is a philosophy shared by many traditions, but I learned it from Daoist literature first. Because I am more accepting of all parts of my life, I have less desire to escape them by using substances or distracting technology.
2. Greater ability to focus even when subject, lecturer or book is a little (or a lot) dry
Meditation helped me to clear away distractions from my consciousness. In many forms of meditation, you are encouraged to let everything drop away except an unwavering focus on the moment. While this may seem pointless, you can at least see the benefit if you can allow this single mindedness to leak over into the rest of your life.
Where before a particularly dull lecturer might put you to sleep, using some of the methods of meditation during that same lecturer’s talk will allow you to stay awake and absorb everything she has to say. Aside from avoiding embarrassing classroom incidents involving you drooling on your desk, focusing even on material that you find too boring to bear will increase your performance on exams and your retention of the information after the class is long over.
3. Greater vision allows me to make better choices
Meditation has allowed me to see the little things as what they are – little things. I no longer find myself myopically entrenched in a single moment, lamenting my bad luck or obsessing over dotted i’s and crossed t’s. I feel that I can see the past, present and future of a situation without too much effort and adjust my thoughts about it and actions around it accordingly.
This has great benefits in a school setting. When you are in school, a million opportunities are offered to you. Especially if you have any penchant for leadership activities, you will find a hundred responsibilities hoisted on your shoulders. There are so many subjects and sub-subjects to study, so many people meet, so many career directions, so many social situations… it can be both bewildering and a recipe for disaster. Because I have a broader vision developed in part through meditation, I can make better choices about how I use my time and skill.
4. Deeper understanding of myself allows me to judge my abilities correctly
This is related to #3 to some extent. Through the endless peeling back of layers of my ego, I am beginning to understand who I am and what I am capable of. This allows me to avoid, on the one hand, over-commitment and on the other hand, failure to maximize my potential. I still make mistakes with regards to this, but I find that I am so much less likely to misjudge myself since I started meditating regularly. This is related to #3 because knowing who you are and what you are capable of means that you maximize the positive outcome of the many opportunities that are presented to you. Having a broad vision of the situation is important, but when combined with a deep vision of yourself – you will make much of your time in school.
5. Less intense urge to succeed has made me more successful
Every day I feel my urge to “make a mark” on the world decreasing. This may be falling testosterone levels, but I think it has more to do with my meditation practice. I used to be very intensely obsessed with “doing the right thing” and “making my family proud of me.” I am still a very driven person, still very focused on leaving the world better off than I found it, but these feelings no longer come from the same place.
I think of it like this – whereas before I was using maximal effort in a random way, striking out at anything that moved, now I bide my time until the correct moment and strike with all of my force in a single place. This has resulted in my being successful in a number of ways – especially with regards to my academic and professional activity.
6. Less emotional turmoil around relationships and other life situations
I would like to say that this is just a function of becoming more mature. But, frankly, we all know plenty of folks far older than I am who are just as caught up in drama as they were when they were 15 – maybe more so! Meditation has begun to still my need to be right in every situation. It has allowed me to see that other people’s emotional states are not my own. It has helped me to allow people to develop in their own way and at their own rate.
Much time was wasted in my undergraduate career trying to “fix” other people, trying to manipulate people to do as I wanted them to and being lost in an emotionally driven flurry of useless activity. You can avoid all of this by committing to a simple program of meditation.
I have tried many methods of meditation. The two best systems that include meditation that I have found, and that I credit with my success in the above areas are:
- The system presented in the book Wake Up To Your Life by Ken McLeod I don’t know that there is a better program of meditation in book form available anywhere. What the author asks is not easy (he wants you to start with 40 minutes a day, and many of the later exercises are very very intense) but he writes with such a clear style and with such easy conviction… you can sense the truth in it. I urge you to buy this book and start the progression immediately. I am going to be restarting this program this week, so I would be glad to start a page on this site where people can discuss the various stages.
- Standing meditation in universal/horse stance as advocated by my Qigong and Taiji teachers. I like sitting meditation and use it frequently. However, standing meditation has a few benefits over sitting meditation. First, it will build your strength and stamina. If you haven’t done this stance before, try it out and see how quickly you reach the end of your endurance. You’ll get better, don’t worry. Second, it allows a complete flow of Qi and Blood through your body, maximizing the benefits of your clear mind. Third, it acts as a secondary focus to help you ignore your monkey mind. In this way, the standing acts similarly to breathing as it is used in some forms of meditation. The link above is ok, but I use a less extreme horse stance. I will write a quick article about it tonight and link it here.
What benefits have you found in meditation? If you don’t meditate, why not?
About Eric Grey
Hi - I'm the founder of this site and the primary master of all functions here. When I'm not writing, you can find me reaching out to the Chinese Medicine community across the web and in my own backyard. I currently teach Chinese herbs at my alma mater, the National College of Natural Medicine. Additionally, I'm the founder of Watershed Wellness, a thriving local clinic in Southeast Portland in Oregon. No matter where I'm working, you'll find my focus on the Classical approach to Chinese medicine laced throughout everything I do.