Meditation 24/7

“I tried shutting my eyes again, but all on their own they opened once more…. I could not bear to leave the lovely world, could not miss a bit of it. I would drink it, gulp it, slather myself in it, and … never for a heartbeat come out of meditation, eyes wide open.” —Jan Frazier

When I was first learning to meditate many years ago at the Insight Meditation Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I discovered that the teachings included not only meditation while sitting in a chair or on a cushion but also while walking. It was my first exposure to the idea of meditation off the cushion or mat and out in the world. I took to it immediately. In fact, within my own experience, I widened the idea of walking meditation to include bird watching, which was/is my year-round passion. I found that the focused attention and slow silent walking that were a part of looking for and at birds were very similar to the focus on each breath and each step in walking meditation. Both activities fostered full presence in the moment. Every time I spent a morning or afternoon watching birds, I always felt very much in a meditative state.

This approach to meditation has remained with me through the years. I do consistently continue to meditate indoors while seated, but I also find that “meditation” defines my prevailing state of mind whenever I am outdoors in nature. This is particularly true since I have become a backyard gardener in the past few years. When I am planting or transplanting flowers, my hands in the earth, or just standing quietly watching everything grow, my mind has slowed its busyness, and my thought waves are peaceful, unhurried. I am centered in the present moment and feel one with the flow of life all around me as it slowly grows and moves into flowering. I see myself as part of that flow, that flowering. It is a comforting, inclusive feeling of “all’s right with the world,” as Robert Browning put it.

For me, then, meditation has become more than a singular activity or practice. It is a way of being in the world that I remind myself of on a daily basis. Just as I focus on the movement of each living breath in the present while in seated meditation, I can take deep breaths to inhale and exhale with gratitude for each moment no matter where I am or what I’m doing. It is all the same practice really. I would guess that most meditators (and yoga practitioners) experience a similar inner and outer connection. To quote Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, “We should be able to bring the practice from the meditation hall into our daily lives…. Practicing meditation is to go back to the present moment in order to encounter the flower, the blue sky, the child. Happiness is available.”

To Do or to Be?

Recently, a friend and I were talking about how to handle the polarity between doing and being that many of us carry inside of us. We’ve been raised in a culture that emphasizes effort, trying, achievement, and success in material terms. The work ethic and the drive to constantly do pervade our society. On the job, unpaid overtime has become routine, and low-paying positions often force people to work at two jobs to make ends meet. Multi-tasking, email, and social media fill up all our “free” time, and friends and family are seen on the fly.

Even outside of mainstream culture, among those who are seeking to change the status quo to something more humane and truly livable, there is a certain push to be active, busy, involved in something. During the current period of major Earth changes, people’s experience of accelerating time also contributes to the frenetic need to keep moving—just to keep up with the hours that are rushing by!

Yet cracks in this compulsive busyness are appearing—possibly because we have run ourselves to the wall with the 24/7 modality. People are turning to things like meditation and yoga because they are quite literally burned out. Often their bodies stop them before their minds do. Headaches, injuries, and dis-ease of all kinds pop up in our lives to show us that all is not well. We are forced to slow down and find a way back to health. When we stop filling our lives with events and activities and instead focus on self-healing, doing takes a backseat to being and allowing.

Regular meditation or yoga practice helps individuals make this mental shift. The breath is of prime importance in both. Students learn to allow the breath to flow in and out without effort, without holding. In some traditions, they learn to watch the breath and just be in the quiet inner stillness. Eventually, with practice, people learn to carry that letting go to their daily lives, allowing events and emotions to pass through them without judgment or clutching, just as the breath does. Doing in this context arises from the quiet, centered space of being, not from polarized trying or effort.

The key, of course, is reaching that balance in a world that is skewed to emphasize just the opposite. But that’s why we’re here. The world is evolving, and we are evolving. We’re living the transition, learning how to embody the new human BE-ing, how to be conscious spirit in physical form, effortlessly flowing with the energy of life.