When I started meditating, I was chasing enlightenment. Seven years later, it still eludes me.
But that’s ok—I no longer care. I stopped “seeking” enlightenment a long time ago. Now, I just focus on living as well as I possibly can.
But I haven’t abandoned meditation.
Although I came to it in search of the spiritual benefits, I’ve probably kept it up because of more practical gains. Mentally and emotionally, I’ve been doing a whole lot better since I’ve made meditation a daily practice. But the really big surprise was the improvements it made to my physical health.
All sorts of ailments—life-long ailments—just quietly went away. Headaches, heartburn, mild psoriasis, constipation, indigestion, restless leg syndrome, waking up to pee every single night—all of these things were such an integral part of my life that I barely took notice of them. And then one day, as I cleaned out my bathroom cupboard and found myself throwing out lots of out-of-date pills and potions, I realized that meditation had replaced the need for medication in my life.
Of course, the majority of these conditions were triggered or antagonized by stress. And it is not unusual for the benefits of meditation to begin on the mental and emotional levels and then spread to the physical, as most of our physical disease is founded in mental or emotional dis-ease. This has certainly been true for me.
Once upon a time, I had a very short fuse when under pressure (or just tired and hungry). Now my fuse is much longer and it takes a good deal more than before for me to lose the plot and throw a hissy fit—in fact, that almost never happens anymore. Now, I have the ability to step back, to take deep breaths, to choose to respond to circumstances deliberately and thoughtfully instead of reacting blindly and angrily.
Emotionally, I’m stronger too. And that’s because I’m dealing with my uncomfortable emotions instead of suppressing them. During meditation, the stuff that’s bothering me surfaces for my attention. Tears come. And I let them come.
The tears are healing and I allow them to flow instead of holding them—and the associated hurt, fear or anger—inside. I am no longer afraid to feel my emotions and so they can arise and dissipate with ease now.
I am also benefiting spiritually. My relationship with myself is improving all the time. And as that relationship grows and strengthens, so too does my compassion for others. I am still far from perfect—and not enlightened—but I can see (sometimes reluctantly) how I contribute to the quality of all my relationships.
Bit by bit, row by row, my spiritual garden grows. And my wellbeing on all levels is increasing. And for me, that’s enough enlightenment for now.
And so it often is with meditation—we come in search of one thing and find something else entirely. We find what we most need. And what we most need isn’t always what we thought we needed, so it’s best to come to meditation without any expectations at all.
Simply practice it, notice what it brings us and be grateful for it.