How Meditation Creates Real Change

“You must personally accept the responsibility of improving your own life.” – Chögyam Trungpa

A Buddhist teacher I respect a great deal once proclaimed a warning about meditation: Don’t do it unless you’re willing to change. If you’re one of the two gazillion people who put “practice meditation” at the top of your new year’s resolution list, you’re probably having that very same realization right about now. But here is the good news: You will change for the better.

It’s that time of year when self-reflection is turning into action, so I shouldn’t be surprised at my wall. It’s covered in all the various activity I’m engaged in, written out on yellow paper. Ranging from building a space for meditation at MNDFL, writing books and articles on meditation and teaching a Meditation in Everyday Life course on Contentment.

Looking at the wall, the over-arching notion of what I do is clear: I aim to make meditation accessible. Stepping back from the wall I find myself asking, “Why?” The answer is simple: It helps people. Specifically, it helps them connect to who they are. It empowers them to let down their walls. It lets them open their heart. Meditation transforms you if you let it. As it opens your heart, it makes you want to help the world.

If you are beginning a meditation practice, you will, at some point, hit the wall where you want to quit. People don’t stop meditating because they start to change for the better. They stop meditating because they don’t see rapid enough change. We’re so used to instant gratification in America. Meditation is not that.

Meditation is a gradual shift. You have to put in the work of sitting on your butt on a daily basis, coming back to the breath over and over again, and only then do you start to see subtle results. You might notice that you were less reactive when that jerk at work was showing off. Or you were more present with your partner over dinner. Or you were more patient with that person in front of you in line at the supermarket. It’s those moments when you say, “Ah ha! I might be kinder/more present/more patient because of this thing I’m doing.”

If we want to make this shift internally, it will be slow and steady. These days some people are trying to market meditation as “effortless.” It’s not. Sorry. It’s a lot of time and energy spent coming back to the present moment. We’re so used to being distracted that it actually takes a great deal of effort to come back to right now.

But if you want to change for the better, you ought to do it. You ought to let the practice soften the walls around your heart and allows your compassion to flow more seamlessly into the world. And, like the many past participants of Contentment in Everyday Life have found, it can inspire you to do great things that will positively effect society.

So please don’t start meditating, unless you’re willing to change. Don’t do it, unless you want your own open heart to start to move society in a positive direction.

Lodro Rinzler is a teacher in the Shambhala tradition, an author, and the Chief Spiritual Officer of MNDFL Mediation.

His upcoming course, “Contentment in Everyday Life,” offers experiential training in meditation that supports simplicity, gentleness and mindfulness in everyday life. The 5-week series is offered on Thursday evenings beginning March 10th.