What Got Me Hooked on Meditation? A Clinical Psychologist’s Contemplative Path
I started my meditative practice during my late teens when I was introduced to the work of Harvard professor, Herbert Benson. His book, The Relaxation Response, was a basic guide, and it was one that sparked an interest that would continue for the next three decades.
My attraction to Dr. Benson’s approach was that it was rooted in science. He demonstrated the health benefits of regular practice, which resonated with my reasonable side. Although meditation wasn’t easy to do at first, and I wasn’t always consistent in my practice, I accepted it as a healthy way to decrease stress.
My Meditation Tipping Point
Throughout the years that I spent earning advanced degrees, I studied various forms of meditation, and as its benefits became clearer, my practice deepened. My meditative tipping point, so to speak, happened when someone whom I respected immensely, shared her beliefs about meditation. She was deeply spiritual, and she told me, “Meditation is the key to both spiritual and psychological growth.” Up to that point, meditation for me was primarily a tool for relaxation and decreasing stress; it wasn’t something that I would have characterized as spiritual. My friend’s words resonated with me because I was passionate about personal growth. It was from there that my practice took on a new level of intensity.
The state I was looking for is often referred to as Enlightenment. Some call it “Awakening,” and in the social sciences, it’s referred to as “self-actualization.” Whatever you call it, after years, and countless hours becoming a licensed clinical psychologist, I still hadn’t experienced it. I had amassed advanced degrees, licenses, and certificates, which gave me to the tools to deal with stress and emotional traumas, but I still hadn’t reached my full potential as a whole, healthy human being–for all its benefits, psychology clearly had limitations.
Meditation, on the other hand, was nearly limitless in its ability to make me a happy, whole person on a consistent basis. With regular practice, I connected with personal growth fundamentals, such as who I am, why I’m here, and my one-ness with everything around me. Psychology and science had given me the tools for functional living, and meditation taught me to live fully, in the present, and connected to every moment.
Turning a Meditative Practice into a Meditative Lifestyle
There was one final lesson that I needed to learn. Although I had become a skilled meditator–which made me very relaxed on the meditative mat–once I was done sitting, my mind chatter would resume. My insight came when I realized that throughout the day, I could continue experiencing the same state of being at peace and being at one with the world, even off the meditative cushion. While the mind chatter still continued, I learned to acknowledge it, witness it, and not be distracted by it.
The result? The weakening of the grip of the “monkey mind” on daily life. My mind is now at ease. As a result, I require less sleep. Specifically, I sleep for three to six hours a day. Prior to my present sleep pattern, I needed six to eight hours. Also, during my meditations, I have so-called mystical experiences. Which means that I feel at one with the universe. I’ve learned, however, not to attach to such phenomenon, otherwise I’d experience disappointment when I didn’t have them. Nevertheless, when they come, they are intense and provide peace beyond words.
If you want to lead an “Enlightened,” “Awakened,” or “self-actualized” life, meditation is the way to achieve this. If spiritual and personal growth are important to you, meditation is the most transformative tool there is. With regular practice, you can experience joy, wonder, and a peace that is beyond description.