I’m American, and my culture tends to be pretty immediate. We don’t only want results, we want them fast. That can be a difficult attitude with which to approach meditation. Meditation can take a bit of time to get comfortable with, and the results can at first be a little subtle.
Research shows that changes to the brain from meditation can be seen on an MRI or PET scan within 8 weeks. That’s on subjects who are only meditating 10-20 minutes per day! It is also normal for a new meditator to experience a sense of peace, stillness, calmness, or another positive quality, during their first meditations and carry that feeling on beyond the meditation. It’s wonderful to experience these feelings and be able to understand they were harvested with something that can be practiced and honed to deepen the feelings and even go beyond them. And if these results are what the new meditator has in mind, they will be happy being able to achieve them.
However, some people have expectations about meditation that can be difficult to achieve early on. Some people are looking for phenomena, such as seeing forms, hearing voices, being taken to another realm. These things certainly can happen to meditators, but they are not necessarily easy to attain. They tend to happen to those who are either already psychically inclined or to those who have spent a long time meditating deeply. People who meditate are more likely that the average person to experience these types of phenomena (although of course they do sometimes happen to non-meditators in everyday, "waking" life), but if a person is going to try out meditation in order to have these types of experiences happen to them, they might be disappointed with their results.
If the expectation is to experience various phenomena, it may make the new meditator feel like “nothing is happening.” It’s important to take stock of what changes are happening that may be out of their realm of focus. Probably, they can notice they are calmer, not as reactive, more centered. They may be sleeping better or having fewer headaches. They probably feel less stress and can ride the waves of life more smoothly. These things are the low hanging fruit of meditation. They may seem mundane compared to psychic experiences, but overall they contribute to a much higher quality of life from a moment-to-moment, day-to-day perspective. And all of these benefits only cost the time it takes to practice, and the commitment to keep the practice going. Imagine if they sold this stuff in a pill - you wouldn’t be able to keep it on the shelves!
Deeper experiences from meditation can be reachable, but traditionally they are the fruit of a lot of dedicated meditative time. There is more value in realizing that the results of meditation are cumulative, gaining over time, and that little-by-little changes are happening. Just like it gets easier to shoot a free throw the more we practice it, it gets easier to keep our focus the more we practice focusing. No basketball player became a professional without hours of practice; nor should a meditator expect to be able to focus without interrupting thoughts the first time they sit on the cushion.
Keep the long game in mind. Know that with each moment we are spending raising our vibration through meditation, we are building a foundation for ourselves of inner peace and resilience, which will serve us in small, practical ways each day, and in grander ways during trying times.
I am an Ananda® certified meditation teacher. I am passionate about meditation and embrace a yogic lifestyle for greater wellness physically, spiritually, and emotionally.
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