This is the first of three articles, each one featuring a different exercise or meditation practice.
Why bother? You may get the notion of having some mindfulness in your hectic life, and you may even have your own practices you do every day or every week that you like. But when shopping in the marketplace of spiritual practices and meaning making, is meditation really all that necessary? I realize I’m adding to the screes of information already out there about this, but since it’s coming out of my more than 10 years of daily meditative practices I’m thinking you might like to know what I’ve discovered along the way.
Meditation is about getting your mind back. It’s also about healing and transformation, and over time building new organs of capacity in your inner life, your soul.
Here’s just a few examples of what I mean, and there are so many others:
- you can use meditation to sensitize and refine your feeling life. Your feeling life can become an organ of perception, giving you deeper and more accurate insights into human life going on around you, as well as into your own. This is particularly helpful to anyone doing social change work, where your medium is people. Its also pretty crucial to those of us doing the hard work of healing and transforming our inner lives.
- it can be used to create precise little interventions in your daily inner experience which, over time, will create some fundamental shifts in your inner landscape, freeing you from insidious habits that have kept you enslaved without you even knowing it.
- Build yourself a “hut” in your soul; a reservoir of capacity for calmness and equanimity to call upon whenever you are being buffeted about by storms of emotions and dramas, either yours or someone else’s.
The first exercise I’m giving you comes first in any group of daily meditative practices I’ve done: concentration.
Well, this exercise isn’t strictly speaking meditation, but it is a pre-requisite to more successful meditation. You need to be able to concentrate, obviously, and we all think we can concentrate just fine thank you. Well, not as much as you think.
One of the pernicious things about having a mind is that nearly all the time we have a constant stream of consciousness running; a dialogue of words, images, stories, feelings, emotions, and the dialogue is semi-conscious. Have you had the experience of suddenly awakening to a fantasy that was running through your head about you dropping you car keys accidentally down that drain and all the horrible consequences that happened, and your gut was twisting and your heart was pounding? The thought just was there, it came from some association, and ran its course – until you woke up. If you pay attention to this today, just notice how much of your mind time is taken up with associations, running from one into another like a low hum, all day long.
This concentration exercise is designed to interrupt that stream, for a couple of minutes every day. The reason why this is helpful to you is so long as you remain unaware of that stream of consciousness just below the surface, you are going to be at the mercy of it. It can – subconsciously – affect your mood, undermine your self-confidence, influence you in ever so subtle ways. Everything that is unresolved, unhealed, untransformed in your soul is involved. Don’t just take my word for it; listen in throughout your day, and see if you can notice for yourself what I mean.
Here’s the exercise:
Count slowly (every second is a good speed) from 30 backwards down to zero. Try to do this without losing your concentration, or getting sidetracked by another thought. You goal is to get to to zero with complete, unbroken attention.
I am almost certain you will fail (unless you are a bit extraordinary), but don’t worry! The key here, as with any exercise, is not that you succeed but that you try, that you practice. I did this exercise for years (I use other concentration exercises these days), and for a long time it was rare for me to succeed. I noticed a rhythmical pulse – a teacher of mine says it’s possibly the pulse of the cerebrospinal fluid as he’s been studying brain science and meditation for about 20 years now – that happens at which point I would lose my concentration. If I wasn’t fully paying attention, I’d be off on a stream of associations before I woke up to it and wondered how the heck I got there!
Again, it’s not the success that’s important so much as it is the practice and the striving.
For extra dynamos do this exercise every morning right after you wake up, and every evening right before you go to sleep.
Next up, I’m going to look at a simple meditative exercise you can do that will help you build up a reservoir of peace and resilience for when things get stormy in your life.
Leave a comment with your thoughts to share. Do you already have a daily practice? What do you do, and tell us how it has helped you?