As humans, we’ve developed a particular set of skills that assist us in running away from ourselves. Imagination, daydreaming, distractions. We know how to fuel our escapism. So much so, there’s even a term for extreme, damaging avoidance — self sabotage, anyone? And while we’ve become exceptionally deft at techniques that help us run away from our feelings, we’ve mastered very few that invite us towards them. Because, let’s face it, it’s hard-wired in our species’ survival to avoid pain in all forms. And what we feel is not always pleasant.
Being an extrovert only adds another complicated layer to this dysfunctional existence known as “the human experience.” For me, and I would guess other extroverts, socializing is a means of escaping — a way to avoid facing difficult emotions. A way to distract myself… from myself.
If socializing enables distraction, meditation is its opposite. It’s focused attention, with intention. It’s also a solo activity. Yes, you may meditate alongside others, but you’re not engaging with them. Sit next to others — cool but sit with yourself — terrifying! And, if that wasn’t uncomfortable enough for us extroverts, there’s also no feedback mechanism, no one telling you if you did it right or wrong (because there is no right or wrong experience in meditation).
So what ever can we gain from all this solitude?
First off, a sense of calm. When you meditate, the cyclical process of returning to your breath calms your nervous system, which is typically over-taxed and hyper-stimulated in our WiFi, iPhone, tablet and game system filled world. The other benefits are sometimes less obvious initially, especially if you’re newer to meditation like I am.
Here’s what happens when I meditate:
I sit down, set my Headspace (a meditation app I like) timer. Press play. Close my eyes, begin to breathe, and then… the thought parade begins. Thought, after thought, after thought… I usually fall asleep shortly thereafter. Wake up and return to my breath. Fall asleep again. Return to my breath. And so on. And so on.
This lasts for about 20 minutes.
Most of what happens during my meditation is, in my opinion, meaningless. What’s meaningful is placing an abnormal amount of attention on breathing in and out and being fully present in that experience. That’s the real magic.
Over time, what meditation creates is an understanding that your thoughts or emotions are self-manifestations that come and go. Imagining your thoughts arise and pass by as if they were drifting clouds (yes that’s one common analogy) invites a detached observation of them. You’re training your mind to notice what arises from a place of grounded intention versus what needs to be discarded as junk. You’re moving from simply observing your thoughts, to being more in control of what you think in the first place. And that is the opposite of escaping. It’s coming home.