JUST SIT THERE!
I’ve seen a lot of people over the years start a meditation practice only to give it up after a short time. I’m not surprised. Meditation is the simplest thing in the world but is also the most perplexing, the most baffling, and the most challenging. People start a meditation practice full of expectations, usually about how it will make them calmer, more focused, more relaxed and so on. Images of attractive young women in great looking yoga wear, sitting cross-legged on some distant, exotic beach at sunset while radiating an air of bliss, do nothing to prepare people for the reality of meditation practice. Sure, meditation can help you deal with your stress and it can lead you to bring a little bit of equanimity into your life – or maybe quite a lot – and it can also be a great source of peace when things get tough but it can also make you face up to some uncomfortable realities. Angry thoughts might keep bubbling up: and one thing we surely don’t want when we are trying to get to some blissful place is to feel angry. Most definitely not. So, the conclusion might be that meditation “doesn’t work” because the “purpose” of meditation is to feel good, isn’t it? Well actually – no it isn’t. If you feel anger it just means there are angry feelings present. Maybe you’re an angry person. It’s no big deal, honestly. If you are able to lay your anger out there and really look at it for what it really is, then you might be able to disarm its power to control your life. But you will never know that unless you can bring the kind of scrutiny to it that can only happen with meditation. Trouble is – it’s not very easy. In a society addicted to quick fixes, meditation is a bit – well – boring. If there is one thing our society abhors more than anything else, it is the horror that is boredom. We’ll do anything to avoid that that. Absolutely anything.
I am often struck by how resistant many people are to the idea of meditation. “Mindfulness, that’s fine, we get that – but meditation, that’s not for me”, they will tell me. “I’ll do my practice while I’m jogging in the park or having my daily shower – that’s what I’ll do. But I’m not so sure about that meditation business. That’s boring and quite honestly I don’t really have time for it and I’m not sure it does any good and isn’t it a bit flaky and weird anyway? Can’t I do my mindfulness practice on the sofa while I’m watching Corrie and eating pizza?” Well maybe they don’t say that last bit but there are a million variations on that particular theme and I think I must have heard them all. To be honest, I’ve probably created a few of these little rationalisations myself. Sadly that is true; getting on the cushion every day, even after donkey’s years of meditation practice, can still be a bit of a chore. That’s just the way it is.
OK I’m going to be quite clear here; if you are serious about your practice you will need to do some kind of formal meditation on a daily basis. I have come across writers and teachers who will tell you that mindfulness can be cultivated in the course of everyday life without the necessity to meditate. But I don’t go along with that. There are lots of informal practices that you can use to bring the fruits of your training into the world that we live in; the messy, complicated, infuriating, silly and occasionally heart-breaking lives that we inhabit every day. But behind it all must be a solid foundation of meditation practice. The primary instruction in meditation is “don’t do anything”. In other words, don’t move, don’t react, don’t change anything – just watch what arises. In this way we bring a fierce attention to the workings of our own minds. We learn how our minds create the stress and unhappiness that we all endure. And these are the lessons that we can apply in the informal practices. The muscle of mindfulness is built up in formal practice but is applied in day to day life. Ultimately we come to realise that what happens when we sit and when we live the rest of our lives can’t be separated – it’s all meditation.
So my invitation is to start a regular meditation practice if you don’t already have one. Find a place where you can sit that is quiet and comfortable and then make it a regular, indispensable part of your daily routine. Don’t stint on it. Make it your priority every day. And if you want to know how long is it is ok to meditate – let’s say 10 minutes. If you manage longer, that’s fine. The important thing is that it is every day. No need for lotus posture, incense sticks, chanting, rituals, mantras or gurus. None of those things matter. Just sit, on a chair if that’s comfortable for you, eyes open or eyes closed, back straight, feet on the floor and watch the breath for ten minutes. It will be the best ten minutes you will spend all day. And if you feel you need some guidance while you are doing it, there are plenty of places where you can find it. This might be a good place to start. Good luck!