Exhale. Smile. Soften the Heart.
Meditation is a millennia's old practice that has been embraced by modern science. Meditation is appreciated as a spiritual and wellness practice that is separate from any religious belief. I have been a student and practitioner of meditation for about 35 years. I practice daily because I have seen the benefits of meditation in my life. Meditation has helped me to become less judgmental, less impulsive, less depressed, as well as more relaxed, more joyful, and more compassionate.
Meditation is the practice of attending to the mind's natural tendency to be filled to overflowing with thoughts, memories, worries, speculation, plans, regrets, fantasies, fears, and so on. Meditation trains the mind (just the way we 'train' in sports, the arts, or languages) to be aware of our own mental activities: meditation helps us learn to witness our mind's antics, and not take them so seriously.
Buddhists have a saying, “Don't believe your own thoughts,” because so often our thoughts are based on incomplete information, self-absorption, or the flight-or-fight response that arises when we feel threatened by a social interaction that doesn't go as we wish. (Of course, flight-or-fight-or freeze is an excellent response when a tiger is chasing us. This ancient brain reaction is not so helpful in our daily life today).
Meditation invites us to calm and settle the mind. We help it by giving it something to focus upon: in different meditation traditions this could be a mantra (repeating a few meaningful words in English or another language); or a visual focus (a flower in a vase, a view out the window, a candle flame) ; or our ongoing breath (INHALE...EXHALE...INHALE...EXHALE); or the sounds around us (birds, weather, lawn-mowers); or the movement of our bodies (deliberate walking or other simple repeated movements). The mind, often likened to a curious monkey or frisky puppy, naturally skips away from the focus, so the real essence of meditation occurs when we bring the attention back to the focus we have chosen. Back to the words, the flower, the breath. Inevitably, mind skips away again. When it does, we return again to the words, the flower, or the next breath. We return with compassion and with no negative judgments.
Gradually, I have noticed that in real life, when my thoughts take me down an unhealthy path, I can notice them, stop, and (sometimes) shift my thoughts and actions in a more productive direction. I am less limited by my preconceptions and I am (sometimes) more tolerant of the ”antics” of the minds of others. This is why I view meditation as a good practice for the rest of my life: to build perception, compassion and wisdom, one breath at a time.