By now, almost everyone is aware of the powerful benefits of meditation. When we become conscious of our breathing and direct our awareness inward, our body relaxes, our blood pressure and heart rate drop, and our brain state shifts from anxiety producing beta waves to the smoother experience of alpha waves.
Modern neuroscience now confirms what yogis, monks, and saints have known for years – meditation is good for the mind, body, and soul.
But here’s the problem – who has the time? It would be great to spend two hours each day at an ashram or a retreat center, sitting on a meditation pillow in serene silence. But most of us have jobs to go to, families to care for, and errands to run. In the midst of the chaos of daily life, we simply don’t have the luxury of meditating all day like monks in a monastery.
There is, however, a simple solution to this problem. It requires that we rethink the very nature of meditation. It requires a shift from “monk-style meditation” – where meditation occurs in isolation from the rest of our day – to “anywhere meditation” – where it occurs in the midst of life’s chaos.
We don’t need more time to meditate. We just need to learn to meditate in any situation – not just at a yoga studio or on a mountain retreat but in a traffic jam or an airport security line.
This is the kind of practice that Ralph Waldo Emerson describes in “Self-Reliance.” As he says, “It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.”
How do you bring meditation into the chaos of daily life?
It’s All About the Breath
You can get lost in the details of meditation. You can become obsessed with posture, mantras (repeated phrases), and mudras (finger locks). But reduced to its essence, meditation is all about the breath. We always breathe, but, when we meditate, we breathe consciously. We bring our awareness to each inhale and exhale. So while you may not be able to sit in lotus pose during a board meeting, that doesn’t mean that you can’t meditate.
No matter what the situation, you can always bring attention to your breath and work toward lengthening each inhale and exhale. No one else even needs to know you’re doing it.
Finding the Gaps
All of us, no matter how busy, have small gaps in our day that are perfect for meditation. It might be the five-minute wait in line at the grocery store, the 10-minutes you spend stuck in traffic, or the two minutes you spend waiting for your computer to start up. In these moments, try shifting from frustration to meditation. Try bringing your attention to the breath and using these gaps as unexpected opportunities for calming the mind and body.
Finding gaps in the day gives you a time to go fully into meditation. But you can also bring meditation into almost any workday task.
Take meetings. In my experience, most meetings only require about 50% of our attention. You need to keep tabs on the flow of the conversation and offer your input when needed. But this leaves about 50% of your attention open for meditation. So rather than getting bored, try meditating. Experiment with bringing your attention to the breath as you follow the flow of the meeting. With practice, you can learn to meditate while doing just about any task – while checking emails, talking on the phone, or commuting to work.
You may never have a two-hour chunk of each day to devote to meditating. You may never have the time to sit cross-legged on the banks of a river or on the beach for hours each morning.
But if you master the art of “anywhere meditation,” that shouldn’t stop you from spending hours each day deep in meditation. The key is to shift from meditation as a separate activity performed in serene settings to meditation as a moment-to-moment way of being.
What do you think? Have you experimented with this shift from “monk-style meditation” to “anywhere meditation”? It’s super simple so why not give it a shot?
Written on 4/28/2011 by Nate Klemp. Nate earned his PhD at Princeton and is a professor at Pepperdine University. He founded LifeBeyondLogic.com, a website dedicated to exploring philosophy as an art of living. You can follow him on Twitter @LifeBeyondLogic and on Facebook. Download a free copy of his new ebook, Finding Reality: Thoreau’s Lessons for Life in the Digital Age. Photo Credit: follow instructions