The one voluntary activity I have been doing regularly in my adult life is meditation. This was a huge realization to me when I sat down to meditate this morning. I am a terrible meditator despite doing it for so many years. So why do I continue?
The first time I was introduced to meditation was in Japan in a Rinzai temple. It was a freezing cold temple and we sat on thin cushions, the size of notebooks, and asked to sit and watch our breath come and go for 30 minutes. It was torture on the knees and the brain, but it still piqued my interest. The idea of watching my mind with no distractions except those from my own thoughts and body was fascinating. If Zen monks had been doing this for hundreds of years, there must be some wisdom to be gained from this practice, I thought.
The culture of Japan is an interesting place to learn meditation as it offers the extremes of a sparse, Zen culture where the mind can be open an clear, the to the fast paced culture of consumerism, work and high speed trains. It certainly prepared me for the realities of living in the 21st century.
On the one hand, we need time to have space in our lives and see the unfettered mind. Japanese spaces, whether they are indoors or outdoors, are set up intentionally so there is a feeling of one’s place in the environment. The balance of open space and objects encourages what we call mindfulness, being in the present moment with what is.
Compare this open, Zen feeling with the busyness of crowded cities, being surrounded by neon signs, high speed trains, pachinko parlours, excessive drinking, crowds of people, etc. Take for example Yoyogi Park in Tokyo where young people gather to listen to bands and dress in outrageous outfits of the counterculture. The sensory overload of one band on top of the other and the flood of people is the complete opposite of sitting in a sparse Zen temple or tea house. Yet this can also be seen as a way of practicing mindfulness. The challenge is to bring the present, open awareness of whatever is happening and to take in the flood of stimulation with a similar sense of balance.
Interestingly, what on the surface seems like a peaceful environment to some, like the Zen temple, may bring up more stressful to others because it means sitting with one’s own mind. The opposite may also be true. Being in a cacophony of stimulation and distraction may be a relief for some people, but overwhelming and anxiety provoking to others.
So even though I still continue to meditate very badly after over 25 years, I continue to maintain this practice, and probably will continue to for years to come. It is always about finding that balance between being in the unavoidable busyness and stress of life, and finding those moments, even if brief, to find space and quiet to sit with my own mind. It is in those moments that I remember what is important and to keep coming back to, and to remember to see life in front of me as it unfolds in the present moment.
Mindfulness and meditation is a lifelong practice and often we hear about why people have taken it up to relieve stress. I am curious to hear from others about why you continue to practice even after the immediate benefits of a new practice have waned. What is the one most important motivator to keep you continuing your own meditation practice?