Meditation is a practice, not a religion. There are many different types of meditation, practiced by people from all walks of life, and for all sorts of reasons.
Yet, despite all these differences, we can find some common characteristics of people who are serious about meditation. In this article, I playfully named them the “Ten Commandments of Meditators”. They represent ways that meditators behave, or are expected to behave, that are different from the majority of people.
When reading these “commandments”, please keep in mind that:
- They are ideals rather than rules;
- They represent some of the natural consequences of long-term practice, more than actual “should’s and shouldn’ts”;
- I have here presented the hyper-developed version of some of these characteristics, in a generalized way, just to make the point clearer. But keep in mind that we might not be able to find a single meditator who follows all of them to perfection.
- Please take these commandments lightly, as a direction and general aim. There should be no feelings of shame, guilt, blame, or exaggerated self-criticism regarding any of these.
1. Thou Shall Keep Your Cool
Meditators have their stuff (reasonably) under control.
Meditation practice calms down the nervous system, tones down the part of the brain responsible for the stress response (amygdala), and helps one develop greater self-awareness and self-control, among other things.
As meditation deepens and the practitioner brings more of the meditative state into daily life, spikes of negative emotions become more rare, short-lived, and manageable. Equanimity, presence, and calmness become more naturally present.
Do you want to annoy a half-baked meditator? Tell him/her, “You are too stressed. Maybe you should try some meditation!” ?
2. Thou Shall Not React Before Pausing
Meditators pause before reacting.
For the untrained mind, self-awareness is weak and delayed. We have a negative thought or emotion, and only after being engaged with it for a while do we really see it more clearly and free ourselves from its clutches.With
With the repetitive practice of meditation, as well as mindfulness in daily life, we start noticing thoughts and emotions in real time, as they are happening. If fear comes, you are aware that fear is there; if thoughts of self-loathing come, you recognize them straight away. With that recognition comes increased space between you and your thoughts. From that space you can dialogue with your thoughts, act on them (if needed), let them go, or change them.
With more practice, you notice the thoughts/emotions before they express themselves. That gives you an even greater pause.
All these pauses empower you to respond, rather than react.
3. Thou Shall Let It Go
Meditators are trained in the skill of letting go. This exercise happens multiple times in a standard meditation session— notice you have wandered into thinking, let that go, and bring the attention back to your meditation object.
Meditation also helps you to develop non-attachment by showing you that, even after life takes away something you were attached to, you are still okay. You can still access a state of inner peace where all is well. The door to inner wellness is still open, even when all your attachments are under attack—but it requires mental training to be able to do that.
Letting go, or non-attachment, is the essential skill for overcoming many types of suffering. It doesn’t mean that we live life less intensely; rather, we do what we are called to do with zest, and then we step back and watch what happens, without anxiety.
It doesn’t mean that we don’t love, play, work, or seek with intensity; but rather that we are detached from the results, knowing that we have full control only over the effort we make and the mindsets we cultivate.
Non-attachment is not cold. It’s cool.
4. Thou Shall Be Happy In The Present Moment
Among the several benefits of meditation are a decrease in negative emotions and the cultivation of positive states of mind. Of course, some particular techniques will have that as a direct effect more than others.
Positive mental states + less negative emotions + health + being in control = happy here and now!
Of course, external circumstances do matter. Yet well-being is chiefly a product of internal factors, rather than things outside. Meditation works in improving wellness inside-out.
5. Thou Shall Not Be A Slave To Thinking
Meditators know the difference between “my thoughts” and “me”.
You are not your thoughts. You are the observer of your thoughts —the conscious subject, awareness itself. Thoughts come and go, but you stay. You are there before a thought arises; you are there while the thought is unfolding; and you are there after the thought has gone.
Through consistent meditation practice, we realize that we are the witness of thoughts (rather than the thoughts themselves). That is why we can let go of them, and bring our attention back to our breathing or our mantra.
With this realization comes greater self-knowledge and emotional maturity, as we can see our own biases and mental patterns more clearly and objectively. The realization that I am not my thoughts means that I can practice the “commandment” of not being a slave to my thinking.
Thoughts are just thoughts. You are the one that determines what they mean for you, which ones are allowed to stay, and for how long.
6. Thou Shall Connect To Your Body
Meditators are grounded in their body, aware of what’s happening within and without, in the present moment.
Many meditation techniques— especially mindfulness and breath awareness (Vipassana, Samatha, etc.)—work by grounding you in your body and in your senses. You are directed to pay attention to what is happening in your body, because your body is always in the present moment. Also, your body is the most tangible element of your existence, so it’s the easiest one to work with first (as opposed to the mind or emotions).
As a meditator, your body awareness is enhanced. You become sensitive to how your mental/emotional states affect your body. You notice how your body in turn also affects your mental states. Like this, you can work on the body level to pacify intense emotions—for instance, by calming the breath or by releasing tensions that are stuck in specific body parts.
7. Thou Shall Breathe Deeply
Your breath is a mirror of your mental state. Meditators are trained in deep and conscious breathing as a tool to keep the mind and emotions peaceful.
Normally, adults breathe an average of 12 to 20 times per minute. For those that practice a lot of meditation or pranayama, the default breathing rate is considerably lower. (In my case, for example, it is normally eight to ten per minute).
On the other hand, over time we develop the default response of taking a deep breath whenever we find ourselves in intense situations. When that happens, it shows that some of the lessons of meditation are being internalized, which is a good sign. If that is your case, give yourself a pat on the back—you are following Commandment n. 7! ?
8. Thou Shall Not Be Distracted By Technology
Phone notifications, internet, YouTube, email, Facebook, Twitter, Quora… These things are all making us super-connected, super-informed, and super-entertained. But they are also making us super-distracted, super-absent, super-indifferent, and super-restless!
As the general population is become more and more distracted by technology, meditators use it as another opportunity to practice mindfulness. This includes:
- Avoiding over-indulgence
- Using internet and technology in a conscious way
Spending 18 hours a day distracted with notifications and over-exposed to sensory stimuli will not help your meditation practice. As we progress on the path, we start to realize the relationship between our meditation and our information habits. And, with the experience that meditation gives greater benefits and pleasure, we will naturally seek to diminish our mindless consumption of information and entertainment.
9. Thou Shall Live Green
Being a meditator does not require you to dress like a hippie, live in a commune, and join Greenpeace. (There is nothing wrong with these things, though!)
However, meditation does make us more aware of how we impact our environment. It also tends to make us more compassionate and less materialistic. Therefore, our consuming habits may change.
Meditation also makes us more aware of how food, clothes, and the environment in turn impact our body and mind. As a result, we start paying attention to what we put in our bodies, what we expose our minds to, and where we hang out.
This is not necessarily about being a purist and limiting ourselves to only reading inspirational stuff, listening to classical music, doing yoga and eating organic. It’s about learning more about ourselves—learning how we are shaping our own inner world and then making intelligent, informed decisions about how we want to feed our body, senses, and mind.
10. Thou Shall Not Skip The Daily Meditation
Of all the ten items in this article, this is the only true “commandment”. The commitment to daily practice is the basic foundation of the other benefits that come from meditation, and for much of the personal growth work we engage in.
Meditating daily is what makes us meditators!
Having a strong meditation practice has the potential to bring many benefits, superpowers, and changes in our life. In this piece, I gathered ten common characteristics that long-term meditators tend to have, in one degree or another.
Which of these is true about you?
I’d love to know. Please share in the comments!
[Image attributes: Items 3 (Wikipedia), 5 (sawtelltreeoflife.com.au), 7 (cutestpaw.com), 8 (Steve Cutts)]