‘Meditation is essentially a way to train our attention so we can be more aware of both our inner workings and what’s happening around us. It’s straightforward and simple, but it isn’t easy.
People have been transforming their minds through meditation for thousands of years. Every major world religion includes some form of contemplative exercise, though today meditation is often practiced apart from any belief system. Meditation may be done in silence and stillness, by using voice and sound, or by engaging the body in movement. All forms emphasize the training of attention.
“My experience is what I agree to attend to.” the pioneering psychologist William James wrote at the turn of the twentieth century. “Only those items I notice shape my mind.” At its most basic level, attention - what we allow ourselves to notice - literally determines how we experience the world. The ability to summon and sustain attention is what allows us to job hunt, juggle, learn math, make pancakes, aim a cue and pocket the eight ball, protect our kids, and perform surgery. It lets us be discerning in our dealings with the world, responsive in intimate relationships and honest when we examine our own feelings and motives. Attention determines our degree of intimacy with our ordinary experiences and our entire sense of connection to life.
The content and quality of our lives depend on our level of awareness - a fact we are often not aware of. There’s an old story, usually attributed to a Native American elder, that’s meant to illuminate the power of attention. A grandfather imparting a life lesson to hid grandson tells him, “I have two wolves fighting in my heart. One wolf is vengeful. fearful, envious, resentful, deceitful. The other wolf is loving, compassionate, generous, truthful, and serene.” The grandson asks which wolf will win the fight. The grandfather answers, “The one I feed.”
But that’s only part of the picture. true, whatever gets our attention flourishes, so if we lavish attention on the negative and inconsequential, then can overwhelm the positive and the meaningful. But if we do the opposite, refusing to deal with or acknowledge what’s difficult and painful, pretending it doesn’t exist, then our world is of of whack. Whatever doesn’t get our attention withers - or retreats below conscious awareness, where it may still affect our lives. In a perverse way, ignoring the painful and the difficult is just another way of feeding the wolf. meditation teaches us to open our attention to all human experience and all parts of ourselves.
Meditation is pragmatic, the psychological and emotional equivalent of a physical training program: if you exercise regularly, you get certain results, including greater calm, and improved concentration and more connection to others. But there are other rewards.’
- Sharon Salzberg, Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation.