It was not long after a highly skilled brigade of master Greek craftsmen and masons flawlessly built much of their capital city with perfectly chiseled white marble stones, when a trio of philosophical giants living within Athens’ cream colored facades began transforming the western way of thinking by meticulously sculpting their own minds. To be exact, it was some 2,500 years ago when Socrates and his two students Plato and Aristotle began discussing the ultimate purpose of human existence, lecturing on topics such as values and ethics, and writing about self-improvement and the goals a man should aim for throughout his life.
Since the ideas and teachings of these three philosophic immortals spread westward to Rome and beyond, a seemingly endless number of equally brilliant minds have introduced new approaches for creating success and becoming the best one can be. Yet still today, even with centuries and centuries of refining personal development and achievement strategies, the great inspirational icons of this generation, like their predecessors, have come to realize that the path towards the summit of success is a treacherous one that ultimately leaves many defeated. As the celebrated Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca so adequately puts it:
It is a rough road that leads to the heights of greatness.”
In what is a seemingly amazing yet strange coincidence, it was around the exact same time the three great Greek philosophers began theorizing about the ultimate purpose of life, when a number of other icon minds were similarly transforming their distinctively different cultures in far away lands to east. From the 8th to the 3rd century BC, a time period that’s since become known as the Axial Age, the likes of the Buddha, Mahavira, Lao Tzu, Ashoka and Confucius began teaching and writing about the meaning of life, ultimately shaping the ways in which citizens of their countries thought and behaved, in much the same manner as their Greek counterparts.
Although the western drives for status, wealth and success differed from the spiritual aims of the east, beneficial strategies and practices for improving the self and succeeding in life emerged from both ways of thinking. In what is seemingly another amazing yet strange coincidence, it actually may be one of the practices to originate in the east, more so than any from the west, that can most help us accomplish our loftiest personal development goals. As you’ll soon discover, by transforming our minds with the spiritual practice of meditation, the treacherous path to the summit of success will clear itself of the hazardous challenges it’s so feared for. Take it from the celebrated psychotherapist and former Buddhist monk Donald Altman, who tells us:
If you truly want to change your life, you must first be willing to change your mind.”
A Grueling Climb Towards The Summit of Success:
For anyone who sets out to achieve the unthinkable by succeeding in the most meaningful yet daunting ways, regardless of it’s professionally, athletically, intellectually or socially, a grueling climb towards the summit of success assuredly awaits. In the fiercely competitive societies of the western world, it’s widely believed that individuals must develop and rely upon the qualities of discipline, consistency, sacrifice, hard work, determination and hustle to make it through the draining journey victoriously.
Unfortunately for many people, starting a company or non-profit, running a marathon, getting a college degree or moving themselves up the corporate ladder takes many years of struggling against setbacks and unsatisfied feelings for life before they’re finally willing to consider themselves a success. Yet still, all too many others never complete the voyage to the top because it’s challenging and lengthy nature wears them down over time. As the legendary Basketball Hall of Famer, U.S. Senator and author Bill Bradley tells us:
Ambition is the path to success. Persistence is the vehicle you arrive in.”
When considering a sample of reputable statistics that tell us 92% of people fail to achieve their New Years Eve Goals, 95% of individuals who succeed in losing weight gain the lost pounds back within one to five years, and only 33% of Americans consider themselves to be very happy, it’s clear to see why success is often thought of as a mountain that’s not easy to climb. While nothing should be taken away from the notion that ambition, persistence, hard work and determination are needed to accomplish the most worthwhile goals, because they are, it’s certain that a variety of important variables are missing from the western success equation.
Fortunately, because the missing mental equipment needed to take us to the pinnacle of our profession, to become a successful entrepreneur or to overcome a troubling habit is paradoxically supplied to us in the stillness of meditation, our journey to the the summit of doesn’t have to be one of struggle, frustration and dread. The celebrated Buddhist meditation teacher and author Sharon Salzberg tells us of the practice:
Meditation is a microcosm, a model, a mirror. The skills we practice when we sit are transferable to the rest of our lives.”
Hastening The Journey With The Vehicle Of Meditation:
An inability to stay focused over the long-term, a lack of self-awareness, an overtly rigid mindset, an unwillingness to ask for help, a misunderstanding of what it actually take, a propensity to run one’s self into the ground, and a unrewarding approach to setting goals. These are the many reasons individuals fail to reach the summit of success. As luck would have it, however, these are also the very things that celebrated spiritual teachers, modest Buddhist monks and mystical Hindu sages have come to realize that meditation can help us overcome.
