The 6 Life Skills Meditation Teaches Best: PART 5 – Mental Clarity
Beyond relaxation or stress relief, why do so many people make meditation a part of their day? It’s not to become good at meditation, sitting on a cushion 20 minutes a day! Meditation is a way to become more self-aware, caring and wise, and to bring those strengths into your relationships, your work and your way of being in the world. In this six-part series, Meditation Teacher Ann Vrlak looks at the core life skills you can develop or strengthen through a meditation practice.
One of my meditation teachers, Adyashanti, talked about all the different meditation practices we can choose from today and said, “If you dig 100 wells one foot deep and one well 100 feet deep, where do you think you’ll find water?”
That analogy has always stuck with me. What a good description of how we can dart from one thing to another, giving them a fraction of our attention and then being disappointed if they don’t “work” or satisfy us!
Whether it’s a meditation practice or a book or a good conversation, it takes time and open-hearted interest to get beyond the surface.
I think this applies to this article’s topic of mental clarity, too. Your life is probably so busy and complex you have a pretty lively narrative of thoughts, worries, plans and memories running through your mind at any given moment. Could you even guess how many thoughts you have in a day?
With this internal whirlwind, how much mental clarity do you think you can have? It’s like trying to make an important decision at a loud party. You wouldn’t choose that environment to make your decision. You wouldn’t be able to listen to your inner voice and intentions or go very deep.
MENTAL CLARITY ISN’T EQUAL TO CONCENTRATION
When people talk about mental clarity, quite often they are referring to concentration. The message is, “You just have to try harder to concentrate.” It’s as if a lot of effort is needed to achieve this thing called mental clarity.
I’ll talk about concentration in a moment–and it is important. But for me, it’s more important to experience how mental clarity naturally emerges when you’re slowing down and becoming more present.
There are sayings in meditation that go something like, “Calm breath, calm mind.” Or, “Superficial breath, superficial mind.” They point to the intimate relationship between your breath and your mind. By calming your breath, for example, you can have a deep impact on a busy or worried mind. Or if you pay attention to your breath when you’re anxious, you’ll notice it’s probably fast and quite shallow.
This is the main path meditation follows to bring you more mental clarity. Instead of a directed effort to “focus your mind,” it’s more an effort to calm your nervous system, to help it become more stable and open–and this naturally allows your mind to operate at its best.
There are now many studies that show how healthy meditation is for your brain: your attention centers become stronger, areas all over the brain work more closely together, rejuvenating and healing chemicals are released throughout your body and brain, and much more. Your brain on meditation is vastly different than your brain on stress.
To go back to concentration for a moment. It’s true that meditation gives you a way to practice focusing your attention. Almost all meditations have a focus for the practice, like your breath or a mantra or your sense of “I.” In all these practices, you’re practicing stabilizing your attention by bringing it back again and again to your particular focus. And it’s this skill that is so valuable in anything you want to do that needs your sustained attention and care to go deep, and be your most creative and wise.
It’s worth repeating that this kind of focus is so much easier if you’re relaxed. The calming, healing effects of meditation create a supportive environment–you won’t have to force your way into concentrating! I’ve known many people who think they “just can’t meditate” because they approached concentration in this way. They were surprised and encouraged when a more compassionate and relaxed approach allowed their natural clarity to open up.
A CIRCLE OF HEALING BENEFITS AND STRENGTHS
Gaining perspective helps with emotional balance and self-compassion which all help with becoming skillful with anxiety and depression. Mental clarity is both a cause and effect of all of these skills. They are all part of a healthy circle of rich self-care and self-development.
When you meditate, you’re practicing deep relaxation and a decluttering of your mind. You’ll automatically reconnect with your natural ability to focus and think creatively. You’ll go beneath the surface, 100 feet deep on whatever is important to you.