From Praying Naked: The Spirituality of Anthony de Mello, by J. Francis Stroud, SJ
(Anthony de Mello was a priest and psychotherapist and is a popular Ignatian writer.)
Meditation offers five advantages or rewards
1. Meditation helps you to live in the present. It eliminates the tendency to relive now not only all the ills of the past, such as resentments, guilt, fears, but even the good experiences of the past. Tony de Mello described it graphically by saying that when something good happens to you, you tuck it away in your little silver box and then, instead of enjoying the present moment (which is new, energizing, and exciting), you stop and look into your little silver box and contemplate nostalgically those past happy times. God forbid you should ever lose your silver box that you carry around with you all the time: an unnecessary piece of baggage.
2. Meditation gives you a direct experience of your self. We create so many false selves, which we call primary ego defenses. Then we identify with these false selves. For example, when as a little boy you are pushed around, you find that by pushing back, you are given a little respect, so you do it more often. Finally you get the reputation of being a bully, so you think of yourself as such. Another example: You find that as a little girl, if you snuggle up to your father or grandmother, you get the candy or whatever else you wanted. Soon you think being a coquette is not so bad. As you grow older, the same process takes place when you become a doctor or a bishop or the CEO of your company. It is almost impossible to know who the true “you” really is. The happy result of this experience is that you eliminate the two major causes of suffering in life: isolation and loneliness. No longer do you feel separate and alone, but united and connected, which, of course, is the basis of love.
3. Meditation quiets down the interior dialog, the inner chatter that goes on in the brain all the time. This quieting down enables you to get in touch with your emotions, with anger, grief, and love. And it is crucial, because if you don’t have the ability to feel your emotions genuinely or if you deny these feelings when you have them, they will show up somewhere else through alcoholism, obesity, sexual dysfunction, and sometimes even worse.
4. Meditation alleviates all addictions, such as alcoholism, drug use, and overeating, because it helps you achieve what you are seeking through these addictions. We don’t overeat because we need this food. There is something missing in our lives and we try to fill up that missing part by eating. Meditation helps you to love yourself. This is best illustrated by a story, entitled, “Don’t Change,” found in de Mello’s book, Song of the Bird.
I was a neurotic for years. I was anxious, depressed, and selfish. Everyone kept telling me to change. I resented them and agreed with them, and I wanted to change, but simply couldn’t, no matter how hard I tried. What hurt the most was that, like the others, my best friend kept insisting that I change. So I felt powerless and trapped. Then, one day, he said to me, “Don’t change. I love you just as you are.” Those words were music to my ears: “Don’t change. Don’t change. Don’t change. . . . I love you as you are.” I relaxed. I came alive. And suddenly, I changed! Now I know that I could never change till I found someone who would love me whether I change or not!
5. Even well-known doctors like Deepak Chopra from La Jolla, California, and Herbert Benson from Harvard University attest to the benefits of meditation for health. Chopra says in his conference, “Journey to the Boundless,” that it is the most valuable thing you can do in your life.
The Meditation Method
This exercise, though short, will illustrate the Three-Minute Mediation Method. In the shower (after you have finished washing), be aware, first of all, of your breathing. Is it shallow, medium, or deep? Breathe only through your nose. Don’t try to control it, just be aware of its quality. This is a brief exercise, but if you do it consistently, you will feel its benefits almost immediately. Later, in a sitting or squatting position, you will want to extend the meditation to five or ten minutes more. This will be the beginning of a practice of meditation that will last you a lifetime and provide you with enormous benefits.
Then gently shift your attention to the sounds you hear: the water coming from the spigot, the gurgling of the water going down the drain. You will notice a number of different sounds, sounds you paid scant attention to before, such as the sound of water splashing on the floor. Simply be aware of them all.
How long should you do this? Don’t worry about it. Just do it briefly. It probably will take no more than a minute. Next shift your focus to the sensations of the water hitting your head and neck, then your back. Feel it running down your legs, onto your feet. Be aware of your feet touching the floor.
If you have put your hands on the wall, notice each finger touching the marble or tile.
Finally, return to the awareness of your breathing. Be aware of only three breaths. That will end the exercise.
Here are some sincere words of encouragement. So often we do so much for others, our whole lives are spent taking care of others. That is why congratulations are in order. For once you are doing something for yourself. And the reason this matters is that, of all creation, you have an extraordinary power.
Plants have laws that govern their existence. Animals’ lives are directed by instinct. No one draws a map for the birds to go south. A squirrel that has never experienced the winter yet knows how to hide chestnuts for the cold months ahead.
Yet even animals do not have what you have: the power to create your own world. You do this by adopting an attitude of cheerfulness. You can say, “This is going to be a wonderful day.” And you know what? It will be. No matter what happens, it will be a wonderful day. Try it now. See if it isn’t true.