Of course ambition, hard work and perseverance will be needed for the voyage to the summit, but by undertaking a regular meditation practice, and supplying ourselves with the following evidence-based benefits that come from making the commitment, we’ll assuredly propel ourselves faster to the destination of achievement. As you’ll discover, just as we can get from one place to another faster by car than we can on foot, so to can we accelerate our arrival at the achievement of our goals via the mental vehicle of meditation:
Meditation Improves Concentration & Productivity:
For anyone who wants to reach the summit of success by achieving their most meaningful goals, it is certain that they’ll need to consistently focus their attention on accomplishing small stepping stone objectives over the course of a lengthy period of time. Yet still, even when aware of this truth, all too many individuals fail to manifest their loftiest aspirations because they concern themselves only with the desired rewards at the end of the journey instead of focusing on producing consistently great results each day.
Fortunately, by undertaking a regular meditation practice that revolves around the two important components of concentration and mindfulness, one can gain an increased ability to focus on present-moment tasks in a way that ultimately improves the quality of their work and increases their levels of productivity. This truth has recently been proven by the numerous scientific studies that’ve shown how meditation improves executive function processes such as attentional control, cognitive inhibition and self-control while also reducing concentrative detrains like stress, rumination and mind-wandering. The legendary Hindu sage who first brought Hinduism to America in 1893, Swami Vivekananda, tells us of concentration:
The world is ready to give up its secrets if we only know how to knock, how to give it the necessary blow. The strength and force of the blow come through concentration.”
Meditation Expands Mindful Awareness & Flexibility:
Where as the meditation practice component of concentration allows us to zone in on a particular object of focus, the counterpart component of mindfulness enables us to observe when our attention has gone astray and refocus it back on the task at hand. When considering the fact that one of the main reasons individuals fail to reach the summit of success is because they remain unaware of faulty cognitions and problematic behaviors, which often express themselves in the form of a stubborn attitude and overtly fixed achievement strategies, it becomes clear to see how improving our mindful awareness could benefit us.
In recent years, the meditative technique of Mindfulness Meditation has grown tremendously in popularity thanks to an array of physical, emotional and cognitive benefits individuals attain from harnessing their mindfulness, many of which directly relate to personal development and achievement. It’s certain that by increasing our levels of self-awareness and our willingness to be flexible in meditation practice, we’ll be able to hasten our journey to the summit of success. This truth has recently been backed by a plethora of scientific research that shows how the practice reduces cognitive rigidity, help individuals overcome negative emotional states and increases cognitive flexibility. Jon Kabat-Zinn, the celebrated creator of the globally recognized Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program, tells us of mindfulness:
Mindfulness is a way to rebalance ourselves. Instead of being lost in thought, or caught up in emotional upheaval, we can tip the scale in the direction of greater equanimity, clarity, wisdom and self-compassion by actually learning how to inhabit that other dimension of our being.”
Meditation Enhances Creative Thinking Skills:
One of the most dynamic ways to diminish the amount of time it takes to achieve goals is to conceptualizing and relying on new creative strategies that more effectively accomplish the tasks necessary. Yet, as many of us assuredly know, when we press ourselves to come up with better alternative methods, we almost always continue to find ourselves at square one. Paradoxically, however, if we calm our minds in meditation practice and quit straining for solutions to our problems, we’ll naturally begin to gain innovative insights that accelerate our journey to the summit of success.
In fact, not only have the great mystics told of the inspirational boost that comes from meditation, but scientific researchers have more recently shown how specific types of meditation techniques improve intuitive divergent thinking skills and logical convergent thinking skills, both of which are important components of creativity. The celebrated spiritual teacher and author Eckhart Tolle so appropriately tells us:
Stillness is where creativity and solutions to problems are found.”
Meditation Promotes Emotional Intelligence (EQ):
Ever since he published his groundbreaking book Emotional Intelligence, which stayed on the The New York Times bestseller list for a year-and-a-half, renowned psychologist Daniel Goleman has furthered his idea that emotional intelligence (EQ) is just as important for success, if not more so, than intelligence quotient (IQ). This means that because our ability to achieve at high-levels will largely comes down to our capacities to cultivate relationships and work well with others, it’s imperative that we develop and rely upon our socioemotional skills.
In total, Goleman tells us that the five personal constructs of EQ are self-awareness, self-regulation, social skills, empathy and motivation, and that to naturally develop these facilities, especially the all important skill of self-awareness, one of the best things we can do is commit ourselves to a regular meditation practice. Moreover, a variety of recent scientific studies have bolstered Goleman’s claim by showing how meditation decreases emotional reactivity, improves one’s effectiveness while communicating, and enhances their ability to empathetically see things from the perspective of others. The award-winning author reiterates his belief that EQ is more important than IQ by telling us:
If your emotional abilities aren’t in hand, if you don’t have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can’t have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far.”
