Meditation has an abundance of practical uses for accelerated personal and spiritual growth. One of the most fruitful practices is deliberate self-reflection. However, before creatively exploring its unlimited potential, it’s important to master the basics, to increase focus and quieten the mind. Attempting worthwhile reflection or visualisation is difficult if easily distracted by thought.
In Hinduism and Buddhism, samadhi refers to a state of intense, single-pointed concentration. The Buddha identified right concentration (samma samādhi) as a key element in the cessation of suffering, by purifying the mind and leading to inner tranquility and calm. This practice focuses on a single object.
Personally, I pay close attention to the breath, noticing its rise and fall, returning attention to it whenever I notice I am distracted.
Such is the incessant nature of the monkey mind, increasing concentration is a lifelong task in itself. When starting meditation, I was humbled by how easily I would become distracted. Barely a moment would pass before I was caught in the land of fantasy, reliving past memories or thinking about what to eat for dinner.
Concentration (the foundation of inner exploration)
Through time and practice, my levels of concentration have improved significantly thanks to meditation. Granted, there are practical uses in everyday life, particularly when it comes to maintaining mindfulness throughout the day, getting in the zone to write, or placing my attention on what’s important, without being easily misled by thought.
Above all else, it expands the potential of the meditation practice itself. A personal favourite is meditating to self-reflect. Unlike rumination — where events are replayed over and over, leading to feelings of guilt, anxiety, or despair — reflection has purpose. Past events are viewed with clarity, in order to gain insight and understanding. These insights then become precursors to making positive changes, to the way we interpret events and the way we live our lives.
Meditation cultivates an environment of focus primed for purposeful reflection. The process begins by setting the intention to reflect on a particular topic. Feel free to experiment with a personal approach to choosing a topic. Discernment can be an intuitive or a rational. I believe the mind has an intelligence of its own, and it’s likely you’ll be aware of the areas of life requiring a little introspection.
Once decided, set the intention to explore the topic with mindful non-judgement. Reflecting on a situation with clarity requires an attitude of acceptance, openness, and curiosity. This mindset is invaluable for growth. Rather than feel like helpless victims of our emotions, thoughts and behavioural patterns, non-judgement allows us to view our own lives with curiosity. It allows us to move beyond sticking points, such as defensiveness, resentment, or blame.
Reflect and relive the moment
Having taken a moment to concentrate and calm the mind, recollect the incident, in all its vibrance. Relive the incident in the mind’s eye — see what you saw, hear what you heard, feel what you felt. Notice any emotional responses or thoughts that arise while reliving the incident, maintaining the non-judgemental approach.
Next, it’s time to look under the bonnet. Assess the beliefs or mindsets contributing to the incident. For example, if you felt a surge of anxiety talking to someone you admire, you may identify a pattern of perfectionism, which added pressure to the interaction. This may be linked to the beliefs such as “I have to impress,” or “I have to be on top form for this person to like me.”
Furthermore, you may notice the patterns in behaviour. Patterns are telling, as they suggest a recurring theme usually linked to a deep-rooted belief. In the above example, you may realise perfectionist tendencies are most apparent when interacting with people you admire. You then notice that this is fuelled by the need for validation, which alters your behaviour.
Once you feel you’ve explored the incident fully, let go of any focus, and slowly adjust back to your environment, and slowly bring yourself out of the meditative space.
Journal the insights uncovered following the meditation to add an extra layer of objectivity. The intention is to integrate the experience to fuel personal growth and spiritual development. This is an active process to enact change by applying the lessons the experience provided. The more awareness we bring, the better we adapt to similar situations in future. We may exercise self-compassion to alleviate perfectionism, or dig deeper to uncover why we need to seek validation in others.
Repetition and reflection in this way has a profound effect in the long run. It transforms our perspective on life and suffering; even the most challenging situations and emotional responses provide us a rich resource to learn and to grow.
Additionally, this approach allows us to develop a purposeful, skillful mindset. Rather than ruminating, self-pitying or replaying events over and over, it asks the question — what can I learn from this?
The beauty of life is, there’s always something to learn.