One of the strongest questions one can ask oneself, in my opinion, is the “why “. This question often drives us in different directions and can bring every eloquent philosopher or even politician to his or her argumentative limits – assuming that the question is repeated as often as necessary. In this article I would like to dedicate myself to the “why” in connection with meditation. Why should we, modern people today, indulge in such ancient practices? Hasn’t the world moved an essential piece further on and left this “outdated” knowledge behind?
The increasing number of mental illnesses, burn-outs, depressions, mid-life and even quarter-life crises of our fellow human beings drives me again to investigate the “why”. Why is our society currently developing in such a direction?
We have apparently achieved everything here in the West and live in an incredible comfort zone. So why do so many people get sick? Anyone who has ever tried to get an appointment with a psychologist has certainly had to find out that almost every one of them is booked up for months in advance (at least in the metropolitan areas). I would like to bring these two “why” together in the course of the next few words. Of course, it must be mentioned here that this is a pure personal opinion, which makes no claim to any absolute facts, rather it is (perhaps) a slightly different point of view on a difficult topic.
In my opinion, one possible approach for this consideration involves an imbalance. The imbalance between external wealth and internal poverty (in the West). We have created so many beautiful and fascinating things, with which we always surround ourselves and which also demand our attention, that the rather deficient mental development forms too strong a contrast. We invest a lot of our energy in the material things around us, but very little in our spiritual well-being and growth. Our society has moved away from a serious approach to spirituality. (The reasons for this I would like to leave out of this consideration in order not to blow up this article). We hardly have a feeling for ourselves any more, but an excellent mastery of the machines and systems that are supposed to make our everyday life easier. This discrepancy between the “external” and the “internal” has probably reached such a degree that more and more people are openly suffering from it and today also have the opportunity to admit this. Without wanting to play the “everything used to be better” card, I rather look ahead with the question “Why” – Why does this happen to us? I don’t want to clarify the “why” in the sense of a question of guilt, but the more important “why” of the questioning kind – What is the lesson we should learn from this? Why do we experience this wave of personal misery in a time of supposed material abundance?
Our carelessness with our inner world of feelings, sensations and unexpected events, which we often “push aside” as trauma, seems to be getting on our nerves. The many things we have created that constantly surround us aggravate the situation by drawing our attention further away from ourselves. We constantly have input and demand it as well. If we only imagine our mind as a stomach for a moment, it would be as if we were constantly eating something while we were awake. We hardly have time left to process all the input and the many impressions of our 5 external senses. If we would take the balance in this respect to the extreme, man would have to do 50% action and 50% inaction during his “waking time”. Half should be input and the other half processing the input. A very effective way to accomplish this “processing” is meditation and meditative activities. One hour a day in deep meditation enables us already to process a large part of the collected impressions.
If we look at our ancestors three hundred years ago (let’s say), then they automatically pursued more meditative activities. People often simply looked at nature, listened to the birds, or walked/ridden a longer distance in silence. Many of the activities were monotonous and left room to process, for example, an interaction with another person or another experience.
Today we continue to “eat” uninterruptedly. As soon as we have a second of “idle” time, we seem to almost inevitably conjure up the smartphone and blindly look for input. Minutes without input already seem like waste to some, because you could have learned or experienced something in that time. We try to relax by watching a serial, a movie or reading. Yet this is all further input. So, the complex and fine mechanism that our mind represents cannot remain healthy in the long run and operate at its optimum. Every machine, every mechanism has its maximum capacity. Each gives way at some point. The question is, does one want to experience the situation when one’s own engine gives in to permanent load? We constantly try to optimize ourselves and Life-Hacks are becoming a new trend sport. Unfortunately, all this is a mortgage, of one’s own substance, which sooner or later one will have to settle, if the imbalance between the external and internal world is not tackled.
From this I personally deduce the “why” for a meditative way of life. Of course, meditation can’t make up 50% of our everyday life – after all, we probably don’t live in a monastery or something comparable. However, short, but daily conscious meditation sessions already show impressive results in the balancing of our being. The earlier way of life mentioned had more meditative activities, but these were mostly unconscious phases of meditation. We can also experience this today when we take a walk, swim, or lie on the terrace and look at the clouds (if anyone still indulges in this luxury). These meditative phases are very good and important, but they do not bring us anywhere near the efficiency of balancing, like a conscious meditation (even 10-15 minutes). I think we need the ancient teachings on this today more than ever. In the past, these practices were aimed at human perfection, but today they can be our medicine. We have driven things to perfection but threaten to fall by the wayside in terms of our own development. Bliss, contentment and joy have become rare goods, some of which must be paid very dearly in the form of external stimulus. In my opinion they are to be sought and found within ourselves through meditation.
That is why meditation is especially relevant and advisable for people who think they don’t have time for it. Just when we are so busy that we have to block appointments in Outlook to go to the bathroom, we urgently need breaks to process the many impressions and input. If we don’t do this, there are only two ways out for our apparatus to deal with it:
- The impressions are pushed aside along with all the unlived emotions into the subconscious. One can imagine this as a full desk where more and more stuff lands on it and before we can see it, something new is added. We have to make room, so everything goes into the archive until it’s overloaded and we run into a break-down.
- We take the topics of the day with us to sleep and “process” some of them there. The result is mostly a not restful sleep, which is not enough for busy people anyway and even after a comparatively long 8 hours many wake up feeling still tired. The resulting tightening of the spiral is obvious.
This is the “why” for me to integrate meditation and thus mindfulness and awareness into my professional and other everyday life and to define this not as “breaks” but as a remedial measure. This measure is also necessary in order to maintain high performance in times of today’s “work pressure cultures”.
Many of us indulge into fitness activities in order to balance themselves. While it is obvious for us that a muscle needs stimulus and rest times in order to grow through supercompensation, we constantly keep flexing our “brain-muscle”. The brain is always “on”. Any muscle would succumb into cramps and deterioration under such constant pressure. Our brain is remarkable in this regard – it can go on like this for many years and in some cases an entire lifetime. However, in case you are in need of high performance, intuition, empathy and creativity on demand, you might want to try giving this important “muscle” regeneration time in form of conscious meditation practice. Results can be felt and tested already after several days of exercise. Meditation is not an utterly complex thing, but there are some important points to keep in mind whenever trying it for the first time or returning to the practice after a while:
- Just watch and observe what come up and what is
- Non-judgmental mindset: no thought is either good nor bad, they just simply are
- De-identify yourself from your thoughts. They are yours and they are within you, but you are NOT your thoughts. Think of them as clouds in the sky. The come and pass.
- Keep a straight spine, but don’t stress yourself into a certain posture (like the perfect Zazen). Meditation is more about being comfortable with yourself, than discipline and posture
- Enjoy being alone (all-one = alone) in the contrast to being lonely (when in need of company)
We can show how this can be done in detail and how meditation can become an integral part of the corporate culture and of each individual. Some of the tools are really “old-fashioned”, but that doesn’t automatically mean that they are outdated. In fact, they have never been as necessary as they are today.