It’s time for the fifth and final installment of this series on meditation’s role in mental health—and I’m honored to share it with you. I’ve talked so far about the many ways in which meditation can support and expand our lives in terms of our thoughts, our emotions, our relationships, and our physical health; but the benefits don’t stop there. The last domain of mental health supported by meditation and mindfulness is one of the most significant. In this way, perhaps, you might say I’ve saved the best for last.
It’s no secret that people who feel good about themselves, live with integrity, and see their values reflected in their choices tend to be pretty healthy when it comes to their mental and emotional experience. This way of living allows them to develop a strong sense of purpose and conviction about the lives they lead, which is all but guaranteed to improve their quality of life. It’s also not much of a secret that many people who maintain a regular meditation and mindfulness practice live in precisely this way.
That’s because the process of witnessing what’s unfolding inside us and what’s happening around us—which meditation and mindfulness are all about—makes us more familiar with who we are, what we value, and what we desire. We grow tremendously when we realize that we are responsible for creating our lives through the choices we make and the stories we tell ourselves. By paying attention to what’s happening in our lives, from moment to moment, we improve our ability to interpret and respond in ways that align with our core values and support our mental health. We learn to step into the power we possess to choose our own way, no matter what circumstances might befall us.
Self-esteem, integrity, and purpose are important aspects of mental health that we can cultivate by learning what we want. But this is one of those things that’s much easier said than done. The question, “What do you want?” is one that most people have no idea how to answer. And the reason it tends to be so elusive is that we aren’t practiced in asking the question and then going inside to wait for the answer. Instead of determining what we really want, we go with what we’ve been told we should want or what other people seem to want. We don’t do the work of finding and owning our authentic, legitimate answers. To do this takes courage; it requires practice. But the more we do it, the more familiar we become with ourselves. We grow to learn what makes us tick, what inspires us, what opens our hearts. We learn to access and honor our internal reservoir of yeses and nos.
Becoming familiar with who we are and what we want fortifies our self-esteem and enables us to feel confident about what we have to offer and what mark we want to leave on the world. It allows us to deliberately and intentionally create lives of integrity; it helps us align our actions with our values. All of this can generate a profound sense of fulfillment—the kind that boosts our mental health and dramatically improves our quality of life. And meditation is one of the foundational practices that can support us in generating these kinds of outcomes and this kind of purpose-driven life.
It’s astonishing to think that sitting in silence and connecting with ourselves in the moment can hold such potent, transformative potential. But this is what meditation has to offer—if only we’re willing to commit ourselves to it. The more we practice, the more purposeful our lives become. We transform our relationship with our thoughts and emotions. We create deeper and more meaningful relationships with other people. We experience greater vitality in our physical bodies. We get closer to living a life of integrity that brings contentment and makes us proud.
It’s been an honor to write this series, and I’d like to conclude it with an offering of the hopes I guard in my heart for all of you. I hope you come away from reading this with new ways to think about the ancient practices of meditation and mindfulness. I hope their many benefits are apparent to you. I hope the information I shared will inspire you to adopt a practice of your own. And finally, I hope you feel confident and excited about the contributions your practice will make to your mental health, your life, your future, your relationships, and the world in general.