It's easy to forget that we are all perfect in our own design. Sometimes we muck it up with habits and choices that do not serve us.
Meditation has a built-in problem that needs solving, the problem of noncompliance. Countless people have taken up the practice, motivated by the benefits of meditation supported by literally thousands of studies. The first few sessions go well, which is encouraging, but it is only a matter of time before meditation becomes one more thing we don’t have time for.
Letting your meditation drop away seems to affect every kind of practice, no matter how simple, including mindfulness, mantra meditation, Buddhist Vipassana, and so on. Even sitting for 10 minutes following your breath, which is the simplest meditation of all, doesn’t manage to stick. The result is that the vast majority of people stop meditating and never go back, while a much smaller number meditate “when I feel I need it.”
The number one reason for noncompliance is that everyday life is too busy, too full of work, family, TV, texting, eating out, and all the rest. But if we reframe the situation, meditation can be effective and effortless at the same time. Let’s accept that occasional meditation, although it might bring a moment’s respite from a busy day, hasn’t worked out for you. Instead of feeling guilty, you can begin a radically different practice.
In place of occasional meditation, you can shift to “total meditation,” a useful term for bringing the mind into a meditative state anytime you want. The technique is simplicity itself. Whenever you notice that you are distracted, stressed, feeling burdened, anxious, or out of sorts, use this as a trigger to return to the mind’s natural state of inner peace and quiet. The steps are as follows:
Total meditation, being spontaneous, is effortless. And because you do it anytime you like for a few minutes, the practice fits into the busiest days. At first you might find yourself doing the practice six or more times a day. but over time your mind will become trained to seek the meditative state more quickly and easily.
I describe the implications of this practice in a new book, Total Meditation, whose basic principle will surprise many people. In medicine it has long been known that the body automatically seeks a balanced state known as homeostasis. If you go for a run or a session at the gym, your body adapts to the increased activity in many ways that include changes in heart rate, blood pressure, oxygenation of muscles, digestion, and much more. Homeostasis is dynamic and holistic.
But there has been a reluctance to grant the mind the same automatic return to a state of balance, even though the evidence is quite clear. Between every thought your mind goes into a silent gap from which the next thought emerges. If you experience a momentary emotional upset, your mind can stay there only so long before the upset is gone. Even long-term upsets like grief over losing a loved one will eventually, for the vast majority of people, return to the person’s emotional set point.
Without knowing it, perhaps, you are already experiencing how important the mind’s rebalancing ability is. The chief benefit is a healing one. Every school and type of meditation takes advantage of this healing effect.
Mindfulness is the way your mind recovers from distraction. You are brought back into the present moment.
Self-Inquiry is the way your mind recovers from habits. By asking yourself, “Why am I doing this?” you bring conscious attention to a situation where you have been ruled by habit, routine, obsessive behavior, knee-jerk reactions, and stagnant beliefs.
Reflection is the way your mind recovers from thoughtlessness. You regard your behavior, see what is self-defeating or troubling about it, and realize what is actually going on.
Contemplation is the way your mind recovers from confusion. When faced with multiple choices, each with its pros and cons, you sort everything out by contemplating the situation until you have a certain level of clarity.
Concentration is the way your mind recovers from pointlessness. It is pointless to do a careless job, having careless opinions, and relate to other people in an unconcerned or arbitrary way.
Prayer is the way your mind recovers from helplessness. By contacting a higher power, you are acknowledging a need for connection.
Quiet mind is the way your mind recovers from overwork. The mind is constantly processing daily life and its challenges, but when mental activity becomes burdensome, there is a risk of exhaustion, anxiety, and mental agitation. The mind naturally wants to be quiet when no activity is necessary.
There is no firm dividing line among these practices, and all arise naturally out of the mind’s natural tendency to rebalance itself whenever it detects a state of imbalance. Total meditation expand upon this natural tendency and consciously directs it as needed. It is effortless to center yourself during the day, and the more you make it a habit, the deeper your meditative state will be. More importantly, your life outside meditation will become more conscious, again without effort on your part. (In the book I address examples of stress, habits, and old conditioning that have become chronic. They can be serious conditions, but they are still open to the healing touch of meditation, if approached in the right way.)
I’ve come to feel that occasional meditation’s problems can be solved in this simple way. The problems won’t go away simply by promising yourself that you will try harder to keep up your practice. It’s good news, I think, that a better way exists.
Reprinted from San Francisco Chronicle with permission
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