In December 2007 I started meditating. A friend of mine had lent me some books about Buddhism. After reading them I was very eager to learn more. What attracted me most to Buddhism: 1) it is not a religion, it’s ‘merely’ a set of guidelines that help you in your search for happiness, 2) you learn by experience, it’s a way of living. Here are 10 things that I learned through 5 months of meditation.1. Thoughts are not reality I put this as the number 1 item on the list cause it had such a big impact on me. By doing meditation on a daily basis I learned to recognize thoughts for what they are: thoughts. Nothing more. Looking back now, I spent an awful lot of time thinking about stuff that had happened in the past or about stuff that still had to happen. In the meantime I forgot to see the things that were happening now. Constantly I would be judging people, worrying about money, thinking about what others might be thinking… As a test: close your eyes and start counting your breaths from 1 to 10. Do this over and over and experience how many times you get ‘distracted’ by thoughts. That’s exactly what I mean. Now, I’m not saying thoughts are a bad thing. I’m just saying that it’s a good thing to recognize which thoughts you need to be thinking about and which thoughts you don’t need to be thinking about. That alone makes your life a lot more pleasant. 2. Focus is important Focus was generally not high on my agenda. If a great chance would come up I would want to grab it. No matter if I was already doing other stuff at that moment. I felt like I would be missing out on something if I didn’t grab all the chances that were thrown at me. But by wanting to experience everything I ended up being constantly focused on opportunities that I had missed out on. My life was not about what I was experiencing, it was about what I was not experiencing. Very tiring. By meditating I learned that doing one thing at a time is a good thing. Fully concentrating on whatever I’m doing is like a small meditation every time. Also being aware of why I’m doing what I’m doing helps a lot. 3. Media influence your view on the world As I was examining which thoughts were going through my mind and what they were based on, I realized that many times I would fear or judge situations or groups of people that I had never experienced or met in real life. So where did I get these ideas about how they would be? Through the media. In all shapes and sizes. Newspapers, tv, radio, magazines, the web… I’m not saying that media are a bad thing. They can provide you with all sorts of useful information. But what kind of information do news programs usually provide? Bad things that are happening around the world. In Holland an edition of the biggest news program lasts for 20 minutes. Just imagine the impact if you would watch this show every day of your life, starting when you were a kid. A lot of people do. That must have an impact on your view of ‘how things are’. Also advertising is a big influencer. The more ‘perfect’ the girls on the billboards look, the more dissatisfied young teens will be about their own looks. Nowadays I hardly watch any tv. Usually if something really interesting was on, friends will tell me about it and I’ll have a look at it on the web. 4. People are good Instead of creating an image in my head of what a person is like by judging the looks and the movements, I now try to just see that other person as someone who has 3 basic things in common with me: 1) he or she is also human, we are the same species, 2) everyone is in search of happiness, 3) everyone is trying to avoid pain. Since I have that in common with all people around me, there’s a connection with everyone around me. By being aware of that connection it’s easier for me to start conversations with people that I don’t know. By trying to be open I had the chance to meet some amazing people that I could help or just get to know briefly, like during a ride on the train. I used to have my doubts if all people were good. But if you stand on the street and you see someone crossing the road and nearly being hit by a bus, what is your first reaction? You scream: “Look out!” Or not? That would be your first response. You do this without thinking. Without thinking you want to prevent the pain of others. You want to help people. It’s just that thinking sometimes gets in the way. 5. Positive thinking is very powerful If negative thoughts can influence the way you perceive the world in a negative way, then the opposite is also true. So the way to change ‘reality’ is just to start thinking positive thoughts about you and the world around you. It sounds too simple to be true. But it works. By repeating the sentences ‘I am love, I am perfect, I am you’ during my mediation, I created an image in my mind that everyone is perfect and everyone is love. I must admit that I had some difficulties starting with this exercise. It felt like a ‘girly’ thing. Me sitting down with my eyes closed while thinking ‘I am love’ was something that I thought was not me. Still, I decided to give it a shot and see what it would do for me. The results were amazing. After a while I noticed that the world around me looked more friendly and I noticed that I started to approach people in a very friendly and open way. By going through these experiences I could add visualizations of my experiences to the words ‘I am love, I am perfect, I am you’. Now I had ‘visual proof’ in my mind that showed me that I was indeed what I was thinking. The thing is that the mind doesn’t make a difference between what you see ‘in the real world’ and what you see ‘in your head’. For instance: close your eyes and visualize a great dish that you would just love to have for diner tonight. If you really put yourself to it, you will start to notice that the amount of saliva in your mouth increases. Your body thinks the dish is actually there so it starts to produce the saliva. This means that your mind doesn’t make a difference between reality and visualized images. Do you see the power of this? 6. Mistakes are good For me life was, and sometimes still is, about having success. About competing and winning. As a child I would get