When I was a young girl, a new world was emerging for women. Women had already won the right to vote years earlier. Society was beginning to accept women in roles traditionally held by men. They could become doctors, lawyers, and astronauts. As a woman-to-be, I was encouraged to think and dream big.
I was told, “You can do anything you desire. You can be anything.” And I believed that tenet. Unfortunately, in my young mind, I translated it to mean that I could do everything I wanted to do. I’m not sure whether this mistaken belief was born of the time’s social changes or if it came from something deeper.
It was decades later when wisdom dawned. I realized that I couldn’t do everything, but I could do anything—if I put my mind to it. More precisely, I realized, I can choose to do one or two things very well. Or I can do many things not so well.
On the Path to Spiritual Wealth
One of my life choices was to walk the spiritual path and seek enlightenment.
When Eastern meditation practices were introduced to the West, people noticed its pleasant side effects. Meditation affects the mind, giving us mental strength and clarity. Meditators are calm in stressful situations, and we make better decisions. Physical health benefits have been studied, and doctors commonly prescribe meditation to their patients.
But meditation can be so much more. In today’s world, so consumed with material wealth, many people have forgotten and foregone the attainment of spiritual wealth. This is the wealth which can bring deep and lasting contentment and a sense of personal success.
Achieving Spiritual Success by Meditating More
If the effects of meditation are so bountiful, why do so many people find it difficult to establish a meditation practice? Here’s a simplification of what people say to me: “Yoga tells us that we have countless lifetimes to attain that goal. What’s the hurry? There are so many interesting things to do in life. Let’s have some fun first.”
This, then, is the obstacle to achieving spiritual success: we think there’s plenty of time—and we have many other interests that require our time and attention.
I wish I could tell you that we can have our cake and eat it too, but it just doesn’t work that way. If we want to succeed, we’ve got to work at it. Some good karma might be involved, but focus, diligence, and time are required. If we lose our focus, we get distracted and lose momentum.
Examining and Establishing Our Priorities
Most people are simply “fans” of meditation. They believe in its benefits, but have many other interests, things that demand their time. These interests can be anything from watching television to social activities or various hobbies.
Having interests is not a bad thing. The problem is when we have so many interests that we don’t focus on any one of them. Our time gets frittered away. Life passes by quickly, and we awaken one day wondering, “Where did the time go?”
When we allow meditation to take a low priority, our spiritual aspirations become a secondary interest. Enlightenment gets further away. And if we don’t make meditation a priority, there’s a risk that it will drop off our to-do list altogether. Then meditation is nothing but a memory or passing thought—another “should-do” or “should-have-done.”
Devoted spiritual aspirants find joy in their meditation practice. We make meditation a top priority and never let a day pass without it. We understand that a day void of practice is lost forever.
Making Time for Meditation (An Exercise)
This article began with the description of how I realized a limitation: We can’t do everything we want to do—but we can do anything. Knowing this, we can decide what that “anything” is and apply focused energy to it.
If we spend too much time on our other interests, they become obstacles to our meditation practice. The goal of spiritual aspirants is enlightenment. That goal requires a commitment to meditation, making it a priority in our lives and dedicating our time to it.
The following exercise will increase your awareness of how you spend time on interests and activities that might be obstacles to your meditation practice.
- Close your eyes: Imagine your life and how you spend your time. Mentally walk through a normal day of your life. Think about where your time is spent. If you’re struggling to see where all your time goes, you’ll find many clues in your immediate environment: open your eyes and look at what’s on your desk or in your home.
- Start a list: Make an inventory of how you spend your time with a focus on your interests and hobbies. Nothing is bad or wrong. Treat everything equally—just witness and report.
- Sort your interests according to the time you spend on them, including the time you spend thinking or worrying about them.
This simple exercise will help build awareness of how you use your time. You can then decide whether it’s spent wisely, according to your greatest interests. I hope you’ll discover some surprises.
You might find that you spend time on activities without long-term value or don’t fit your goals. In that case, start making adjustments now. Gradually reduce those activities that aren’t serving your highest interests. Cutting back on habits such as social media and television can free up many hours per week. You’ll have more time for meditation, which in turn is guaranteed to enrich your life.
Chityānanda has been a disciple of Svāmī Gurupremānanda Sarasvatī since 1975. She teaches meditation and yoga as a spiritual path in Santa Cruz, California.