A few days ago, some brain scientists announced that meditating changes your brain. The anxiety and stress section of your brain actually thins out if you meditate regularly. The article on the topic, was the most emailed story on the New York Times all week. So I went to learn more about meditation.
Rodney Smith teaches classes for the Seattle Insight Meditation Society I went to his house and when I got there he has in his hand, a copy of that New York Times brain story. He was excited because Americans don't like useless, exotic navel-gazing.
"They think of meditation as some sort of Eastern product that's sort of weird and woo-wooey," said Smith.
But when brain scientists sign on, that gets our attention.
I asked Rodney what's so great about meditation, and the first thing he told me was, 'You and I take our thoughts way too seriously.'
When you meditate, you learn to notice all these stray thoughts that ping around in your head, and take you out of real life.
"We're constantly wrapped up in everything we think. We don't really see what we're seeing. We see what we're thinking about what we're seeing," says Smith.
Here's an example of how your thoughts mess with you: You're at work. Your boss lays a big project on top of you. You think I can't work for this moron. Then you're angry, you're stressed.
When you meditate, you learn to watch your thoughts come and go, and you don't have to attach to them. You might learn that you're really stuck on your own need to please people or prove something to yourself. And now we're getting into therapy stuff that basically life isn't doing anything to you, it's all about your reaction.
And when you learn to see that, you're lightening yourself up to have a good time on this planet.
Generally, meditators don't have a reputation for being the life of the party, but Smith says that might be a misconception.
"I think that's the Buddhist image. I don't' think that's the image I hold at all of meditators."
But even if meditation is awesome, have you ever tried sitting still for a half hour?
I told him I don't have a half hour to sit still. I've got a job, I got kids, I've got a wife, I've got to sleep. And he basically told me to quit whining and decide what I want to do.
"We have to prioritize our intentions. What do we want our life to be about?"
That's the main thing I took away from Rodney's house. Meditation is not wimpy and woo woo. It's rigorous, it's hard. It means you can't blame other people for your problems. You're getting a spine and taking responsibility for your own thoughts.