All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone. –Blaise Pascal
All the practices we’ve been talking about require some degree of reflection, which in turn is well-supported by a daily activity that helps us down-shift from our normal workaday pace. We can’t be mindful and frantic at the same time.
Many times I’ve heard people say, “I tried meditating, but I just can’t do it.” There are several possible reasons for this statement. Some people mistake deep concentrative states for meditation and have difficulty achieving what they think “meditation” is. Some people don’t give it a fair go: “I tried it for twenty minutes!” Others don’t believe it’s important.
Let me go on record saying that it is important to have a daily practice that supports our mindful reflection throughout the day. There is now scientific evidence that a regular mindfulness practice reduces stress and increases well-being for everyone, including schoolchildren and the incarcerated.
So, I want to encourage each of us to commit to finding and pursuing a daily calming activity that works for us. The two essential elements are a relaxed body and space for the mind to settle (relatively) outside the “me-centered” framework. This leaves a wide array of choices
1. Traditional meditation practices
- Mindfulness of breathing
- Mantra meditation (e.g., “Budh-ho”, repeated internally with the in-breath and out-breath)
- Walking meditation (walking for a period of time in a straight line & back again, mindful of the body)
- Mettā (kindness) or karuṇā (compassion) meditations
- Sweeping the attention methodically through the body from top to bottom and then back again – repeat.
- Chanting (from memory) words and phrases that are meaningful to the practitioner. Personal prayer and participating in Catholic mass could fit this category.
2. Non-traditional methods can be anything that raises awareness of body and mind and provides relief from thinking about “me”:
- Tai-chi or other martial art forms
- Swimming without external distractions (timers or radio)
- Inquiry: try to identify/locate one’s self, physically or otherwise
There are many other practices that may cultivate calm, the above are only examples. The two essentials are dailiness and commitment while practicing.
Gardening, making art, and other outward-focused activities may calm the mind temporarily and can be useful, but they don’t provide the opportunity for the “small self” to be examined and transcended. As soon as our absorption is over, we snap right back to the me-centered universe. An inward focus makes mindfulness different.
There are myriad resources to help establish a daily practice. Eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) courses are available in many, if not most, cities and can be very useful in getting started.
I don’t often talk about meditation because there are other, better sources on the internet and (especially) in person to fulfil this need. I don’t want to leave the impression, though, that it’s an optional extra. We have to train our minds just as we train our bodies if we want to develop and not decline. Only we can make the difference by prioritizing our own growth daily.