10 powerful quotes to inspire your meditation practice

Sometimes doing nothing means everything.

TORONTO, ON- Kevin Kwok demonstrates meditation techniques in a meditation pod at Mindset Gym. Sean Finnell led Kevin through a five minute meditation for photos. (Rene Johnston/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
  • Meditation can have a profound impact in reducing anxiety and stress.
  • While there are many ways to meditate, the ability to sustain your attention on one thing for a period of time is the foundation of them all.
  • The more you practice, the more results you get, though quality of time is more important than quantity

Nothing is created in a vacuum. The emergence of meditation as a cultural staple in America is in large part a response to the continual fragmentation of attention. How one meditates can vary widely; different practices suit varying temperaments. Carving time into your day to focus on one thing for a sustained period does everyone good, for a clear mind is a healthy one. Reduce the stress of your own life and you tend to share that reward by being kinder to others.

Beyond anxiety reduction, there is the attentional deficit many of us are suffering from. As we offload more information to our devices, opportunities for sustained attention are dwindling. Why remember the route you're taking when a map will carry you along? Why remember anything at all? Unfortunately, memory is critical for healthy cognitive functioning. Lose that and we lose everything.

Whether five minutes or five hours, the quality of time you put into a meditation practice matters. As with many practices, the more, the better, but even as little as ten minutes a day can be highly beneficial.

Where to begin

If you're new to meditation, you might ask: Where to start? With something we all share, as advised by someone who's been mediating his entire life.

The great advantage of choosing one's breath as the object of mindfulness training is that breathing is an instinctive and effortless activity, something which we do as long as we are alive, so there is no need to strive hard to find the object of this practice.

The Dalai Lama, The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality

Defining meditation

But what is it? As mentioned, meditation means different things to different people, though I appreciate this definition by a master, which discusses the importance of presence.

Meditation is to be aware of every thought and of every feeling, never to say it is right or wrong but just to watch it and move with it. In that watching you begin to understand the whole movement of thought and feeling. And out of this awareness comes silence. Silence put together by thought is stagnation, is dead, but the silence that comes when thought has understood its own beginning, the nature of itself, understood how all thought is never free but always old—this silence is meditation in which the meditator is entirely absent, for the mind has emptied itself of the past.

Krishnamurti, Freedom From the Known

Breathing meditation training by the Dalai Lama

Everyday mysticism

While mysticism is often advertised as a benefit of meditation, I prefer a secular practice, which is why I choose breathing as my point of focus. No idolatry, no divinity, just physiology. Not that a different focus is wrong, mind you, it simply doesn't speak to me. My mystical inclination leans more in this direction.

Meditation is about embracing what is happening to this organism as it touches its environment in this moment. I do not reject the experience of the mystical. I reject only the view that the mystical is concealed behind what is merely apparent, that is anything other than what is occurring in time and space right now. The mystical does not transcend the world, but saturates it.

Stephen Batchelor, After Buddhism: Rethinking the Dharma for a Secular Age

Inner control

The biggest benefit, for me, is perspective. Meditation has helped me deal with the here and now in profound ways, including as an antidote to my longstanding history with panic attacks. The mystical and biological are not separate, as this neuroscientist explains.

When one breathes in the slow, measured way that is commonly taught in meditation, yoga, and relaxation training, the vagus nerve, which controls the parasympathetic nervous system, becomes more active, and the balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic system improves. As a result, heart rate variability increases, and the times when it is somewhat slower provide windows of opportunity for automatic processes to drive heart rate down and thus reduce elevated blood pressure and other sympathetic responses.

Joseph LeDoux, Anxious: Using the Brain to Understand and Treat Fear and Anxiety

Entering the dark side

Controlling your nervous system with sustained practice is truly profound, considering they are generally autonomic processes. Many meditators also focus on the processes we control, including the dark spaces we don't always like to discuss. This, of course, isn't necessarily pretty. It means understanding and, if necessary, changing habits.

Body awareness puts us in touch with our inner world, the landscape of our organism. Simply noticing our annoyance, nervousness, or anxiety immediately helps us shift our perspective and opens up new options other than our automatic, habitual reactions. Mindfulness puts us in touch with the transitory nature of our feelings and perceptions. When we pay focused attention to our bodily sensations, we can recognize the ebb and flow of our emotions and, with that, increase our control over them.

Bessel van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma

Guided Meditation with Sam Harris - Short Version

Discovering freedom

Mediation is often pictured as peaceful, but anyone wrestling with their mind knows this not to be true. You can get there, but it takes work. That work means owning all of yourself.

The freedom the Buddha envisioned does not come from jettisoning imprisoning thoughts and feelings or from abandoning the suffering self; it comes from learning how to hold it all differently, juggling them rather than cleaving to their ultimate realities.

Mark Epstein, The Trauma of Everyday Life

Pain as a means of healing

Including pain, which can be an entry point into healing.

Since the essence of meditation is awareness, any sensation that anchors attention can be used as support—and pain particularly can be very effective in focusing.

Daniel Goleman and Richard J. Davidson, Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Change Your Mind, Brain, and Body

The bigger picture

Of course, this also means recognizing your place in the bigger picture, which I find to be more liberating than frightening. As an animal fearful of death, however, this is no easy path.

It is because our way of observing things is deeply rooted in our self-centered ideas that we are disappointed when we find everything has only a tentative existence. But when we actually realize this truth, we will have no suffering.

Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind

Getting centered

Because once existential threat is managed, you begin to understand empathy and compassion.

Meditation is thus a form of centering, which involves our disengagement from the machine of our mind and our resting in the heart.

Georg Feuerstein, The Deeper Dimension of Yoga: Theory and Practice

Finally, nothing

Putting these qualities into action, however, is another story—one worth living.

