Our perceptions of the world are clouded by bias. Whether conscious or (more likely) subconscious, we make associations with each moment, person and location we interact with on a daily basis. A bad memory here, an unfounded assumption there, and we can often stress ourselves out with a narrative of our own creation.
Meditation turns focus and attention inward, but in doing so changes our relationships with the things outside ourselves. It’s natural to think that by avoiding stressful situations, or ignoring our problems, we can force ourselves to be blissfully unaware and curb our anxiety. But over time, the opposite holds true. Studies indicate that by living in the present moment and consciously attending to stressors, we actually end up feeling happier in the long run.
This may seem counter-intuitive until you remember that most of these so-called stressors are fabrications of our own minds, and in reality are not dangerous at all. We’ve all anticipated a social function or job interview by playing the scene in our heads before we even enter the room, even though we have no idea what’s going to happen. All those negative moments and awkward conversations we end up concocting can’t hurt us because they don’t exist, and yet we allow them to cloud the hours, days or even weeks leading up to the interaction.
Living in the present moment involves surrendering our desire to control what we cannot, and meditation teaches us how to connect with our feelings without any judgment. With our own perceived notions removed from the equation, the world starts to open up around us.
Even though meditation teaches us to sacrifice certain types of thoughts, it allows us to ultimately bring more of our true selves and core values into the world. By staying so locked into the present moment, we can make more consistent decisions that aren’t subject to the whims of different moments. In other words, the more the world changes around us, the more we’re able to stay the same. If certain situations cause you anxiety because you don’t know what to do, having the ability to re-focus and non-judgmentally assess what’s going on externally will help you connect with your values internally.
Stressful situations aren’t the only opportunities the mindful brain has to make us happier. Things we enjoy take on a whole new life when we’re more deeply connected to them. Meditation asks you to observe your immediate surroundings and check in with each of your senses. When you do this, you’re not making snap judgments on if sounds are pleasing or not, you’re simply noticing their existence. Applied to your favorite music, food, or activity, and you can call on your sensory check-ins to greater appreciate everything you already love.
If the stresses of everyday life are getting to you more than you’d like, there’s a good chance your own mind is contributing its fair share to your anxiety. Take special note of the physical things around you through meditation and you’ll start to be open to more of what’s good in the world.