I’ve been reading about relaxation, stress and meditation at bit recently, as well as thinking about different approaches to meditation. I felt one book had a particularly helpful approach and definition of meditation explaining that it is essentially when you are ‘just being’.
When you are ‘being’, you’re living in that moment, you’re free from distractions, you’re not tied to the past or anxious about the future, your emotions are not controlling your mind, and your awareness or consciousness is in a ‘pure’ state of being. (See The Calm Technique by Paul Wilson. Published in 1985 but still available second hand.)
Just after finishing this book I was sent a link to a newspaper article about an ultra-runner’s experience which sounds very similar to meditation: “The longer and farther I ran, the more I realised that what I was often chasing was a state of mind – a place where worries that seemed monumental melted away, where the beauty and timelessness of the universe, of the present moment, came into sharp focus.” That sounds very like the state of mind reached in meditation. This runner was fully in the present moment, completely absorbed in it.
But during meditation workshops or yoga retreats I’ve often wondered how the ‘be in the present moment’ approach works. I would think ‘But I need to plan X, or Y. Isn’t it a bit short sighted only to be in the present?’
What Paul Wilson explains in his book is that you can still plan ahead, but you do that at a specific time for planning ahead. You don’t do it whilst you’re writing a letter or report. When you’re in a yoga class you’re in a yoga class, not planning your shopping list. When you’re planning your shopping list you’re planning your shopping list, not worrying about next week’s deadline. He explains that when the mind is distracted it is less efficient and creates tension and centring your attention on one activity is more calming. Also if you can focus just on the task you’re doing, you can be in the present moment and can help harness your powers of concentration. This helps with your actual meditation practice.
I can see how, when I’m in work, emails and phone calls distract me, but also when I’m writing a report or something, I’m also partially thinking about other pieces of work. It’s quite difficult just to focus on that one piece work. But when I flit from task to task I do sometimes feel less efficient. The benefits of being more focused not only are increased efficiency but also when our minds are less cluttered with lots of distracting thoughts, there’s more scope for creativity, insight and wisdom.
He also argues that we shouldn’t put the radio or music on when we’re doing other tasks, as that is distracting. However I really like music or the radio whilst washing up! His argument is that it’s distracting you from the task in hand and you’re not fully ‘in the moment’ or being. But sometimes, when I’ve got a problem to solve or I want to think about the content of a forthcoming talk or mull over a themed yoga class idea, I find it helpful to do this when I’m walking or cycling to/from work. Strictly speaking that isn’t being totally in the moment, but, I find it useful thinking time. So, I can see his point, but one step at a time I think!
His ‘calm principle’ is that everything you do should be in full concentration, to the best of your ability, ignoring distractions of the mind. By being fully in the present you are able to free your mind from the shackles of being tied to the past or worrying about the future.
How you reach that pure state of mind, be it running, meditation or some other activity, is up to you!
[Aberystwyth meditation class info here]