What is the first thing that you think of when you hear the word meditation? Is it “Empty your mind”? Or is it an image of a Tibetan Monk sitting legs crossed chanting OM? Well when I first got into spiritual practices, I thought the first example.
From speaking with others who are just beginning their interest in spirituality or have never been involved with meditation, I found that they tend to think one of the two examples I gave earlier.
I thought the same at first but that is a misconception about meditation. Imagine if that was all you limited yourself to: Simply clearing your mind. You would probably see meditation as a dull and boring experience. Well from my own experience, I honestly felt that way on top of feeling frustrated.
Despite that experience, I soon came to realize that meditation is not all about allowing nothing into your mind. There is a lot more you can do with meditation than simply clearing your thoughts. I even discovered that I had been meditating without even knowing it!
Meditation is a Mental Skill
You see, meditation is a mental skill. What you are doing during meditation is setting aside the activity from the logical side of your brain (left side) and accessing the creative side of your brain (right side). You can use this for things such as:
- artistic pursuits
- any kind of creative design
- recalling memories or information
- solving problems
With that being said, I am going to give a couple of examples of how I used meditation prior to knowing what I was actually doing. You will see that these don’t involve making the mind completely empty. Instead, they quiet logical and calculating thinking to make room for creative thinking.
One of the most apparent examples of unknowingly entering a meditative state was when I was in college. I would use meditation mainly to recall information to help me complete my exams.
Each lecture I would jot down notes in a composition notebook so that I would have key information that would be helpful for the exam. I never actually studied those notes but I reviewed them prior to taking exams. So I had a fresh look at the important information to help me in my meditation exercise.
Whenever I came across a challenging question on an exam, I would enter a meditative state and search for the answer. To do so, I would start at a known piece of information and gently nudge memories out until I pieced together a path of memories that led to the answer. When I was finally led to the answer, it hit me like an ‘ah ha!’ moment.
In this case, the answer would also be a memory of something I wrote down, something a professor said, or something I read in my notebook when I reviewed it prior to the exam. Pretty useful isn’t it?
Another example of meditation that I used often was for solving programming problems both in college and at work.
When it comes to programming projects, I see them as systems no matter what size the project is. Each has different pieces that have to work together to accomplish a specific task. By seeing every project as a system and knowing that there are moving parts, it was easier to take it to a meditative state to build the system.
I simply used visualization to guide myself through and asked myself questions to figure out what pieces I needed and how to bring them all together into a system. So going through, I may ask myself questions such as:
“What happens here?”
“Where do I go now?”
I’d repeat this process until I had a good idea of how the system will work.
You Can’t Force a Meditation
It is important to note that meditation is not a forceful practice. I mentioned in my Recalling Information example that I would gently nudge memories out.
By saying this, I mean that I am passively letting my memories flow to remember what I am seeking. Simultaneously, I am directing that flow by making sure my thoughts are relevant to what I want to accomplish. From my Solving Problems example, you can see how the questions I ask are used to direct myself to the solution I am looking for.
I think we all know forcing yourself to think doesn’t work! I can remember my frustrated dialogue now:
“Ah! I know what the name of that song is! What was it, What was it? Ughh, why can’t I remember..”
Like I mentioned in the beginning of this article, clearing your mind is not the only way to meditate. I would say that meditation is taking yourself to a state where you bypass your analytical side to accomplish a goal by allowing your creativity to flow.
In doing so, you free yourself from the limitations of logical thinking and allow yourself to accomplish a goal creatively in a way that you otherwise would not have been able to.
This article references a study done by researchers of the psychology department at Ben-Gurion University in Israel. In the study they discovered that those who meditated regularly were better at finding solutions when presented a problem than those who did not meditate regularly.
So you can see that clearing your mind is only one thing you can do with meditation. You just have to explore the possibilities, which could be a really fun and useful experience.