Meditation

Dr. Niranjan Seshadri
5 min readDec 18, 2023

as I understand it

Photo by Ravi Pinisetti on Unsplash

My goal in writing this is not to go into the nuances of a meditation practice or to suggest a method. These are my observations in response to this simple question: Why Meditate?

The promise of a reward is a powerful motivator. Meditation promises rich rewards: from a remedy for common “ailments” like stress, fear, unhappiness, discontentment, and boredom to ultimate transcendence over the human condition into the divine realms. While we like to use the power of imagination to indulge in these promises, we forget the implied time and effort needed to reach those goals. As a patient who follows the doctor’s instructions to take pills twice a day for two weeks, we set aside a few minutes each day for meditation and expect rewards meditation promises. Such homeopathic doses of meditation are guaranteed to fail, and any notion of achieving mastery is either transitory or illusory.

Meditation interfaces between a very important relationship — the individual and the mind —which is also poorly understood and contentious. We may be able to extricate ourselves from external relationships that have soured, but we cannot easily walk away from an unhappy mind. The individual suffering from an unhappy mind state, manifesting as stressful emotions, tries to command the mind to create new experiences that are diametrically opposite. The mind does not comply, and the struggle ensues in the lopsided relationship where the mind holds the upper hand. Through meditation, we can engineer a happy mind state if we understand the nature of this relationship.

We must recognize two essential truths to understand the relationship between the individual and the mind. First is the mind’s nature, which is continual movement. Thoughts cannot remain stationary, and we cannot will them into a static state of existence, nor can we force them to go away. This becomes relevant when we try to hold onto experiences that result in a happy state of mind while pushing out thoughts that make us unhappy.

Second is our ability to become aware of our thoughts and their movement, an innate quality we possess. Through the senses, we become aware of our external surroundings, things we see, hear, taste, touch, and smell. Awareness of our thoughts does not require the medium of the senses. If I ask you to watch the movement of the thoughts across the mind space, you can do it without effort or thinking about how. It is not a learned skill. Although it is easy to momentarily watch the mind and thoughts as a disinterested observer, sustaining that effort is challenging.

Without putting in time and effort, we cannot sustain and deepen the subjective awareness of the mind and our thoughts. It can become effortless with practice, just as we don’t expend any effort using our eyes to see, ears to hear, skin to feel, tongue to taste, and nose to smell. As we bridge the gap between the effort to become watchful of our thoughts and an effortless state of continual watchfulness, our relationship with the mind transforms.

To begin with, the mind is the dominant force, and our awareness of its movement is absent, and we get carried along the mind’s current from thought to thought. At its extreme, this phase manifests as a restless mind we cannot shut off, which may interfere with work and sleep. Consuming social media provides relief from a restless mind. As our fingers scroll through postings, they distract our attention from our busy thoughts and create an artificial sense of calmness. On average, popular videos on platforms like TikTok are 50 seconds long, optimized to trigger a surge in the “feel good” neurotransmitter dopamine.

Meditation can also lead to dopamine release, but the process is painfully slow, and most people find it difficult to sustain long periods of effort with little or no reward. The fundamentals of meditation are minimizing awareness of the external surroundings and augmenting awareness of the mind as if we are watching it from a distance.

We find it extremely uncomfortable to face the mind head-on, and the struggle becomes apparent mere seconds into the practice as the flood of thoughts becomes overwhelming. Thoughts may be connected or unconnected, relevant or irrelevant, and appear real or fictitious. Still, they all tell a story, and everyone likes a good story, whether uplifting or ending in a tragedy. These stories that the mind tells us make the mind such a compelling force we cannot ignore.

If we persist in maintaining an awareness of the mind and the movement of thoughts, it eventually leads to a fragile truce. The mind begins to lose its power over us, and a sliver of separation forms. However, there is an uneasy tension between the continuous movement of thoughts that come and go and our stationary subjective awareness of this phenomenon.

We cross the first big hurdle in meditation when we can maintain an awareness of the mind without reentering the current of thoughts, which takes us from one experience to another. Just two magnets lose their attractive force the farther apart they are kept; watching the mind without questioning or agreeing with thought forms weakens the pull of the mind. When we observe thoughts without entangling our emotions with them, our perception of the mind changes. We begin to notice the space in which they emerge and disappear. It is like watching the clear night sky full of stars. Our attention naturally gravitates towards the twinkling stars, but we can also train our eyes to become aware of the dark spaces between those specks of light.

As we further persist in watching the mind, as if an observer, the transit of thoughts becomes slower and more infrequent, and it becomes easier to train our awareness on the vast emptiness that once housed very restless and random trains of thought. The structure of the mind has not changed, but our perception of the mind has, just as when we flip a coin, we see two completely different sides of the same coin. When our awareness of the mind meets empty pockets within it void of thoughts, it is like seeing the cloudless sky during the daytime, where we perceive no movement unless an object like a bird flies across that space. These are moments where the mind appears as nothingness. Perhaps we may then understand meditation differently when we reach this waypoint on the infinitely long journey of self-discovery.

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Dr. Niranjan Seshadri

Physician I Author I Transformational Philosophy - Awareness and its power to transform. www.intoawareness.org. Learn more- amazon.com/author/seshadri