I thought I’d write a brief entry on some of the lesser-reported benefits of meditation. We often read it protects us from anxiety and depression, it increases our net amount of happiness, and it gives us more control over our thoughts (or at least a greater capacity to deal with them), but I find some other benefits I rarely if ever hear mentioned in connection with meditation.

First up, one of the best things about meditation is that it shows you that everything other than your body is unnecessary for some things in life. No fancy dojo? No problem. No classy zafu? No sweat. No enlightened sage to guide you through a mystical internal journey? Never mind. No clothes? Well, we can’t have it all. No arms, or legs? No eyes, ears, nose, tongue… no big deal, when it comes to meditation. You can literally meditate with nothing more than your bare consciousness, unlike almost any other human activity. This is tremendously humbling! It shows us that there is no need for superficial things, and no requirement for high-end sound systems and the latest games consoles to find contentment. It waits within us all, irrespective of our outer circumstances.

The next unpublished benefit of meditation is that it teaches you how unimportant small pockets of time are. “These damn traffic lights, I’ve been waiting for 5 minutes now!” we mutter under our breaths. The meditator knows that five minutes can feel like an eternity, but is in fact just five minutes. Or ten, twenty, thirty. We take this small moment out of our pre-existing day and what do we lose? What irreversible problem does this “lost” half hour create? The meditator knows that a short part of their day is of no significance, and this teaches patience. Patience at the light, or with the elderly relative who repeats themselves, or with the child who needs one more trip to the loo before you head out. You can afford ten minutes – the world won’t end.

Another unremarked benefit of meditation is the increased awareness of the nature of distractions. When we meditate, the world around us doesn’t stop. I have two small kids and life can be hectic in every room of my house at times, so I meditated in the bathroom the other day. What happened? The cat began meowing and clawing at the door, begging to be let in to go lap water from the sink. Did I think “Damn cat! Little bugger won’t give me a minute’s sodding peace?”… well, yes I did, briefly. I let the thought go, like leaves in the wind. It drifted off, I reached out a hand to let the cat come in, and my meditation continued undisturbed by the grateful lapping right beside my right ear. The truth is distractions will always happen, but they needn’t truly “distract” us, if we hold true to our purpose. The meditator carries this wisdom into other parts of their life, acknowledging their urges and their habits but not necessarily submitting to them.

The final unpublicised benefit of meditation I’ll mention involves the end of the meditation sitting. I have a little timer on my phone, which rings a beautiful long-chiming bell when my personal allotted time is up. The bell rings, and I know it’s time to return to reality. I suspect every person who has meditated can relate to that notion of “bringing yourself back to the room”; the feeling that you must “return” to external reality, even though you’ve spent the last few moments completely at one with it. For me this tells a very important fact: we “put on” reality, like a coat. When we meditate, we gradually shed it, but at the end of the session we can’t simply open our eyes, spring up and carry on as if nothing happened. We must, in a very real sense, resume our engagement with the external world. This is tremendously important! It reveals the true nature of our interaction, our transactions with the external world. We add it, as we would add a coat and scarf, to our innate and fundamental experience of reality. This highlights the undeniable conceptual nature of our interaction with external reality; indeed, our distinction between internal and external worlds.

I hope this has been an enlightening entry. I don’t think there are any surprises here for those who meditate, and nor do I expect these points have in all of human history never been written down before – they just seem to be marked down as “less important” than the perceived health benefits of the regular practice of meditation. But there is more to meditation than just mastery over your feelings. As Shunryu Suzuki memorably said, “If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything; it is open to everything.”