Light Watkins believes in the power of silence.
An internationally recognized meditation teacher and author, Light has taught thousands of people all across the world how to meditate. Instead of using a one size fits all approach, Light uses the art of storytelling to support people in finding their own inner peace and happiness.
How did you find meditation?
I first discovered meditation from reading various spiritual books in my mid-twenties, starting with Celestine Prophecy. I consider Conversations with God to be the gateway book, because after devouring that series about 4 times I read everything I could on metaphysics, meditation, and spirituality. My first direct experiences with meditation were pretty underwhelming. I was attending a class on the upper west side of manhattan, in the bell tower of a church, and I never felt like I was getting anywhere. I tried it in yoga class too, but I was stiff and couldn’t sit comfortably for more than a few minutes.
It wasn’t until I was introduced to a meditation teacher years later, in Los Angeles, that I began to truly experience a depth of awareness in meditation. Having a proper teacher made all of the difference in me being a meditation dabbler versus becoming a daily meditator. Now I meditate every day like clockwork, and enjoy the deepest experiences imaginable.
In your book, The Inner Gym, you posit that happiness is the result of having strong “inner” muscles. What are inner muscles and how can we develop them?
Inner muscles are emotional and spiritual muscles that can only be developed by accessing your inner consciousness. You can do this by random acts of giving from the heart, by allowing others to give to you, from exercising patience, from expressing gratitude, and of course by meditating. I used the metaphor of the gym because it’s a system we can all easily understand and appreciate. Muscles don’t happen overnight, and for anyone who has dedicated themselves to a workout regimen to build muscles, they know it takes dedication and consistency, not to mention lifting a lot of heavy weights.
Ronnie Coleman, the six time winner of the Mr. Olympia competition, famously said, “Everybody wants to be big, but don’t nobody want to lift these heavy ass weights.” It’s the same with happiness, everybody wants to be happy, but hardly anyone appreciates the inner lifting you have to do in order to experience true happiness—I’m referring to the kind of happiness that you have when life doesn’t seem to be going your way.
What are some of the benefits to regular meditation? Does science back this up?
There are a myriad of benefits, but what I’ve found in the 12 years I’ve been practicing and teaching the same style of meditation (which is Vedic Meditation), is that there is no one-size fits all benefits package. It’s catered to the individual, and comes in waves. For some period of time, sleep will be enhanced, then you’ll move into a cycle of problem solving, then you discover this inherent athletic ability, like that. You notice different things at different times. Some people stop smoking and stop drinking coffee, while others may start drinking coffee. The thinking is that nothing is inherently bad for everyone, or inherently good for everyone in the same ways.
I’ve found that the science of meditation is mostly correlation without causation. You can find a study or a method of studying meditation that says it does all kinds of wonderful things. But that hasn’t been my direct experience. It’s more subtle and surgical than that. That’s why you have to read the fine print on the studies. Because we need to know who was being studied, and under what conditions, and which method were they practicing, and how did they learn this method, and for how long had they been meditating? All of these variables play a role in the purported benefits. However, if you ask anyone who’s been meditating for any significant length of time if they’ve benefitted from it, they will say yes, but they may not be able to articulate exactly how. It’s like describing how a watermelon tastes to someone who has never eaten one, using other fruits as examples.
What’s the biggest misconception about meditation?
The biggest misconception is that there is an off switch to your mind. And if you can somehow find it, you’ll experience happiness and inner peace. Well, it’s actually the other way around. Instead of looking for silence, you should look for happiness and peace within the thinking process. In other words, happily embrace all of the thoughts, and from doing so, you’ll experience inner silence. It’s weird, but that’s how it works.
You teach meditation all across the world. What have you learned from your travels?
I’ve learned that there are people everywhere who crave inner peace, and that stress is the biggest hazard to accessing our full potential. It’s so all-encompassing that we don’t even realize how much it is controlling our lives. And talking about stress, in the context of meditation, is like the parable of the one fish asking the other fish what’s it like to swim in water, and the fish answers, “What’s water?” If people truly understood how debilitating stress was on their potential, or better yet, how much greater they could be in their lives if it wasn’t for all the stress, they’d put daily meditation right up there with eating and sleeping and brushing your teeth.
You have taught bankers, rock stars, CEOs, politicians, comedians and more to meditate. How do you make your teaching accessible to a such a diverse range of people.
No matter who you are or what you do, everyone loves a good story. So I teach in story form. I use lots of relatable analogies, which increases the rate of retention. I keep everything as simple as possible, and I offer a lot of support. Adults in general have a hard time with meditation, not because the technique is hard, but because of the opposite: it’s too easy. And as we grow older, we become indoctrinated with the belief that life has to be this hard journey, where we have to work ourselves to the bone, control everything, remember as much as possible, and maintain a heightened state of awareness at all times. But when we approach meditation in this way, we got the opposite result that we’re looking for. True meditation occurs. It’s not something you can force. It’s like daydreaming. We all daydream, but we can’t daydream at will. It’s got to happen when we least expect it to happen. Slipping into a deeper state of awareness is the same. It happens not when you’re controlling it, but when you least expect it to happen.
You’re the founder of The Shine where you use music, film, philanthropy and storytelling to inspire people to “do more, give more, and be more.” What was the genesis of The Shine?
One of my favorite Emerson quotes is, “Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be.” I wanted to create a micro community built around that chief want. At the same time, I love entertainment, and making new friends.
The problem with our culture is that connecting socially usually involves consuming alcohol, and that seems backwards to me. How can I make meaningful connections and get truly inspired when all the while, I’m dimming my consciousness. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-alcohol, I’m just pro-consciousness. I find that when I have more consciousness, I’m a much better version of myself than when I’m tipsy. I don’t usually do or say things that I regret later, and I can sleep better at night. Not to mention, I’m much more inspired when I’m clear-eyed and brighter in spirit.
The Shine is an alternative event for people who like making meaningful connections, who want to get inspired, and who can go a few hours without alcohol in their system, which I find leads to a truly amazing experience for all in attendance.
Antonio Neves is the Director of Higher Education for about.me. He is a graduate of Western Michigan University and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. You can find him on Twitter at @TheAntonioNeves.