The Best Kept Secrets are Boring

At a meditation retreat I attended a few years ago, the leader off-handedly told a story about a moment when she was doing a large group meditation practice with the renowned meditation teacher Jack Kornfield.  The six of us sitting around laughed politely at her description of 500 people doing a slow walking meditation practice at the Seattle Center while a group of kids right next to them were playing a dodge ball game so that the meditators were occasionally getting beaned by rubber balls. But the truth of the matter is that meditation stories aren’t very interesting – even to other meditators.

This is the best way to keep something secret — making it so boring that we don’t even talk about it. In fact, the thing that makes meditation work is a dedication to a habit that appears from the outside to just be sitting and doing nothing.

But it’s this practice that healed me from being stuck in the left over gunk of my marriage after the messiness of my ex’s infidelities and my own realization that I wanted out.

Mindfulness is the tool that keeps me energized, engaged and patient with my kids.

Meditation is the time where I connect with the small voice of God within me that helps me find my path.

It’s my time for sitting still and making friends with my experience.

Meditation is central to my well-being and has transformed my life so that most of the time my inner life and my outer life match. Fortunately there is a ton of science that is done around meditation and mindfulness these days so that even when it’s hard to talk engagingly about meditation itself, there’s a lot to say about the resulting effect.

In her book Love 2.0 emotions researcher, Barbara Frederickson described her quest to study positive emotions. She needed a group who would increase the positive emotions they experienced daily to compare against a control group. Which led her to a search of how to predictably and repeatably increase positive emotions.

Her quest to find a way to increase positive emotions led her to the loving kindness meditation (called metta in Pali, maître in Sanskrit) and she designed a study to test the effects of a group learning to “self-generate positive emotions through loving-kindness meditation.”

“The results were abundantly clear. When people, completely new to meditation, learned to quiet their minds and expand their capacity for love and kindness, they transformed themselves from the insides out. They experienced more love, more engagement, more serenity, more joy, more amusement – more of every positive emotion we measure. And though they typically meditated alone, their biggest boosts in positive emotions came when interacting with others, off the cushion, as it were. Their lives spiraled upward.”

Love 2.0 by Barbara Frederickson

It seems like this is how the Universe keeps its best tricks secret – by making them so personal that they are both impossible and boring to describe. Like with dreams, we are presented with visions that are so veiled in symbolism and intricate in connection that they make little sense to anyone else. And so often we forget to even try to talk about them.

In my life when I first started meditating ten years ago, I didn’t have a way to measure the effect. And the effort seemed so small I wasn’t sure I was doing it right or making any difference. In my “no pain, no gain” mindset, it wasn’t something that caused enough pain for me to believe it worked. I stuck with it because I needed to believe in something and I wasn’t happy where I was at. I stayed with it because I was in pain.

And slowly I breathed out those pockets of dead, stale air and opened my circuits wider to beauty and love. Looking back on it, I see meditation as the underpinning of every healthy and loving decision I’ve made since then. Including writing this piece. It might be boring, but I do it out of love.

For anyone interested, here’s my description of the loving-kindness meditation:

Closing my eyes, I picture someone toward whom I have really warm feelings. I see them right in front of me and I breathe in and think “May I be happy” and breathe out and think “May you be happy” as if I were saying it to the person I am imagining. My feeling of happiness in this context is not gaiety or momentary satisfaction but deep contentedness.

Then I breathe in and say “May I be at peace” and breathe out and think “May you be at peace.” I believe this is peace, not from lack of conflict, but from freedom of inner struggle.

Finally I breathe in and think “May I be loved” and breathe out and think “May you be loved.”  This is love stemming from a genuine connection with all beings.

Then I imagine someone toward whom I don’t have an emotional reaction one way or the other, perhaps the grocery store clerk or person in the car next to mine this morning and picture them in front of me, and I repeat the same exercise, wishing them happiness, peace and love.

Finally, I pick someone with whom I have unresolved or negative feelings that I need to soften and let go. I picture them in front of me and repeat the same exercise, wishing them happiness, peace and love.

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(featured photo from Pexels)

18 thoughts on “The Best Kept Secrets are Boring

  1. Thank you, Wynne, for this rich sharing about meditation. I, too, have found meditation to be transformative. For the last fifteen years of my career as a paramedic , I worked twelve-hour shifts from 6:00 – 18:00 or vice versa. Even for the morning starts, I ensured to allow twenty minutes of meditation prior; for that stillnesss allowed my days to be imbued with greater peace.
    Great post! Thank you!

    1. Wow, Art – I love the description of your practice when you were a paramedic. I can imagine that it helped give your days with greater peace but it also had great effect on the people you were helping. The other studies I’ve read lately report that because of how our nervous systems connect with others, if we walk into a situation with a well-regulated nervous system, it helps the people around us too. I know your practice was a boon to everyone around – and still is!! Thanks for sharing this!

      1. Thank you very much, Wynne. I enjoyed your post very much! Yes, I agree; when we realize that as much as it can seem that we are only separate individuals, all of us are, in fact, having an effect upon one “another.” Greg Braden calls this the Divine Matrix. I’m so grateful that I came to meditation and that I still allow a minimum of twenty mintues for it each day. The effects, as you know, last much longer.

  2. It’s not boring to me. Not in the slightest. Meditation has change my life in all the ways you describe. I’m a huge advocate. What you highlight here is an important aspect of mediation that’s overlooked by some. Using it – not to simply train focus or awareness – but cultivate greater compassion and acceptance. That’s important. Loving kindness meditations are a great way to do that. Thank you for sharing this Wynne. 🙏

    1. I’ve loved the meditations that you have shared too, AP2. It’s so fun to be connected to others that appreciate the incredible effect it can have!

    1. Oh, what an incredibly great comment, Natalie! Thank you for saying that. It’s the best way I’ve found to make friends with that inner voice and thank goodness for that. Hope it does the same for you!

  3. I’ve also found mediation helpful. It calms the racing brain and helps me stay easy in the face of a life that’s more violent fair ride than I planned on. Meta meditation (loving kindness) helps especially when I’m full of angry rage, though I confess on those occasions, I enter into the exercise with not the best spirit 😉

    1. Em, you make such an important point here. That meditation helps us transform those moments when we aren’t in our best spirits I think is a great selling point. I always come back to something that Pema Chodron said that meditation isn’t a way to not feel negative emotions because in many ways we become more aware of them – but maybe we can move through them more quickly than if we resist them.

      Thanks for adding your voice to this conversation about how meditation works!!

  4. Wynne, you have explained mediation so beautifully! Love it.

    Your description of “the loving-kindness meditation”, makes it attainable. Because meditation is viewed by most as something hard to attempt. I also love the idea of incorporating compassion and forgiveness while breathing mindfully.

    Best wishes.

    1. Thank you, Chaya! I really appreciate the vote of confidence. There are so many approaches that I can only speak to my own experience. So grateful that it landed in any small way.

      Sending all my best to you!

  5. I like when you say that mindfulness keeps you energized, engaged and patient with your kids.
    Mindfulness helps me being like that at work! Wonderful post Wynne!

    1. Thank you, Cristiana! Nice to have you validate it works for you that way as well. I always appreciate your comment so much – thank you!

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