“Why do you meditate?”

Various times, when I’ve come back from retreat, or someone has been perusing the more hippy sections of my bookshelf, or they’ve simply had a thoughtful look on their faces, people have asked me: ‘Why do you meditate?’

The conventional benefits of what is known as mindfulness meditation in the mainstream are well documented, and usually revolve around things like greater calm, concentration, relaxation, stress reduction, and the like. These are all good reasons to meditate, and have served as polite and appropriate dinner party answers in the past. But they aren’t the reason.

Many people seem confusingly drawn to contemplative practices of all kinds without much reason at all. There is a question mark without a question, a yearning for something unknown, a curiosity without object. It’s the great quest, the fascinating mystery, the bloody nuisance.

With a bit of time and investigation that seeking was clarified for me in a way that made sense and appealed. As is my wont, I came up with plenty of existential formulations, that I would happily argue everyone else can relate to too. Why am I here? Why is there suffering? Can anything reconcile it? Is there true goodness? Why are things the way they are? Is there a reason for this? Is there a special place for me in the cosmos? What does God want of us? And, most importantly, whatever game is being played here, can I win?

This sent (and more honestly, continues to send) me on forays into various avenues looking for something that would provide constancy and control. Philosophy, career, culture, politics, pleasure, art, religion, family; they are all rich, but don’t somehow manage to add up to a life that is unshakeable, even when I’ve intuited that there is something transcendent lurking within them.

Finding no real answers to those questions, it became obvious to me eventually that I’d have to look into those questions themselves, and that they implied everything I needed to know to begin. When they became the object of interest, various ways in became evident: focus on my own experience as it was right now, devotion to that wordless desire, the act of questioning itself, and perhaps most interestingly, the great mass of unknowing itself. This for me is contemplative practice, and it bridges the actual and the inexplicable in perplexing and marvellous ways that continue to fascinate me.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably one of the poor buggers who knows that the answer to the question ‘why do you meditate?’ is, when all’s said and done: ‘I don’t know! I just have to!’

This blog is for those fellow travellers who, like me, practice meditation, prayer, service or simply live their lives a certain way, ostensibly for awakening to the unconditional, but more honestly, just because.

Practice questions

  • What are you looking for?
  • What brought you here?
  • Are you satisfied?