Meditation and mindfulness have been all the rage for several years now. Mindspace, Calm and Insight Timer have multi-millions of users, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and other elite publications write frequently on the subject and Eckhart Tolle is now a household name.
There’s no doubt that these mega millions of meditation and mindfulness practitioners are better off as a result. So is the world.
Why are these people better off? In other words, what benefits have they reaped? Lots. You’ve probably heard of the health benefits like help with depression, anxiety and chronic pain, a strengthened immune system, and weight loss, to mention just a few. And also the more amorphous, but no less valuable, benefit of becoming a more patient, compassionate and content human being.
But it has occurred to me of late that there is another, seldom mentioned gain that ardent devotees garner. What do I mean by ardent devotees? These are regular meditators with a consistent mindfulness practice. Not necessarily Buddhist monks who meditate six hours a day, but not dabblers, either.
It’s all about being present
Anybody practicing meditation and mindfulness regularly eventually concludes that the endeavor comes down to one thing: Being present. Present in your meditation and present in your daily life. That’s it. And the profound benefit this ‘be present’ practice offers is…drum roll please:
The opportunity to radically simplify our lives in a profoundly healthy way.
There are two broad areas where this manifests. The first is in how we deal with life situations, both big and small. Bottom line: we can handle every situation or challenge in life by simply being present. That’s all we have to do. Everything else flows from doing that.
Eckhart answers with the same thing: be present
I’ll go to one of my favorite teachers, Eckhart Tolle, to illustrate this point. I subscribe to Eckhart’s website and have listened to countless hours of his talks for ten years. A lot of the content is Q & A with his audience with questions running the gamut from problems with marriages, kids, bosses, jobs…you name it, Eckhart gets asked it.
I noticed at some point that Eckhart answers almost all of these questions the same way. He says, “Just be present with it. Meet this person/situation/challenge from a place of presence.”
After hearing this for the umpteenth time, it occurred to me: That’s all I have to do. Be present. And that has made my life so much easier to manage. Why? Because it simplifies everything.
How? Somebody upsets me. I go to, “Be as present as you can in handling this.” I see a beautiful mountain landscape. I go to my breath, don’t think about the beauty I’m seeing, but rather just be present with it.
What I don’t have to do in any of the situations life presents me is agonize over a laundry list of potential actions I can take. There’s just one action — be present. And best of all, and the reason that Eckhart espouses this approach, is that the right course of action comes when it is taken from a place of presence.
Talking people down from the ledge
I can’t tell you how many times I speak with a friend or family member and they’re stuck in their heads worrying about some calamity they foresee coming down the pike. And I’ll say, “Hey, why not just focus on what’s happening right now? You’re sitting here talking with me. That’s it. That’s all there is. The future doesn’t exist. It never has and it never will. The only place life has, does and will ever take place is in the present moment.”
I’m not saying that I have perfected the art of living presently. Far from it. But the more I meditate and practice mindfulness, the better I get at this whole presence thing and the simpler my life becomes.
The second area that meditation and mindfulness radically simplifies is clarifying what’s important in life. I think all would agree that that is supremely important.
Porsches, mansions and botox
I live in a wealthy community in Southern California where most people put a premium on money and material. Lots of Mercedes’, 5,000 square foot homes and middle aged women (and men) strutting into Neiman Marcus with their perfect bodies and surgically altered faces. I notice they don’t seem to smile much.
When I lived in Washington, D.C., people valued power and status much more than money. A 55 year old man cruising around town in a Porsche would be considered almost gauche. But if he drove a Lexus, graduated from Yale, was an Assistant Secretary of the Treasury and his kids went to Sidwell Friends School (the tony prep school where the Obama kids went), now that guy would be admired and envied.
Surrounded by bigwigs
I went to Princeton, worked around some extremely powerful people in Washington (some of whom were my friends) and swam in the shark-infested waters of the Hollywood creative scene for fifteen years. So long story short, I’ve seen up close and personal the deification of money, power and status.
And I’m not going to lie to you — not becoming fabulously wealthy or powerful plagued me for decades. It’s been the core issue I’ve faced since childhood.
But now? After eight years of regular meditation and practicing mindfulness? Maybe the greatest reward these practices have given me is clarifying what is important in life. And it’s not money, power or status.
So what is it? If the glitzy stuff isn’t important, what is? Again, drum roll please…
Waking up. Being present. Letting go of my ego.
That’s it. That’s all I have to do. Every day. Wake up, be present and let go. Simple. Doing that is the most important thing in life.
Why? Because doing so makes me a wiser, better human being. Not better in the traditional sense of smarter, more athletic, richer or any of that. No. Better in the sense of more compassionate and available to others.
Being present allows you to find your true path in life
Waking up and being present is also the surest way of finding your true path in life. Not to get too metaphysical here, but God, the universe, the supreme being — whatever your version of the cosmic Big Cheese is — communicates its grand plans to us in the silent stillness within ourselves. We can’t hear these communications when we’re busy scheming our way to a seat in the U.S. Senate or to the CEO’s suite at General Electric.
By the way, none of this means you can’t become that powerful senator or CEO of GE. It just means that if you’re pursuing those things to satisfy your ego, you’ll never be happy and you’ll never find your true path.
But to reiterate, the unsung gift of these spiritual practices is the simplicity they infuse in our lives. The second-guessing, the doubting, the insecurity…they all dissipate. And when they do, a large reservoir of anxiety empties, leaving the meditation and mindfulness practitioner feeling lighter, calmer and more content.