very upset if I wouldn’t win a simple family game. Instead of enjoying the game itself I would be focused on the winning. Not winning meant no joy to me. Meditation is all about experiencing ‘now’. Experiencing the moment. You can’t do anything about the past and you can’t control tomorrow. The only thing you can do is try to make the best of now. That also means that you’re enjoying a game as you play it. Doing your best while playing it, but not focusing on the outcome. It’s an experience. As is every moment. This means that losing or making mistakes are also experiences. They teach you something. For instance, as I look back on the relationships that I’ve had till now then I am glad that everything went as it did. Each relationship taught me something. But back then I had great pain for a long time when a relationship ended. It felt like I had failed. Now I realize that the main reason I felt that way was that I had an image in mind of what a perfect relationship was like. Not living up to that image meant ‘failure’ to me and failure meant that I had made mistakes and mistakes are bad. But what if you turn mistakes into something good? Something that you can learn from. Then it’s much easier to accept the things as they are. 7. There’s too much stuff Living in the moment means that you try to make the best out of each moment. As I started to realize this, I also realized how much time I was spending on buying stuff, looking for stuff, talking about stuff, maintaining stuff, replacing stuff, worrying about stuff. For instance: I spent 6 months on finding a good used car. Then when I bought it, I had to arrange an insurance, pay taxes, arrange a parking garage, have it looked after by a mechanic. I also started worrying if it would get stolen or damaged. After 8 months I sold the car again. It was a relief. This experience led me to getting rid of all the stuff that I didn’t need. Each time I sold or gave away something that didn’t really matter it felt so good. Space. There’s space in my room now. There used to be piles of stuff. Space makes me much happier than piles. Each time I buy something now, I first ask myself if I really need it. Most of the time the answer is no. 8. Listen to your body Meditation learned me that it is important to listen to your body. In the beginning, while sitting on the ground with crossed legs, I noticed that I started to feel all sorts of small pains in my body during meditation. Perhaps these pains had always been there. I don’t know. But while sitting down and concentrating on my breath, they became very clear. It might sound strange, but I think pain is a good thing. It’s the way your body tells you: “There’s something wrong here. Take a look at it.” By constantly making minor changes in my meditation position I started to notice what my body wanted. The pain ‘told’ me how to sit down. I’m meditating for 5 months now and I still haven’t found the perfect position but I feel that my posture has improved a lot. That feeling is great. It tells me that I’m slowly getting rid of all the bad habits that I got used to. Besides the right posture your body also tells you when to eat, when to go to sleep, when to take it easy… All kinds of signals that I would just ignore 5 months ago. But that I am very aware of now. 9. Helping others is what counts Meditation helps you to reach happiness. Other people are also striving to find that. Not all know how. So that’s also one of the main reasons for me to write articles like these. To make people aware of the great things that meditation can do for you. To inspire people to help themselves and others. Fresh Creation is about helping people with creative minds. Showing them what’s possible. What people are capable of. If you make a habit out of helping people you’ll find out that it becomes your second nature. Besides that you’ll find out that putting a smile on someone’s face is the ultimate reward. ;-) A while back I helped out a man that was standing in front of the train station in Amsterdam. Everyone ignored him while it was clear that he was asking something. So I stopped and listened to his question: “Could you help me carry the bags to the station? I’m just too tired to carry them on my own.” I picked up one of the bags and started walking to the station with him. It turned out he had just bought loads of books and had to catch the same train as me. He was so happy that I helped him. He’d been standing there for 15 minutes with nobody stopping. He bought me something to drink. I helped him put the bags in the train and, as I arrived at my destination, he offered me one of his books. 10. Being honest With a clear mind you start to think clearly. You feel in control of your life again. Each moment it is you who decides what to do or say. Sometimes though, there are still situations from the past that haunt you. With me that was the case too. Certain people and situations were still in my head and I kept thinking about how I responded in those situations. Sometimes I was angry, sometimes hurt, sometimes sad. To put an end to this I decided to talk to those people. Tell them what had been bothering me. This gave me a lot of rest. Making the appointments was hard. But I’m glad I did it. Sometimes people simply denied situations that had been bothering me, sometimes they said they were sorry and sometimes I realized that I was the one who had to say sorry or just had to accept situations as they were. As hard as it was to have these conversations, I’m glad I had them. My mind is at ease now. A lot less unnecessary thinking going on. Mostly thoughts that I want to think. Final remark: I hope you understand that the list above is not a complete list. But these were the main things that popped into my head as I started writing this article. Don’t think of me as an expert. I still have a long way to go in the meditation process. The list above is just an overview of some of the things I learned. I hope this article will give you enough motivation to try it for yourself so you can experience what it can do for you. Many thanks to the people that told me about meditation.
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