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When people think about meditation, often an image of a blissed-out figure sitting cross-legged on a soft pillow comes to mind.
Ahh, total peace, quiet, and comfort. Wouldn’t that be nice!
While meditating in a quiet place without distraction is an amazing experience, it isn’t always feasible. And if we think our practice has to look this way, we can feel frustrated.
Maybe we don’t have the perfectly shaped cushion or the perfect candles, and maybe we aren’t lucky enough to have space in the bedroom to claim for ourselves, let alone create an entire sanctuary.
And when we finally get a moment to spare, the dog whines, a message notification dings on our phone, or our foot falls asleep.
Dang. I guess this meditation thing just isn’t for me.
But what if there was another way? What if we could use our daily activities to meditate and experience the same benefits? What if meditation didn’t have to be so formal, so condition-dependent, so picture-perfect?
Here’s a secret: you already know how to meditate and you do it all the time without realizing it.
Whenever you are absorbed in what you are doing and feeling positive emotions like peace, interest, satisfaction, and joy, you are meditating.
Have you ever eaten something amazing, and, for a moment, the rest of the world didn’t exist?
You just savored the flavor, smiled stupidly to yourself (or is that just me?), and were completely satisfied without anything else on your mind.
That is meditating, too.
Concentration meditation is focusing on one thing for a period of time. This type of meditation was popular when Buddhism and Classical Yoga were developing, and in those traditions, there’s an emphasis on disciplining and quieting the mind to attain a one-pointed focus.
Concentration meditation encourages temporarily withdrawal, solitude, quietness, and un-reactiveness. The image we associate with meditation fits this archetype well. Controlled focus is a wonderful tool that can help us with other kinds of meditation, because it allows the mind to stay with a chosen thought and exclude uninvited ones.
The other type of meditation is called mindfulness. Unlike concentration meditation, mindfulness is about remaining open to the variety of thoughts and feelings that are present in a given moment without judgment.
Mindfulness also encourages turning everyday activities into opportunities to practice. In fact, almost anything can serve as a mindfulness practice. The activity is not as important as the intention, which is to stay present and open.
I cannot remember who said it, but there is a wonderful quote that says:
“Wherever you are is the seat of enlightenment.”
This means that we always have the perfect space to meditate. Whether we are waiting in line, walking our dogs, brushing our teeth, driving our child to school, visiting a family member, listening to music, reading an interesting story or article, taking a yoga class, eating something we like, we can always choose to be present, to feel our bodies, and allow our thoughts and feelings to be as they are for the moment.
When I started meditating, I followed a fairly strict concentration-type practice which I had always assumed was the only way to “meditate.”
I sat in the quietest place I could find with my eyes closed and focused on my breath or a simple phrase, mantra, in my head.
My meditation practice was separate from the rest of my day and helped me to disconnect from the bustle of life. What I learned over time is that everyday life itself offers the opportunity to practice meditation continuously, without needing a particular set-up or an uninterrupted block of time.
Meditation is something we do naturally, which is why everyone can do it. And when we practice being mindfully present, with humor and openness, anything in our lives can become a meditation. Anything in our lives can become possible.