Many times I get this question: What is a meditative life? Since I write about this a lot I’d like to describe what it means to me. In a sense, it’s a complete response to a life in our times, a time in which a strong balancing force is needed more than ever.
Since we live in a time when so much vivid reality jumps at us, we have to navigate the overflow each day. We try by keeping a schedule and getting the most important things done while prioritizing everything else. We may know a great many people but we focus on preserving enough time to meet those closest to us. We may find ourselves moving through different jobs and through different places, maybe even countries.
We typically don’t live on a farm somewhere in the middle of other farms, where our radius of travel is limited to where our feet can carry us. We don’t get up with the sun and go home as it’s getting dark. We don’t live according to a natural rhythm and follow the schedule of the sun and moon and the summer and winter. We don’t live a way of life that connects and confronts us with what’s right here in front of us and nothing else. We don’t have that kind of simplicity anymore.
Instead we are at the mercy of decisions made very far away. We are scheduled by our job description and by needs and demands that have little to do with the present state of our body or environment. Rather than just our immediate circle, we see and talk to our friends from the other side of the country or globe, and we hear and see news from everywhere on the planet. We can work all night in artificial light and sometimes have to succeed in sleeping while the sun is directly overhead. In the winter we put summer foods in our mouths that were harvested thousands of miles away. In the summer we might stay in an air-conditioned room so cold we need a sweater.
Overloading our nervous system
This complex multitude we experience calls to our emotions, awakens our craving and our rejection. For decades now nearly anything has seemed to be possible and very soon it seems that we’ll be using new virtual headsets that will further confuse our sense of reality—and our overloaded human nervous system that slowly evolved over the course of millions of years. We find ourselves trying hard to update ourselves in some way to handle all of these changes. Everyone is talking about “life hacks.”
So how do we navigate these changes?
How do you do that?
Do you recognize how you’re doing it?
I find that very often we overuse our physical abilities, almost without noticing. We keep typing at the computer while numbing out to our discomfort. We hardly notice as we eat much more than our muscles can burn off. We live for extended periods of time out of balance, without quite being aware of it.
Sometimes it is more obvious:
When I leave an airplane after a long-distance flight I feel excited, exhausted, and confused. It feels for some time like I’m living in a dream. My biorhythm is not accurate in relation to the light and dark, to dinner time, and to my alarm clock ringing in the morning. Or, when I’m pressed for time and I decide to work until midnight or beyond, my body gets tense and while I try to stay functioning, everything in me screams: When can I finally sleep? But what about the other, nearly constant challenges to our inner balance?
A more meditative life!
What I see is that if we can hold all of our experience within our awareness and just notice what is happening inside as a response, we have one powerful unifying and balancing factor within this multi-sensory concert. This is the simplicity we need coming from inside, when it is not coming from outside. And since our awareness touches upon what is really happening, we can find a conscious, satisfying response to it.
A more meditative life can enable us to notice more of our experience, and particularly, more subtle sensations and experience. This increased sensitivity and clarity allows us to live a more focused life in which we consciously select both what we put our attention on and what actions we take. With the help of meditative skills we can find a way to limit unnecessary distress by consciously choosing. This means that we notice what we’d like to choose and what not. And still there will be plenty that is beyond our control; this is normal life. But in these times of abnormal speed and complexity, coming to a simpler normal can feel very good.
Yes, we can!
The better we know and care for what suits us and what is in alignment with our abilities and needs, the more we will find a growing trust in our life, and ever more openness and awareness during our daily activities.
- We can make a conscious choice to live a certain lifestyle.
- We can spend time with whatever and whoever serves our inner balance.
- We can schedule tasks in a more spacious way, knowing we will accomplish them.
- We can clarify what places are healthy for us and what not.
- We can plan our days and weeks in a way that allows for time to really rest before we need to sleep.
- We can take little breaks when we notice something is too much or simply confusing.
- We can breathe three times or more before reacting when we feel hurt.
- We can eat those foods that feel nourishing to our individual body and biology, and at the best times.
And much more.
A meditative life utilizes skills like awareness, mindfulness, loving kindness, compassion, focus, conscious breathing, meditation and many more skills in order to allow our nervous system to find its own balance again and again. Even when we need to lean far out of our comfort zone we can notice what is going on and do the best we can to cope with it. Afterwards we can do enough balancing and recovering activities that allow us to use the experience to grow in resilience.
Speaking for myself:
I don’t know how to live in these times without meditative skills!
Without practicing, without enjoying them, I feel the deck stacked against all of us. So I invite you to be aware in your daily life and to truly receive the information that comes from your body and mind. I’m curious what you notice and would love to read some of your discoveries in the comments below!
Have a good week and enjoy the summer!