If we take an honest look at ourselves, it is easy to see that we are a mixture of light and shadow, of good qualities and defects. One of the main obstacles we face is a deep-seated and often unconscious conviction that we're born the way we are and nothing we can do can change that.
Doing so, we significantly underestimate our capacity for change. Our character traits remain the same as long as we do nothing to change them. Yet, it is possible to arrive at a more optimal way of being.
Our mind can be our best friend or our worst enemy. The aim of meditation is to transform the mind. As things stand now, our mind is often filled with troubles. We spend a great deal of time consumed by painful thoughts, plagued by anxiety or anger. It would be such a relief, if we could master our mind to the point where we could be free of these disturbing emotions.
We readily accept the idea of spending years learning to walk, read and write, or acquire professional skills. We spend hours doing physical exercises in order to get our bodies into shape. We do so because we believe that these efforts are going to benefit us in the long run.
Working with the mind follows the same logic. It will not change just from wishing alone. Meditation is a practice that makes it possible to cultivate and develop certain basic, positive human qualities in the same way other forms of training make it possible to acquire any other skill.
The goal of meditation is not to shut down the mind or anesthetize it, but rather to make it free, lucid and balanced.
Over the course of the last 10 years, a number of scientific research programs intended to document the long-term effects of meditation practice on the brain and on behavior. This research has shown that it is possible to make significant progress in developing qualities such as attention, emotional balance, altruism and inner peace. Other studies have demonstrated the benefits of meditating for 20 minutes a day for a period of eight weeks. These benefits include a decrease in anxiety and in the tendency toward depression and anger, as well as strengthening the immune system and increasing one's general well being.
Practicing meditation can give your day an entirely new "fragrance." Its effects can permeate your outlook and approach to the things you do, as well as to your relations with the people around you. It allows us to experience life with greater serenity, to be more open to whatever happens and to envision the future with confidence. Such a transformation enables us to act more effectively in the world we live in and contribute to building a wiser, more altruistic and kinder society.
Matthieu Ricard is a Buddhist monk who went from a scientific career as a molecular biologist in France to the study of Buddhism in the Himalayas 40 years ago. He has been the French interpreter for the Dalai Lama since 1989. Matthieu donates all proceeds from his work and much of his time to 30 humanitarian projects in Asia through Karuna-Shechen. You may learn more about him on his website, MatthieuRicard.com