Finding peace at the cafe, not the meditation room

March 29, 2017

Disclaimer: there is no absolute truth, just our perception of reality, this is my perception.


Recently in Singapore, I went to a meditation class, which was based on traditional Buddhist teachings. I had a profound realisation in the class whilst I was fidgeting due to my ankles going numb, and the overpowering urge to stretch my neck as my shoulders began to seize up. I realised I really didn't want to be in this dark room with a group of other fidgeting and sniffling people. My profound realisation was that I am not really all that interested in meditation in the traditional sense when I had thought I was. Why did I think I would be remotely interested in attending a meditation class? The reason being is I incorporate other practices into my daily life that align with or even use the term 'meditation'. I embrace and teach mindful eating. I have done yoga for years and frequently incorporate yoga nidra or guided body scans into my day. I practice techniques to bring me into the present moment. So what's my issue with mediation?


Often meditation classes begin with how to sit during meditation; cross your legs, tilt your hips forwards, draw your shoulders down, gaze downwards two metres in front of you. Therein lies my first issue with meditation; I don't enjoy following rules. Furthermore, I find it hard to believe that we need to sit a specific way to meditate. I understand if you are a monk in Bhutan and are meditating in a cave on an isolated mountain top for the next four years this might be relevant, however for the average city dweller in Singapore, Sydney or San Diego, I don't see how this is necessary. Any form of relaxation that quietens the mind and gets you back in touch with your senses is going to be of great benefit. If you are searching for enlightenment in the Buddhist sense, you probably do need to sell your house, quit your job and join the monks in a cave, as we have so many distractions and challenges in our lives. A Buddhist monk doesn't have to concern themselves with making money to pay off their house, or even to feed themselves. They don't have to concern themselves with deciding what to wear today or how to style their hair. They don't have to deal with human interactions such as dating or caring for children. So personally, I have let go of any unrealistic expectations, and accept that any mediation I do is to enable me to better handle my life, and live with more contentment and joy. And there isn't a right way to do it, as I am not going to transpose the rules of Buddhist monks onto myself. 


Furthermore, enlightenment can become another goal to add to the list of 'must achieve'. Yet any desire or sense of lack disturbs our inner peace. So this is a goal that I am happy to let go of.


Without even considering the ultimate goal of enlightenment, one of the issues with the 'rules' of meditation is they can create a sense of failure. In this same class in Singapore, the young man sitting beside me commented to the teacher, 'I feel like I am doing this wrong'. So often I hear this. As soon as we create rules to follow and goals to attain, people feel like they are failing when they can't follow these rules or feel like they aren't making significant enough progress towards their goals. These are such familiar comments to what I hear in relation to diets and weight loss.


Similarly I couldn't help but notice how much meditation is about the mind (duh). But similar to how we try to intellectualise dieting and eating, with meditation we are focused on clearing the mind whilst ignoring the body. The teacher made a comment something like 'eventually you will lose awareness of your body'. I understand the benefit of letting go of personally identifying with our bodies, but we already live in a world where people are so caught up in their minds and disconnected from their bodies. I can't help but wonder if in our modern lifestyles body awareness techniques – as opposed to traditional meditation - and bringing our awareness back to our senses of sight, smell, sound, taste, and touch is not only an easier, but important approach to stepping back into the present moment. This is certainly the way I practice. Of course there is not only one way to meditate and there are many different forms of mediation. Of course I acknowledge how powerful and helpful mediation can be, and that it can provide profound healing and relaxation to people. However, personally I believe there are other ways to relax and bring ourselves into the present moment, without rules or goals, and that are far easier to incorporate into our modern lifestyles. It could be mindful walking or mindful typing? Actually I'm not entirely kidding. There are activities that bring us into a state of mind where we forget all sense of time and take us away from our thoughts that disturb our inner peace. Psychologists refer to these activities as 'flow activities', whilst in the sports arena when an athlete is in this state it is referred to as being in the 'zone'. Personally I have found discovering my 'flow activities' and learning how to step into the 'zone' are much more effective ways for me to feel more content and at peace.


After the meditation class I desperately wanted to relax in a tranquil coffee shop where I could write as I had a strong urge to do so. I sat observing my surroundings of various shades and colours. I noticed the different foliage textures. I could hear the chilled out music playing, the clinking of cutlery and the mumbled chatter of others around me. I could feel my body supported by my chair. I felt my body swaying, not only to the music, but the joy I felt within me. The joy I felt through the full sensory experience of the moment, and the joy of allowing words to tumble out of me to be transferred to the screen through my fingers dancing over the keyboard of my laptop. I was in the zone. I was engaging in a flow activity. I felt a deeper sense of peace and joy than in the two hours in the mediation room; I had truly stepped out of my mind and was in a state of flow. 



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