Is this your year to get a handle on meditation?
Are you ready to take a major jump into bringing a calm, centered state of being into your life?
Have your attempts at meditation left you frustrated and unfulfilled?
Does your peace and equanimity dissolve when you step away from the cushion and return to the daily grind?
Is your practice just not FUN?
If you would like to dive into the deep end of the pool and maybe emerge with a whole new look on life and a brand new sack of tools, then please join me at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, March 1-6 for Meditation in Stillness. Meditation in Action. I have been writing about this subject for years, and have been sharing it in my classes, but this is the first time I’ll teach a five day seminar on it. (See “Moving Meditation“, and “Meditation in Action: Part 1.“)
We have all heard the benefits of a regular meditation practice: It can reduce stress, anxiety, and anger. It can improve your physical, mental, and emotional health. You learn to control your attention. It can make you a nicer person. It can provide a quiet safe place for the mind to withdraw momentarily from “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” It can open doors to spiritual awakening.
All pretty cool stuff. But even knowing that “it’s good for me,” how often and how well do you actually DO it? If I sit for 20 minutes, and 19 of those are spent updating my list of enemies or perseverating about an argument I had three days ago in a ridiculous email exchange…well, did I get the biggest bang for my meditation buck?
If you are getting all you ever wanted and more from your current meditation practice, read no further. Your practice is working for you. But if you find you just aren’t making the time for it, or the mere thought of it gives you a sore butt, maybe it’s time to look at the practice itself. There are lots of different forms of meditation, and a good fit for one person might not work for another. (A helpful overview of different meditation types: 23 Types of Meditation)
The Zen patriarch Hakuin wrote, “Meditation amidst activity is a thousand million times superior to meditation in stillness.” While I’m not entirely sure about his math, I do know that the two are different. My experience of “meditation in action” is that it is qualitatively different from “meditation in stillness.” I practice both daily, and they each have their charms. Stillness meditation frees your attention from the distractions of life and permits a deeper focus. Action meditation brings an expanded awareness into life and could be called wider, in that it includes more of your present time perceptual reality.
The Common Denominator
What is the common thread in all forms of meditation?
It gets you “out of your head.”
More precisely, it is any activity that permits a shift from conceptual to non-conceptual awareness. Voltaire expressed it more poetically
Meditation is the dissolution of thoughts in Eternal awareness or Pure consciousness without objectification, knowing without thinking, merging finitude in infinity. Voltaire
“In your head” means trapped in a loop of excessive thinking. It takes time for the nervous system to come up with a thought: a half-second or more. It’s like a half-second tape delay on life. What we are “watching” on our mental video screens already happened. Our thoughts about what is going on are in the past. But we do it so much, THAT becomes the only reality we know. It is like a trance, called “illusion” in some spiritual traditions.
Our thoughts may appear to come in a continuous stream, one after another, but that is not really accurate. Each thought that comes to mind has a beginning, a middle, and an end. An impulse arises in the nervous system, gets the attention of the conscious mind, and then goes away. And before and after each thought there is a space…a no-thought. If you are already entranced by the next thought that appears, you may not notice this space. But it was there, however briefly.
It is in that gap between thoughts that we encounter NOW, the Radical Present. In that state, we are able to “know without thinking,” as Voltaire put it. Milarepa said, “In the gap between thoughts, non-conceptual wisdom shines continuously.”
My 40 years of meditation, qigong, energy healing, and Chinese internal martial arts have shown me that HOW you practice is more important than WHAT you practice, or even HOW MUCH. I am constantly researching more efficient and practical ways to shift states of awareness and states of being, even in the most challenging circumstances.
In any meditation we learn to shift from the default mode network (DMN) in the brain, the part that is busily updating our personal narrative moment-by-moment. In many ways, the DMN correlates to what is often called the “monkey mind”: perseverating about the past, worried about the future, nattering about others, criticizing ourselves–static on the radio. It is called “default” because it is what we tend to revert to whenever we are not consciously engaged in an activity. When we shift from the DMN, it becomes much easier to find the gap between thoughts, to access the “non-conceptual wisdom,” that Milarepa spoke of.
Change is not just experiential; it is physical too. We change our brain chemistry, getting more serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin (the “hug hormone”), and anandamide (the “bliss molecule).
It also changes the wiring in the brain, creating new neural connections, making it easier to shift out of unwanted patterns.
The physical changes are even more pronounced with meditation in action. Consciously directing movements and learning new movement patterns exercises parts of the brain that lie dormant and even deteriorate from inactivity. Not only does it shift us out of the DMN temporarily, but new neurons are created (neurogenesis) and new neural pathways are created (neuroplasticity).
Regular practice is necessary to maintain these new nerve cells and connections. They atrophy within weeks if not supported by more activity. Meditation in action is not just something you do for 15 minutes a day and forget the rest of the time. It encourages a whole new way of being in the world that generates body-mind-spirit integration and whole-brain coherence. It can be practiced anywhere, anytime. And it doesn’t matter how old you are.
I hope you’ll join me at Kripalu March 1-6 for a life-changing adventure. We will learn how to shift from conceptual to non-conceptual awareness, and back again, easily and quickly. There will be sitting, standing, walking, and lying down meditations. There will be some tai chi and some qigong. Solo, partnered, and group meditation. You will feel you internal energy and learn how to “plug into the Big Qi (ch’i)”, the “energy of Heaven and Earth.” There will be laughter. There will be fun.
It’s a whole new world of possibilities.