Meditation key to revelation in modern world

Adam Heymann

It is easy in this advanced age to lose sight of our Homo sapiens evolutionary childhood. We’ve disassociated ourselves from the hunting and gathering of those who came before us, from the everyday struggle of defending ourselves against predators and working hard to secure a bloodline. Nowadays we walk around concrete jungles, clutching caffeinated beverages, habituated to the innovations that surround us. We find ourselves summoning, like magic, organized sounds recorded in separate spaces and separate times. We talk through rectangular screens to people thousands of miles away and arrive at far off destinations by the guidance of an electronic woman’s dignified voice.

Yet, in this privileged modern life, we still manage to agonize over so many things. “Damn! Did I just pass that girl without saying hi? I wasn’t trying to diss her or anything.” “My phone is too slow, it’s wasting my precious time. I should probably order the latest model.” “I’m getting a B in Intro to Sociology. I’m never getting a job after school!”

People often say, “Everybody has problems.” I don’t know if this is just a comforting lie or a truth. Either way, I’ll be the first to admit I worry about things too: Will my history major mean anything in the real world? Will I find a peaceful, enjoyable career or will I rot inside a never-ending cubicle of doom? Finally, the most important question: Do I even want to subscribe to the idea of a 9:00-5:00 life through my early sixties? In his book “The Happiness Trap,” Russ Harris theorizes on our collective modern agony. Citing the evolutionary struggles of our ancestors, he says, “These days it’s not saber-toothed tigers or woolly mammoths that our mind warns us about. Instead it’s losing our job, being rejected, getting a speed ticket.” To extend Harris’s metaphor, these days we are not hunting and gathering sustenance in the same manner our ancestors once did; we are now instead hunting for academic excellence and gathering the sweetest companions.

Some might resign themselves to this painful life of fear, anxiety and inner conflict. Not I. In my quest for a solution I’ve encountered a world previously unmentioned by anyone I knew: the world of meditation. On a particularly awful night of my first-year fall, a semester in which life threw my several curveballs, I came home from the library to a Facebook conversation with one of my closest friends. Eventually I mentioned the stress I could feel compounding atop my shoulders. Now, this friend is particularly similar to me in one way: we have overactive minds. Our need to question, take-in and understand what surrounds us has always united us. But this trait can also lead to deep, superfluous, never-ending introspection –– overthinking. Empathizing with my plight, he recommended meditation. As soon as he described it to me I intrinsically knew that meditation was right for me. My respect for Asian culture and its age-old wisdom swung me in its direction. Since that night I’ve been meditating to cultivate the garden of my mind.

The practice, pioneered centuries ago by the early inhabitants of India’s Indus Valley, is an exercise of mind whereby one maintains a certain state of consciousness for a given amount of time. For me, and many other practitioners, meditation encompasses breathing deeply while attempting to clear the mind of wandering thought. In this way, mindfulness –– an awareness of the present moment –– is established. Essentially, meditation helps to cut the cognitive fat out of everyday life. It trains a body to live in the present, to readily dissociate from the mind, eventually arriving at a state where one only entertains thoughts, ideas and even emotions they find desirable. The benefits of this are tenfold: better grades, better friendships and, my personal favorite, actualization of the human spirit.

To illustrate meditation’s function I would like to employ a metaphor. Imagine life as a television set. As you switch from place to place, activity to activity, person to person, the channel changes. Obviously you want to enjoy each show, but commercials keep getting in your way. These commercials mention and discuss things that don’t matter to you, things that even disgust you. Yet they are incessant; they keep coming back. One day you start meditating. Change comes slowly at first. Then one morning you come to the sudden realization that you have acquired DVR. You waste no more time on modern anxiety –– now you skip the commercial breaks. This column will entail a discussion of meditative theory, principles and lessons that will accelerate our paths toward unshakable control of our own DVR remotes.

Photo by Hayley Turner.
Photo by Hayley Turner.