To really do nothing, with perfection, is as difficult as doing everything.

Alan Watts, Buddhism: The Religion of No-Religion

--

Stay in touch with Derek on Twitter and Facebook.

Ego, Buddhism, Freud: Why your self-image may be wrong

A still from the film "We Became Fragments" by Luisa Conlon , Lacy Roberts and Hanna Miller, part of the Global Oneness Project library.

Photo: Luisa Conlon , Lacy Roberts and Hanna Miller / Global Oneness Project
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Stories are at the heart of learning, writes Cleary Vaughan-Lee, Executive Director for the Global Oneness Project. They have always challenged us to think beyond ourselves, expanding our experience and revealing deep truths.
  • Vaughan-Lee explains 6 ways that storytelling can foster empathy and deliver powerful learning experiences.
  • Global Oneness Project is a free library of stories—containing short documentaries, photo essays, and essays—that each contain a companion lesson plan and learning activities for students so they can expand their experience of the world.
Keep reading Show less

Four philosophers who realized they were completely wrong about things

Philosophers like to present their works as if everything before it was wrong. Sometimes, they even say they have ended the need for more philosophy. So, what happens when somebody realizes they were mistaken?

Sartre and Wittgenstein realize they were mistaken. (Getty Images)
Culture & Religion

Sometimes philosophers are wrong and admitting that you could be wrong is a big part of being a real philosopher. While most philosophers make minor adjustments to their arguments to correct for mistakes, others make large shifts in their thinking. Here, we have four philosophers who went back on what they said earlier in often radical ways. 

Keep reading Show less

The history of using the Insurrection Act against Americans

Numerous U.S. Presidents invoked the Insurrection Act to to quell race and labor riots.

The army during riots in Washington, DC, after the assassination of civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr., April 1968.

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • U.S. Presidents have invoked the Insurrection Act on numerous occasions.
  • The controversial law gives the President some power to bring in troops to police the American people.
  • The Act has been used mainly to restore order following race and labor riots.
Keep reading Show less

Experts are already predicting an 'active' 2020 hurricane season

It looks like a busy hurricane season ahead. Probably.

Image source: Shashank Sahay/unsplash
Surprising Science
  • Before the hurricane season even started in 2020, Arthur and Bertha had already blown through, and Cristobal may be brewing right now.
  • Weather forecasters see signs of a rough season ahead, with just a couple of reasons why maybe not.
  • Where's an El Niño when you need one?

Welcome to Hurricane Season 2020. 2020, of course, scoffs at this calendric event much as it has everything else that's normal — meteorologists have already used up the year's A and B storm names before we even got here. And while early storms don't necessarily mean a bruising season ahead, forecasters expect an active season this year. Maybe storms will blow away the murder hornets and 13-year locusts we had planned.

NOAA expects a busy season

According to NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, an agency of the National Weather Service, there's a 60 percent chance that we're embarking upon a season with more storms than normal. There does, however, remain a 30 percent it'll be normal. Better than usual? Unlikely: Just a 10 percent chance.

Where a normal hurricane season has an average of 12 named storms, 6 of which become hurricanes and 3 of which are major hurricanes, the Climate Prediction Center reckons we're on track for 13 to 29 storms, 6 to 10 of which will become hurricanes, and 3 to 6 of these will be category 3, 4, or 5, packing winds of 111 mph or higher.

What has forecasters concerned are two factors in particular.

This year's El Niño ("Little Boy") looks to be more of a La Niña ("Little Girl"). The two conditions are part of what's called the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle, which describes temperature fluctuations between the ocean and atmosphere in the east-central Equatorial Pacific. With an El Niño, waters in the Pacific are unusually warm, whereas a La Niña means unusually cool waters. NOAA says that an El Niño can suppress hurricane formation in the Atlantic, and this year that mitigating effect is unlikely to be present.

Second, current conditions in the Atlantic and Caribbean suggest a fertile hurricane environment:

  • The ocean there is warmer than usual.
  • There's reduced vertical wind shear.
  • Atlantic tropical trade winds are weak.
  • There have been strong West African monsoons this year.

Here's NOAA's video laying out their forecast:

But wait.

ArsTechnica spoke to hurricane scientist Phil Klotzbach, who agrees generally with NOAA, saying, "All in all, signs are certainly pointing towards an active season." Still, he notes a couple of signals that contradict that worrying outlook.

First off, Klotzbach notes that the surest sign of a rough hurricane season is when its earliest storms form in the deep tropics south of 25°N and east of the Lesser Antilles. "When you get storm formations here prior to June 1, it's typically a harbinger of an extremely active season." Fortunately, this year's hurricanes Arthur and Bertha, as well as the maybe-imminent Cristobal, formed outside this region. So there's that.

Second, Klotzbach notes that the correlation between early storm activity and a season's number of storms and intensities, is actually slightly negative. So while statistical connections aren't strongly predictive, there's at least some reason to think these early storms may augur an easy season ahead.

Image source: NOAA

Batten down the hatches early

If 2020's taught us anything, it's how to juggle multiple crises at once, and layering an active hurricane season on top of SARS-CoV-2 — not to mention everything else — poses a special challenge. Warns Treasury Secretary Wilbur Ross, "As Americans focus their attention on a safe and healthy reopening of our country, it remains critically important that we also remember to make the necessary preparations for the upcoming hurricane season." If, as many medical experts expect, we're forced back into quarantine by additional coronavirus waves, the oceanic waves slamming against our shores will best be met by storm preparations put in place in a less last-minute fashion than usual.

Ross adds, "Just as in years past, NOAA experts will stay ahead of developing hurricanes and tropical storms and provide the forecasts and warnings we depend on to stay safe."

Let's hope this, at least, can be counted on in this crazy year.

Scroll down to load more…