Whether it’s ten easy tips to mindfulness, or how meditation can make you a millionaire, or any other amount of click bait titles, there seems to be an ever increasing pool of sources trying to sell meditation like it’s a seven easy steps guide to enlightenment. That if only you’d turn on your meditation app for 15 minutes a day you’d achieve Nirvana before you got a chance to quit a half -hearted New Year’s resolution.
Meditation is a hard thing to do. Not least because the breathing part of meditation, perhaps the most important part, isn’t taught as important at any point in most people’s lives. Meditation is also serious business. Finding better and better meditative states is a true challenge, and takes years and years to master. That doesn’t mean that trying to meditate is bad or unproductive, by the way. Trying to meditate and reeling yourself back in when you wander can be just as good. For many though, it’s better to be contemplative than meditative. Meditation, in my own mind, has religious and spiritual connotations to it, that lend themselves to a much more serious vein than something that we should all be doing, and the two are often conflated. Meditation works towards finding a link to a deeper consciousness, and on exploring that focused link. Contemplation is simply thinking on one’s life, and realigning your emotions and your thoughts to be in line with where you want to be going. Meditation leads you in a certain direction of thought, while contemplation can lead you to where you think you want to go. I say think because how often do we actually know where we want to go? Contemplation is the moment when we reflect, and try and see ourselves clearly for a moment.
Like your diet, how much you exercise, or any other major life shift. Taking time to reflect is a lifestyle change. It means that you’re going to be doing this thing, no matter what else occurs in your day. It’s not an optional, if I have time, maybe i’ll go contemplate tomorrow. It means that the other factors in your life will have to wait until after it’s over. Luckily, 99.99% of all the things in your life will, and all those other things in your life will be better for your having taken those moments.
One way that I found is through Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath. From Friday at Sunset, when the sun touches the horizon line, to Saturday at Sunset, simply don’t work. Spend time with your family, read, take a walk, reflect, take a nap, teach yourself a language, build that woodworking project you said you were going to three years ago. Do literally anything other than work. Just enjoy the day, and rest. And give thanks to the greater deity that you may pray to. Be grateful that you have your life and whatever people you love, or things you may own. This is admittedly a more religious way of going about things, but the thought is what makes the action religious, not the action itself. It could be secular just as easily if you are simply grateful for what you have and don’t believe in a higher power. During that time, G-d or no, lay down your stresses of the week and allow yourself time to reassess. It’s cliched to the point of near death that we run so fast and so hard in our day to day life that we forget where we’re running to and why. It’s the truth though. We have a strange obsession in the United States, not with being productive and busy, but trying to appear productive and busy. Our national pastime isn’t a sport, it’s trying to one-up each other on how busy we are, and how much we have to do, and you wouldn’t believe my long list of things that I simply have to get done. At the same time however, those same people are spending plenty of time drinking or goofing or watching tv or scrolling through social media. Which is fine in moderation. If we’re being honest though, are you busy, or just trying to pretend you’re busy?
Now, tons of people lead busy lives. If you’re one of those people, great, but that also doesn’t mean you’re living a productive life or a good life. It simply means that you’re creating things to take up your time. We often say to each other, “Oh my gosh, I’m so busy, I don’t know if I have the time.” It’s not whether you have the time, it’s whether you want to spend that time. If something is important to you, you can find the time to make room for it. Mr. and Ms. Magnanimous that let you know, “Oh I think I might have time. What about an hour after breakfast? ” Well, sorry, I wouldn’t want to inconvenience you. Your life is about spending time with those you care about, developing yourself, and learning about the world around you. Your life is not your job, and your life is not the distractions that you put in front of yourself to turn today into tomorrow. The hard part is that the more you hate your job, and the worse the situation in your life, the more you want to distract yourself; the more you want to turn off that feeling awake part of you that has to deal with the compounding weight of your day to day--that pressure that feels like it’s building up inside of you until you might crack open like an engine that’s been run to its limit.
Your pressure release valve isn’t distraction. Not the sickly sweet sound bites that dull the psychic pain that we all feel in our lives every day, of being conscious and having agency in the world, but by the silence. That is what we possess to measure ourselves by. The moments when you let the world around you move away, and all you have to listen to is whatever bubbles up from inside of you. It will surprise you, and terrify you, and elate you. That silence is also where you get rid of all that excess nonsense that’s been cluttering up your time. When you’re able to take a walk and just think about what’s going on for half an hour. Just walk and not talk, you get a chance to realign your entire life. That project that’s been stressing you out all day? You realize that it’ll get finished, one way or another. You just have to work on it as best you can and let the chips fall where they may. There’ll always be another project after that one. That person who cut you off on the highway? You realize that they didn’t ruin your day, you’re letting them ruin your whole day.
We also have to realize that the world around us is designed to make us more stressed. From the sounds that we hear, car horns, engines, heavy machinery, shouting, to what we see, flashing lights, bright colors, anxiety inducing questions, to what we work in, confined spaces with harsh lights and hard floors. All of these things create stress, pushing us towards those distractions, and that comfort food, and those substances and substitutes for relaxation that we create in our lives. When we’re quiet, we realign all of those priorities that find themselves so out of whack, and give ourselves permission to pursue the things that we truly desire.
Now, this sounds super new age mystical, but it’s really not. It only becomes mystical, or religious, if you add mysticism or religion to it. If you don’t, it’s simply a good, practical habit that will make your life better and allow you to be a better person, pursue what you really want in life more clearly, and remove the mental junk that clutters you up.