Meditation is a wonderful practice, full of proven benefits. We know it is good for our health, emotional well-being, and performance. We know it reduces stress, helps us deal with anxiety, boots positive moods, and gives us better sleep. We know it decreases the risk of several heart and brain diseases, helps with pain management, and strengthens self-esteem.
Yes, meditation can help you relax, calm down, and get more clarity and contentment.
But there is a missing piece.
Maybe you have tried meditation, hoping to experience some of these benefits, but gave up. You may be thinking that “meditation is not for me” or “I’m not good at it”.
Or maybe you are a meditator, and experience some of the benefits of the practice—but not as much as you’d hope for.
It’s because of the missing piece.
If you don’t have the missing piece, you will be missing peace. 😉
Three Pillars of Meditation
In my years teaching meditation, researching and writing about it, I have seen many people struggle with this. It was painful for me to watch, because as a long-term meditator I know what meditation can do for you, if you learn it well and practice it properly. And my goal was always to be the bridge that takes you from where you are now, to the new you.
After a while doing this work, I realized what the missing piece was. I call it the Three Pillars of Meditation.
If you have those three pillars in your life, your practice will flourish, and you will experience the benefits. But if you don’t, if even one of them is missing, then that will limit your practice, and how much you will get from it.
The three pillars are: habit, technique, application.
In other words: you need to practice meditation daily, with the optimal technique and approach, and then apply the skills you got from meditation into your daily life.
Ok, let’s now unpack what each of these three elements mean.
Meditation is not like physical exercise, that you can get away with practicing two or three times a week. It’s actually the sort of thing that you need to do daily—just like eating, sleeping, and brushing your teeth. It’s in that category of activities.
Because you are exposed to stress on a daily basis. Because your mind may be bogging you with negative thoughts and attachments on a daily basis. Because your ego is working on a daily basis.
So you need to meditate on a daily basis too. Otherwise it will be very difficult to revert negative pattern of thoughts and emotions, and get in touch with deeper states of consciousness. Thoughts are spinning in your head non-stop, and anxiety doesn’t go on vacation.
What happens if, instead, you meditate only once a week?
There is no doubt that you will experience some benefits. Right after the meditation, you will likely feel more calm, centered, and focused. You may immediately feel more clear and present. But that won’t last—because once a week is not enough for you to get real momentum in the practice.
Suppose that you want to boil water. You need to leave your kettle on for 5 minutes, so water will boil. But instead you leave it on for 2 minutes, then turn it off, and come back to it the following week to turn it on for more 2 minutes… You may do that for all the weeks of your life, but water will never boil. Because in the following week the water doesn’t continue from the temperature it was at the end of your 2 minutes; rather, it has now completely cooled down, so you are starting from zero again.
In a way, meditation practice is like this. And that is why it’s essential to practice it every day—even if for only 5 to 10 minutes a day. If you do that, you will have some continuity in your practice, and it will grow.
The daily habit is what makes a difference between having a practice that feels good when you do it, and one that actually transform you and your daily life.
You don’t need to make it hard for yourself. Meditation doesn’t need to take half an hour, involve difficult postures, and be a battle with your mind. But it does need to happen daily.
The second pillar is the right technique, and right approach.
The “right technique” doesn’t mean that there is one style of meditation that is superior to all others, and that you should practice that one. That’s just narrow-mindedness and dogmatism—unfortunately a type of nonsense that I see in some meditation groups/teachers out there.
Right technique means the technique that is most optimal for you, at this moment in your life. There are many styles of meditation, each of them with it’s own taste and unique benefits.
When most people think of meditation techniques, what comes to mind is either watching the breath, or repeating a mantra. Those techniques are great, and they do work for some people—but not for everyone.
Maybe those practices even “work ok” for you, but until you experiment with a variety of styles, you can’t know if there isn’t a more effective technique out there for you.
The good news is that meditation is an incredibly vast and flexible practice. There is a great variety of methods developed by different contemplative traditions over more than 3,000 years. They were developed not because the monks were bored, but because different people have different needs and temperaments.
- may make you feel too passive; while others may energize you
- make you feel more centered; while others make you feel more spaced-out or detached
- will lift your energy (good for those with depression); while others will ground your energy (good for those with anxiety)
- are more suited to improve work performance and concentration; others may be better for exploring the spiritual side of meditation
- are easier for people that are more visual by nature; while others go smoother for people that are predominantly auditory or kinaesthetic
So there is no “one size fits all” in meditation. Yet that is the way it is often taught. Most teachers and courses teach you only one or two techniques.