Meditation Boosts Energy & Keeps Us Moving Forward:
Another reason that many individuals fail to achieve their loftiest goals is because they run themselves into the ground by ironically trying to will their way towards the summit of success with low levels of energy. Scientifically speaking, it’s widely believed that tiredness, fatigue and burnout greatly limit the effectiveness of individuals, theoretically slowing the achievement progression down, but westerns continue to operate with the mindset of tirelessly pushing themselves in what seems to be a race against time. Moreover, this push it to the limit mentality also gives way to the lack of mental fortitude and poor decision-making that often results in individuals quitting on their dreams.
Fortunately, evidence-based research has shown how the practice of meditation naturally leads to sustainably higher levels of energy and decreased feelings of fatigue and burnout, while also increasing the mentally resiliency that’s often needed to forge ahead. Additionally, studies have shown how meditative practices improve sleep quality and help treat sleep disorders such as insomnia. The celebrated spiritual teacher, author and holistic healer Deepak Chopra tells us:
Meditation is a vital way to purify and quiet the mind, thus rejuvenating the body.”
Meditation Beneficially Changes Our Perceptions:
It is certain that some of the biggest obstacles individuals have to overcome, before attaining the success they desire, are created by faulty and misguided perceptions. For many individuals, the beliefs they hold about themselves and their expectations for how long it should take them to achieve a goal are what ultimately stops them from ever reaching the summit. Of course limiting assumptions such as these can vary greatly from person to person, but there’s no doubt that the practice of meditation can help every individual find, challenge and change their uniquely prohibiting ways of thinking.
In fact, both spiritual teachers and scientific researchers have come to realize that the practice of meditation can help individuals see beyond their distorted perceptions, such as thinking success happens overnight. Additionally, the practice has been shown to help individuals exchange their doubt, self-criticism and self-hate for increased levels of self-esteem and subjective well-being. The celebrated Sri Lankan Buddhist monk and author of Mindfulness In Plain English, Bhante Henepola Gunaratana, tells us of meditation’s transformative effects:
The you that goes in one side of the meditation experience is not the same you that comes out the other side.”
Meditation Leads Us Towards Truly Meaningful Goals:
While each and every one of the previous six benefits we can attain from the practice of meditation will certainly be beneficial for our journey towards the summit of success, the single most important thing the practice can do is send us on a path towards truly meaningful life objectives. Unfortunately, in the western words, the vast majority of the population has come to falsely believe that their success is based upon social status, monetary wealth and material possessions despite the fact that the draining journey towards these things often makes them miserable and the fulfillment they experience after obtaining them eventually wains.
By undertaking a meditation practice, immersing ourselves in the teachings of the great eastern spiritual traditions of Buddhism and Hinduism, and improving our understanding of important spiritual concepts such as the ego and impermanence, however, we can come to redefine what success actually means and begin moving towards the goals that will bring us the lasting levels of happiness we’re ultimately after. None other than the Buddha himself told us:
Meditation brings wisdom; lack of mediation leaves ignorance. Know well what leads you forward and what holds you back, and choose the path that leads to wisdom.”
Developing Your Practice For The Journey Ahead:
Now that we have explored the vastly important success-related benefits individuals can attain from meditation, we can start preparing for the voyage ahead by developing our own practice. If you are new to meditation, there are a number of important factors to consider when laying the groundwork for what will hopefully become a lifelong endeavor. First, it’ll be important to determine which of the many meditation techniques best fits your needs, beliefs and goals for the practice. An individual who associates themselves with the Christian faith may be more drawn towards western mindfulness or a secular Buddhist practice, but a person who believes in one overarching God may become interested in the Mantra Meditation techniques of Hinduism. Ironically, it’s worth noting that the Sanskrit word Mantra actually translates to mean mind-vehicle in english.
Second, although it’ll be useful to introduce yourself to meditation by first practicing in short sessions that last five to ten minutes in duration, you’ll want to aim to build your practice up to two daily sessions of 20 to 30 minutes each. While this can seem like a lot of wasted time to new meditators, it’s important to remind ourselves of the vast benefits we can attain from consistently practicing. In fact, it is because of these benefits that the iconic Tibetan Buddhist Lama Sogyal Rinpoche tells us:
The gift of learning to meditate is the greatest gift you can give yourself in this lifetime.”
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In addition to technique and duration, it’s vital to understand that despite the fact that the benefits may be what attracts us to the practice, the single most important thing you can do is to let go of your expectations about attaining any of them and instead focus solely on following the instructions of your chosen technique in the present-moment while offering non-judgmental acceptance to whatever the experience brings. Paradoxically, if we seek the benefits of meditation, we’ll be slower to attain them, where as if we let go of all expectations and desires, we’ll be able to enjoy them sooner. Lastly, it’s worth reiterating how beneficial it can be for you to immerse yourself in the spiritual teachings of the east and focus on your internal development rather than external acquisition. As the legendary mountaineer Edmund Hillary, the man who first summited Mount Eveest in 1953, famously told us:
It is not the mountains we conquer but ourselves.”