I admit that I never really got it until recently.
I have been practicing yoga for years and I have even taken a meditation class in the past, but it never clicked, and I always just felt like I was sitting on the floor with my eyes closed trying to be still. I really didn't see any difference between that and sitting waiting for the bus daydreaming about dinner or listening to traffic and screaming kids.
But last week, it happened. I got it. I never realized that meditation really does change a person's state of consciousness. It is almost like falling asleep or being drugged--a distinctly different place unto itself, and it is wonderful.
I tried it on a particularly stressful day--the kids were driving me nuts and I was exhausted. I sat down on the bed and just tried to really completely absorb myself in all of the sensory experiences that were happening in and around me--the air on my body, the breath filling my lungs, the warmth of the light on my eyelids. In the beginning, it felt pretty much the same as all of the other times I have tried it. Like sitting still and "listening to the breath."
But this time I stayed longer. Soon, I felt like I was splitting into two distinct parts. I could feel the energy that is my mind and my consciousness moving and flowing and vibrating inside the shell of my body. It is a very difficult sensation to describe, almost warm and flowing like water but crackling like electricity, kind of a live, moving, electrified stuffing, filling my hands and feet, my head, back, and throat.
It was very intense at first, but soon became very soothing and easy. The energy was rose red, and I could feel what I suppose is essentially the part of me that is alive moving and shifting.
It is true that the only way to reach this place is by blocking out all of the extraneous thoughts that are constantly rattling around in all of our heads. I never really understood before, the concept of being present, but it was amazing to remove all of the thoughts, especially the thoughts about what I should be feeling and accomplishing through my meditation.
I have to say that it is incredible to reduce yourself to what are essentially the component parts-the mind/consciousness/soul/energy part and the physical body part. It is such an experiential practice. I listened to hours of discussions about meditation. Hours of lamas and geshes and gurus going on and on about the benefits and the idea of stillness and oneness and energy. But after all of those talks, I don't think that I can remember anyone telling me what, exactly, I was supposed to be feeling or how turning off the mind is only the first step towards reaching that place.
Then comes the question of why splitting the mind and body is a good thing. Basically it is the most soothing, calming, and healing thing I have ever experienced. The longer you can stay in that place, the more calm and relaxed you become.
Thinking about this later, I realized that the mind never gets to rest. Even when we sleep, when the body is resting, the mind is active, dreaming, remembering, laying down networks, and regenerating itself.
I think that meditation is essentially a way to truly rest the mind. It is a wonderful and much needed break for our brains. These days it seems like everyone is on medication for depression or anxiety, and we walk around feeling overwhelmed and stressed all the time. There is so much stimulation--phones, tv, cars, people, and noise.
There have been several studies lately about the benefits of meditation. People can fundamentally change the physical structure of their brains. They can heal traumas, deal with mental illnesses, and recover energy that has been missing for years.
It makes sense that especially now, when we are so constantly saturated with stimuli, we could all use some meditation in our lives. It just takes practice...