The Power of Meditation: Abolish Suffering and Boredom & Find Happiness
The superpower of meditation and finding your path to mindfulness.
Building a Superpower
Pain vs. Suffering
Meditation reveals the difference between two human experiences that appear to be synonymous: pain and suffering. Meditation will not remove physical pain, however, we experience many different types of so-called “pain” beyond physical injury.
The distinction between the two boils down to how we classify our experience. We often classify suffering, which resembles worrying about the future in some way, shape, or form, as pain.
If instead we can reframe our focus on the specific sensations we are experiencing, whether it be fear, resistance, or dread, and drop back into a mental position of witnessing the emotions as they arise and pass away, we can regain control over our situation.
By watching what’s happening in the current moment instead of worrying about what will happen in the next, we can eliminate or reduce our perceived state of suffering.
Meditation is the tool that improves our ability to notice this distinction and enhances our skill to change how we perceive our experience. With practice, we’re able to find a place of equanimity with suffering rather than constantly battling it.
Boredom is a choice. It’s choosing to have a lack of attention in the present moment rather than consciously choosing to find something to point our focus towards. Regardless of external stimuli, we always have the choice to find something in our experience upon which we can turn our attention.
By doing so we can find pleasure in simply being captured by that experience. Whether you’re sitting in a laundromat watching the machine go-round or front row at a bullfighting contest watching the bravado-filled matador dance with the horned beast, the choice to be bored or to point your attention towards something in the moment is yours to make.
Meditation is a tool that can help us pay attention to something in these moments that would otherwise present themselves as boring. This attention causes an internal concentration to arise within us which turns out to be intrinsically pleasurable. It’s impossible to enter a negative emotional state such as anger, depression, and anxiety while in a focused state of concentration.
This feeling of immense concentration won’t last, but that’s okay. Impermanence is a fundamental characteristic of all human experience.
Happiness and Being Present
Our default state is being constantly lost in thought, the subject of which rarely matters as we flit from one thought to the next. This default state has a very powerful influence on our well-being since we tend to identify with the thoughts that cross our minds.
The thoughts that arise in our minds are less of the issue than how we respond or relate to them. Meditation helps change how we relate to our thoughts so that instead of being swept away in the emotion that each carries, we have the option to watch the thought appear and then fade away.
Honing this skill doesn’t mean that we’ll be happy all the time. In fact, being in a joyful state 24/7 is probably a poor definition of happiness. However, being able to notice our thoughts rather than be controlled by them is a key component of well-being. Being resilient and embracing the things that bring out the most compassionate and wisest parts of yourself is a crucial part of happiness.
A practical example of this is when we experience negative emotions such as anger, sadness, or impatience. The reason we feel compelled to stay in these states when we experience them is often that we’re thinking about all the reasons we should be upset, sad, or displeased.
Instead of burrowing deeper into these thoughts, we can develop the ability to recognize our state, engage in it consciously, and observe what’s arising and fading rather than becoming it. Meditation is the practice that sharpens the saw so we can break free of the negative, self-defeating habits that tend to leave us more upset and spiraling downwards.
The Disease of Distraction
“The inability to recognize how distracted we are seems to be one of the greatest drivers of misery.” — Peter Attia
Much of the negative emotion we experience is a result of thinking too much or being constantly distracted. We see that in children and animals, their emotions and reactions are tied to what’s happening in their current environment. As children turn into preteens, this begins to change and we start to think excessively and slip into a constant state of distraction.
Although constant thinking can be beneficial for things such as planning or organizing our lives it also takes a heavy toll on our ability to experience positive emotions. To make matters worse, modern technology and social media have increased our expectations for instant gratification and decimated the length of our attention spans.
This makes it all the more important to develop skills that calm these parts of our minds and allow us to recognize when we are suffering due to distraction or overthinking.
How to Meditate
“We suffer more in imagination than in reality.” – Seneca
There are two broad types of meditation that offer different methods of practice based on what appeals to you: concentration-based meditation and mindfulness meditation.
Concentration or mantra-based meditation involves focusing solely on an object with the goal of getting to a point where no thoughts arise. This form of meditation can produce extremely positive states that could be described as bliss or rapture.
A popular type of concentration meditation is called Mettā meditation which is commonly translated as loving-kindness meditation. The aim of this practice is to feel the emotions of love and kindness in the strongest and most intense manner possible. Not only does this change your inner state, but you’re also working to change your attitude toward other human beings whether they’re friends, neutral strangers, or your worst enemies.
You begin the practice by thinking about someone you love and care deeply about. Do not choose someone that you love romantically. You begin thinking about them and silently repeating lines such as “May you be happy. May you be free from suffering.” As you sit there and say this over you want to feel it in such a way that you deeply mean it.
Eventually, as your practice progresses, you can direct these wishes to a neutral person and then an enemy. Over time, this has a profound impact on how you interact with others. You develop the capacity to direct feelings of love and well wishes to any living organism whether it’s a dear friend, the cashier at the grocery store, or the person who cut you off in traffic.
By developing in this way, you gain greater control over negative states that unpracticed individuals can more easily slip into such as anger or impatience with others. If this type of practice piques your interest, Sharon Salzberg is one of the leading Western experts in loving-kindness and has fantastic guided meditations online.
Another increasingly popular form of concentration meditation is Transcendental Meditation (TM) which is based on repeating a mantra for the duration of your session. The focus of this practice is to develop a relaxed state and avoid distracting thoughts which contribute to reducing anxieties and alleviating the pressures we feel in life. Common guidance for TM is to go through an accredited school or teacher to begin your practice which you can learn more about here.
Mindfulness meditation is simply based on sitting, usually with the eyes closed, and noticing your present experience. You may use your breath as an anchor while you observe thoughts that arise without being carried away by them. The aim is to notice your thoughts as they arise and fall away rather than being swept away in them. Once you realize you were lost in thought, simply come back to noticing the breath.
You can also choose to notice sounds in your environment such as cars passing or birds chirping with the same intent of observing thoughts rather than being carried away by them. If you feel an itch you may decide to focus on the sensation rather than instinctively scratch it. Through practicing this focus you’re cultivating a clear state of mindfulness that applies to your full range of experiences and not just meditation sessions.
As you develop in your practice you will break the pattern of being lost in or distracted by thought and begin to notice things more clearly with a mindful intention. This has the additional benefit of breaking our default “on to the next” attitude that is often present even if we’re in a moment of getting what we want.
Being more mindful equates to an ability to find pleasure or equanimity with unpleasant experiences and to truly enjoy, savour, and pay attention to moments of gratifying a desire.
The Mind Killer
"I will not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
I will face my fear.
I will let it pass through me.
When the fear has gone,
there shall be nothing.
Only I will remain."
– from Frank Herbert's Dune
Our experience of life is generated through our mind’s eye. Whether that experience is positive or constantly and unconsciously battling fear, distraction, anger, sadness, anxiety, and the broader basket of negative emotions is largely up to us.
Meditation is a practice that can help us gain control over our headspace and cultivate a mindset of concentration, mindfulness, and joy. Mindfulness is a superpower that gives us optionality in choosing how we respond to situations and allows us to internally dictate and control our experience.
If you’re starting out in meditation, experiment with guided sessions from one of the apps below to explore different practices and find what appeals to you. You will eventually be able to remove the guide and practice on your own if you wish to do so.
Meditation is the single most common trend observed in successful people from all walks of life. It’s had a profound effect on how I experience and interact with the world and I hope it does for you too.
And, as always, please give me feedback on Instagram or by hitting reply to this email.
Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion by Sam Harris
10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works – A True Story by Dan Harris