Relaxation? I Meditate for Strength!

By Minji

“There seems to be this general belief that if you’re happy, not stressed, and can control your emotions, meditation isn’t necessary. Having lived this practice for a while now, I totally disagree.  I meditate for various reasons, but the main purpose is strength, not relaxation.” 

I’ve kept a regular meditation practice for about five years now.  I try to meditate for 20-30 minutes at least 4-5 days a week and go on an annual silent retreat.  Without exaggeration, it’s fundamentally changed the way I view myself and life (especially work) and interact with others.  It’s something that I found to be truly transformative and powerful, so of course I want to share it. I often talk about my practice, and people ask me about it. 

One of the things I’ve noticed during these exchanges is that people tend to think meditation is mainly for relaxation and stress reduction.  There seems to be this general belief that if you’re happy, not stressed, and can control your emotions, meditation isn’t necessary.  Having lived this practice for a while now, I totally disagree.  I meditate for various reasons, but the main purpose is strength, not relaxation. 

People who know me might find this surprising.  I am a classic type A over achiever.  I have many areas of improvement in my personality, but strength isn’t usually one of them.  I’m pretty bold – if I set my mind to it, I’ll do it and I’m not afraid of confrontation when it’s necessary.  With these tendencies, I can see why people might think I meditate to relax or relieve stress.  Of course, there’s some of that but the most magical thing about meditation for me is how it helps strengthen my mind. 

Meditation can be explained in a variety of ways but my favorite analogy is comparing it to lifting weights.  Like you wouldn’t expect to develop muscles after one training session, one meditation session won’t transform your mind.  But just like weight training, where if you keep at it, one day your body can become incredibly strong, by meditating and working out your mind on a regular basis, you can one day become a mental warrior. 

This is a little embarrassing to admit, but I channel my inner master wu-gui (the turtle from Kungfu Panda) when I meditate, and it makes me feel badass.  A mindfulness teacher for the Chicago Bulls once said, it doesn’t matter what domain a person who is excellent at what they do is in – there’s inevitably a meditative quality to their training and performance.  Certain universal qualities are there like wise effort, wisdom, concentration, faith, and confidence.  Meditation is key in developing all of these skills. 

Meditation can help develop mental strength so you’re stronger when challenges arise.  It helps you not immediately react to adversity but instead respond in a thoughtful way.  I’m far from master wu-gui but more recently, when I am placed in challenging situations, I am much better at letting go and accepting the present moment.  

These days it often feels like that “split second” between the adverse event happening and me choosing a rash reaction or a thoughtful response, is more like a good five seconds – and that’s enough time for me to make better choices with fewer regrets.  This has made all the difference in my personal relationships, the decisions I make in life, and how I feel deep down in my soul.   

Just like working out with weights, meditation also isn’t always easy or convenient, especially when you’re just beginning.  Similar to many other beneficial things in life, like a good skincare routine or nutrition, the key is committing to a regular practice, even it’s just 5-10 minutes at first.  Try a few guided meditations if you're just beginning and dare to see how your life changes.