Thinking back of the day you’ve just had, what percentage of it were you “doing” something, versus just “being” in the moment?
At the end of 2010, I attended an incredible retreat in the Yarra Valley; wine country in the State of Victoria in Australia. It was a meditation retreat, run by The Gawler Foundation.
The weekend retreat I attended was especially geared to busy individuals who are seeking a short break from the rapid pace of their hectic lives; to take some time to press pause, learn the art of meditation, put the theories into intensive practice and ideally take away mindfulness techniques for daily life.
Little tangent…. in my career, I have spent some time creating brand experiences for clients. Some of those were internal brand experiences with staff, who can be a cynical audience to engage with.
I would often research this internal audience to test the level of cynicism and gauge what kind of “circuit breaker” would be required at the beginning of an internal brand experience. A circuit breaker is essentially a device to make people sit up and listen. It forces a kind of “A-Ha!” moment, and it establishes a perspective in the audience from the outset that they actually do need to listen to what follows. It’s an incredible technique for anyone trying to communicate with an ambivalent, cynical or sceptical audience.
Human Being…. Or Human Doing?
So Paul and Maia Bedson, the husband and wife team hosting the meditation retreat, presented an excellent circuit breaker at the opening of the retreat. Each of the 30 people in the room had to introduce themselves by name and also give themselves a score on this scale. I watched expressions change and some of the cynicism drain from the faces of many of the people in the room identified immediately with the right side of this scale:
The Doing Trap
There is so much written today about productivity. A lot of what is written about productivity focused on how much more we can fit into our busy schedules – it focuses on “doing” more in the same amount of time.
I read a report a while ago that said that Australians spend a total of 37.5 hours a day with various activities. Anyone notice that is 13.5 hours more than there actually are in a day? And that’s not even counting the 6-10 hours some of us spend sleeping! (The same report gave a figure of 43.4 hours for the average person in the USA!).
So how are we managing to “do” so much in any given day? Well if you consider that 8.7 hours of those hours are spent with media and 5.5 of those hours are spent with technology, you’ve probably worked out the answer is multi-tasking.
With so much “doing” crammed into one day, is it any wonder we never find anytime to just BE?
Meditation comes in many forms, but all types of meditation are all based in the notion of being present, being mindful, being still in mind, being a witness – just being.
A myth I often hear is that meditation is all about having a completely blank mind. This is usually the first question I get asked when I talk about meditation – “how do you manage to get your mind to be completely empty?”
Thinking is not “the enemy” of meditation; rather, meditation is more about stepping outside of your “thinking mind” and becoming an observer, a witness to what is going on in the here and now.
'Being' Right Now
If you’ve never tried meditation and would like to experience it for yourself, here are three simple steps you can do now to practice “being”.
Sitting in an upright position in a comfortable chair, close your eyes and breathe into your belly (not your chest). Relax all your muscles on the out breath and now rest your attention on the blank space behind your eyelids. It might even feel like this dark, blank space actually wraps right around your head. Just notice that space for a moment. If a thought enters your mind, just watch it from afar, like it was scrolling across the back of your eyelids. Then watch that thought go, without giving it any attention or judgement and rest your attention back on the space in front of your closed eyes.
Now expand your awareness to also include the sounds around you, those coming into the room from elsewhere, and those coming from you. The sound of your breath, the gurgle of your stomach, the rain outside, the birds chirping, the cars moving down the street; just notice the sounds. Don’t judge them, or think about where they are coming from. Try not to even label them. Just listen and rest your attention on these sounds as you continue to rest your attention on the back of your eyelids.
Now open your awareness one step further to feel your breath moving into your belly and feel your belly push the air back out again. Notice the pause in your breathing at the top of the exhalation, before you inhale again and fill your belly with nourishing air. You are still aware of the space in front of your closed eyes and the sounds in the room and those coming into it from afar.
Continue to do this, without judgement, no goal or benchmark you’ve set for yourself. Just a choice to be present and to truly feel the expansiveness of the space in front of your closed eyes, feel the sounds as they rest upon your ears and feel the in breath bringing oxygen and nutrients to every cell in your body.
No Goals, Just A Choice
The most important thing to remember as you start to try meditation is that there is no goal. Unlike the “doing” part of your brain which is constantly seeking to achieve, check things off a task list and attain new goals, meditation has no goals.
It also has no judgement – there is no right or wrong way of trying meditation. Try not to tell yourself that you can’t do it, because the truth is, everyone has this capability in them. It is simply the ability to step back from your thinking mind and observe using your “aware mind” for a while.
Whether you managed 5 minutes or 15 minutes of taking these three simple steps – you have just experienced “being” through a simplistic form of meditation.
Open your focus
Once you’ve opened your eyes, instead of jumping straight back into “doing” – just notice the differences in yourself. Are your shoulders sitting lower? Do you feel more relaxed? Like you have created some “space” in your mind? Do you notice more of what is around you? Do you feel lightheaded?
The latter may be because meditation is medically proven to reduce your blood pressure - radically and in a very short period of time. This is just one of many health benefits from incorporating a regular 20 minutes of meditation practice into your day.
What will you choose to be today? A human doing? Or a human being?