Meditation is Not Required

I recently found a kindred spirit in the book “Insight: Why We’re Not as SELF-AWARE as We Think, and How SEEING OURSELVES CLEARLY HELPS US SUCCEED at Work and In Life,” by Tasha Eurich. Among a good number of theories and ideas she presents in this well-researched book, her views on meditation vibrated with me.

As hard as I have tried numerous times, I have never been able to mediate for longer than a few minutes. IS SOMETHING WRONG WITH ME?

Eurich, who includes her personal experiences in the book, which I enjoy from any author, is also a non-meditator, so to speak. To explore this aspect of herself in more depth, Eurich set out on trip – apprehensively – with her younger sister to spend a weekend at a Buddhist mindfulness meditation retreat center. She noted how mindfulness and meditation techniques and practices have grown in popularity, but “as a hard-nosed scientist, the activity always felt a bit woo-woo to me.”

What is mindfulness meditation? As one online dictionary notes, it is a “form of mediation or induced relaxation that focuses awareness on breathing and encourages positive attitudes to achieve a healthy, balanced mental state.”

Erurich pointed out, however, that “mindfulness and meditation are not always synonymous,” referring to extensive research by Harvard Psychologist Ellen Langer, who showed how meditation is not the only way to practice mindfulness. Langer added in an interview how many of the people she knew “won’t sit still for five minutes, let alone forty.” Yes, exactly, count me in that group, as well as Eurich.

“I know the feeling,” Eurich wrote. “Truth be told, the idea of relaxing in the present moment has always kind of stressed me out. Like many of my type A compatriots, my nirvana is achieved by checking off all of the items on my daily to-do list.”

Aha! Yes, I too feel most in tune with meaning and purpose, as well as feeling extraordinarily calm, after I have completed a project.  I also feel rather calm and mindful while in the flow of any major undertaking I have decided to take on. Could it be that working on something I enjoy and watching it come to fruition is more of a form of mindfulness meditation than sitting cross-legged, repeating “Om.” Should I even be comparing mindfulness meditation to the act of challenging and satisfying work I enjoy?

Actually, there are different types of meditation to take under consideration. According to some estimates there are more than twenty types of meditation. For example, the very prevalent transcendental meditation is different than the growing-in-popularity mindfulness meditation.

According to The Meditation Trust, mindfulness

encourages the cultivation of nonjudgmental, moment-to-moment awareness both during the practice and in everyday life. By repeatedly returning our conscious awareness to the immediate present (e.g. the breath, body, an activity or object) we are able to observe anxious or depressive thought patterns, and empower ourselves to make conscious choices rather than being mindlessly controlled by them, and led into habitual negative behavior. It also helps us to embrace whatever our current experience is (including emotional or physical pain) rather than trying to escape or get into a struggle and thereby amplify it.

TM entails NOT “returning the attention to an awareness of ‘what is’ (via the breath, body or other objects as in mindfulness). TM is the use of a specific mantra, or sound, which acts as the most effective vehicle for transcending. This process liberates rather than trains the mind, allowing it to settle effortlessly into a silence more profound than the present moment.”

Regardless of meditation types, I’ve always felt that life in and of itself is one big meditation, or can I say one big mindfulness pursuit? Does that make sense?

Eurich also mentioned the work of University of Wisconsin Psychologist Timothy Wilson “who found that participants in a series of studies from a range of ages generally did not enjoy spending even brief periods of time alone in a room with nothing but their thoughts. . . Some even preferred to give themselves mild electric shocks than to think.”

But perhaps the most striking result of Eurich’s experimentation with mindfulness meditation came near the end of the weekend when she and her sister paid a visit to a phenomenal Buddhist shrine, the Great Stupa of Dharmakaya. After spending time meditating at the shrine she felt her Type A brain finally feeling “perfectly calm. In that moment, I understood what all the fuss was about,” she proclaimed.

She went home with a new-found desire to get herself a meditation cushion and redesign her office into a “mindfulness mecca.” She continued to mediate for a few days but then stopped completely, going back to her old non-meditative self. That non-meditative self, however, is simply being mindful “without the mantras,” she explained. Things like going for a walk, or simply focusing on the here and now (being present), or turning off your cell phone and simply spending some time noticing the unfamiliar, along with testing out and experiencing new perspectives – these are all examples of non-meditative mindfulness.

So, to conclude, yes, NOTHING IS WRONG WITH ME – OR YOU – FOR NOT BEING ABLE TO MEDITATE.

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