In fact, it is safe to say that there are as many meditation techniques as there are different types of sports and diets. Now imagine the problem if everyone is only taught either basketball or running… Or if everyone was given the same type of food, regardless of their tastes, blood type, and allergies…
While most meditation techniques share a great number of common benefits, there is still a big difference between practicing a technique that works for you and practicing a technique that is optimal for you. Just like there is a big difference between an “ok job” and your ideal job, or an “ok apartment” and your ideal apartment.
The bottom line here is: learn more than one style. Experiment different techniques and philosophies for some time, and see what resonates, and moves the needle for you the most. That will depend on what are your goals with meditation—so starting by clarifying those is a good idea.
The second aspect is the right approach. This is about having the right attitudes in relation to your practice. I call them The Four P’s of Meditation:
- Purpose. Practice with intention, and interest. Don’t let meditation become mechanical and boring, just something you need to “tick off your to-do list”.
- Try to enjoy your meditation. Make it easy for you, and pleasant. This includes not criticizing, shaming or blaming yourself for getting distracted during the practice, or for not “doing it right”.
- Cultivate the commitment to continue meditating every day, no matter what. It also means to continue to learn about the practice, especially when you feel stuck.
- Don’t be in a hurry, and don’t expect too much too soon. Self-transformation takes time. Because it is worth it.
Meditate with these attitudes, and you will keep at it for a long time. One day you will look back, realize how much you have changed, and be grateful that you picked up the practice and stayed with it.
For most of us, our goal is that meditation will be not only a nice experience and relax time, but something that actually changes us, and impacts our daily life for the better. So here is where the rubber meets the road…
It is true that if you practice meditation daily, with the right technique for you, that over time some things will automatically start to change. The way you see the world, the way you see yourself, how you react to people around you—all will change.
But this process can be greatly accelerated, if you do it on purpose. And this is what the third pillar is about: applying the insights and qualities that you experience in meditation to the rest of your life. It’s taking meditation beyond the cushion.
There are many ways of how the application of meditation skills can happen in your life. There are many skills that come with meditation, and a whole book would not be enough to cover all of their applications. But let’s get one of them to illustrate the point: the skill of “zooming in, zooming out” (which I call one of the superpowers of meditation).
During meditation, we practice zooming inand zooming outwith our attention. In most styles, we are told to focus on one object—like the breath, a mantra, a visualisation, a part of your body, etc.—and to keep our attention on that object for as long as we can, going deep into it (zooming in).
We are then told that we need to be aware of our mind, so that when our attention wanders into thoughts, we notice it, let those thoughts go (zooming out), and bring our mind back to the meditation object.
Like that, we practice the ability to zoom in and zoom out with our attention multiple times (dare I say hundreds of times?) whenever we meditate. That is one of the skills that comes with the practice.
So how do you apply that meditation skill in daily life?
One way is noticing when our mind is going to places we don’t want it to go. Places of fear, needless worries, and replays of traumatic memories. Places of negativity, jealousy, and ego trips. When we notice that, we then have the power to zoom out from that rabbit hole, and zoom in our attention into something more useful or productive—like the sensations in the present moment, or the next step we need to take in our life.
The skill of zooming in, zooming out, that we develop in meditation, needs to be applied to our daily life. It needs to be used for the sake of our work, relationships, family, health, and finances. If not, then we are practicing meditation, but not applying it. We are half-baked meditators.
The same happens with many other “skills” we develop through meditation, such as:
- witnessing (being a neutral observer)
- self-awareness (looking deep into oneself)
- letting go
- managing emotional states
To take meditation beyond the cushion does take a bit of an extra training, and pointers from a good book or skilful teacher. At it’s highest point, it’s about seeing your daily life as an extension of your meditation, and your meditation as the foundation of your daily life.
Meditation works. Even a single session can be good.
But if you have The Three Pillars of Meditation working for you, then it really works. That’s the missing piece for many of us. That is the next step for you.
Developing the Three Pillars on your own can be challenging. It takes some effort, trial and error, study and self-discipline. But it’s absolutely worth it. It is what unlock all the benefits of meditation—be it for healing, personal growth, or enlightenment.