Sometimes the penny drops and you think… I’ve been thinking that all along but had never really thought of it as clearly as that.
Meditation is not an easy thing to get ‘right’. Whatever ‘right’ is. We are generally told that it’s about clearing your mind of everything, focussing on your breath and nothing else. But, if you’re like me things just keeping pushing to get in. I applaud myself for 20 seconds of thinking of nothing because to be honest that is me doing well!
Then there are others who say just let the thought come, acknowledge it, and then let it go. Ah right! Ok! Except in acknowledging it I have a 10 minute internal dialogue where I over think and debate it with myself. Is that what you mean when you say acknowledge it? I suspect not.
And then we drift into mindfulness. Put simply immersing yourself in a single thing, an activity, or a thought, at the expense of everything else. This is a great thing to do. It lends itself to single-tasking which we know works better than multi-tasking and it creates flow that we know improves our productivity (more on single tasking and flow soon). Sometimes it’s not about thinking about something though but rather it is about experiencing something. For example the physical experience of being in shower, the smell of the soap, the feeling of the water, the warmth. So mindfulness can operate in many modes.
Harari, in his great book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, was telling me about Siddhartha Gautama, the central figure and originator of Buddhism. Harari tells his story and while doing so says “He spent six years meditating on the essence, causes and cures for human anguish”. And there it was. Just a small word. But a small word that in reading it made me think about meditation in a different way. He meditated ‘on’. It doesn’t say – he cleared his mind and waited for magical things to appear to him. It doesn’t say he settled in quietly to think of nothing. It say’s he meditated ‘on’.
Now, turns out, I meditate ‘on’ all of the time. When I’m walking the dog I’m thinking through a knotty issue I’m trying to resolve. When I’m lying on my shakti mat I mull over a lecture I’m about to deliver and think about the best way to explain something. When I’m out for a run I think about running and how it makes me feel. I’m not thinking of nothing but I am thinking of something deeply, reflectively, mostly to the exclusion of other things. So, something like meditation but equally akin to mindfulness.
This feels like Reflection. Reflection is a key component of being a competent pilot of your life as Daniel Goleman puts it in ‘Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ’. He says that those who acknowledge, learn about, and control their emotions have a sophisticated response to them. Meditation (and mindfulness) help us manage our responses to things. Thinking things through in a meditative way can help us consider our responses to life’s events and challenges meaning we respond from our thinking selves rather than our emotional selves. When we respond to things from our emotional self we can sometimes find we have made poor decisions. Knee jerk reactions.
If meditating is about anything it is about creating ourselves space and time to meditate ‘on’ the challenges of what life presents to us. To do so will mean we formulate a meaningful and elegant response rather than a rash one.