The Wandering Monk

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What isn’t Meditation?

In martial arts, among many things, we learn that the philosophy of what we learn is all around us.  When we master ourselves, we inherently master our environment, and when we do that, the happy by-product is that we are able to defend ourselves against those who have not mastered themselves.  To that end, we learn the task of centering.  Physical centering, in that we must learn where the center of our bodies are, of balance and of our motions; of how to maintain our center even as we transition and move, fluidly and swiftly. But more than that, we learn about the centering of ourselves.

Finding your center is more than just finding where your center of gravity is.  It’s also above finding the present moment.  When we spend our time in the present moment, our once scattered focus becomes attuned to the now, and seeing the details we would normally miss becomes simple, and even automatic.  It enhances our memory, our productivity, our emotional fortitude, and sheds our regret of the past and our fear of the future.  You could spend your whole life trying to find your true center and it would not be a wasted life.

But what does that mean in practical, every day life?  Consider meditation.  When most hear this word, they think of dedicated monks in temples, chanting mantra and treasuring all life, down to the bug on the ground.  And they would not be wrong with this vision of meditation.  But consider that, at its heart, meditation is simply bringing yourself into the present moment. To that end, meditation is anything that engages you completely, extracts you from your linear, scattered thought processes, and that grounds you in the now.  

I read a book called the Peace is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh in which he describes meditation as being something as simple as washing the dishes, so long as we remain in that moment and focus only on our dishes, not on the future, or the past; not on our day, or what we will do after the dishes, or what we have done even before we began doing those dishes.  Another book, A Beginner’s Guide to Meditation by Rod Meade Sperry, describes meditation as the centering and clearing of the mind.  It further stipulates that the phrase “I will meditate on that” is nonsensical, given the goal is to not think.  

Honestly, sometimes we do need to disconnect from the world around us for a while and push all our lingering thoughts from our minds.  Zen Buddhists call this Zazen and it’s often done by focusing on your breathing.  If you’d like to try it, simply sit in a comfortable sitting position, glance downward at the floor so as not to strain your eyes and focus all of your attention on counting each inhale and exhale, aware of every breath.  As thoughts enter your mind, acknowledge them once you notice them and then gently guide your attention back to your breathing.  

This is what is taught by many Buddhist teachers.  But, let’s take a look at what we’re doing when we do this.  Are we emptying our mind?  Or are we withdrawing our awareness to a point that is within each moment, tracked by our every breath?  To me, this is as much a meditation as the dishes; you’re actively bringing yourself to this moment.

In martial arts, we do this as well.  A distracted mind misses details and goes against the flow of a fight.  A mind worrying about the future or the past is not taken by the energy of the present moment and cannot sail those waters safely.  So as we practice our martial arts, we mind our technique and our detail, our center and our stance, our philosophy and our energy, and when we practice, we are meditating.  No other distraction exists while we practice, or else if it does, we are not practicing, we are repeating.  So to find your true center in martial arts, one must find their spiritual and meditative center first.  And to find that, one must be aware of the present moment.  This is mediation.

My mother wakes up every morning and spends an amount of time sitting at her kitchen table nursing a cup of coffee.  She wakes up early so that she is alone, that she has enough time to enjoy it without worrying about her time.  During this time, she sheds her worries of the day before, her expectations of the day today, or the implications of her actions for tomorrow.  During this time, she simply drinks her coffee and enjoys it for what it is; a moment of silence in the present moment.  This is meditation.

Friends of mine are regulars at a local gym and ritually attend every morning at 5:00AM and every evening at 8:00PM.  During this time, their minds are focused on their tasks.  Further, their minds are centered on the specific action they’re performing.  To not be focused on it could mean injury at worst, or poor quality of training at least.  They are not worried about the time before or after their gym experience.  They are not worried about the machine they’ll use next or the exercise they’ll be performing.  They’re in this moment.  This is meditation.

These examples are only a few, but it brings along on a journey where we can arrive at the conclusion that anything we do can be meditation, so long as it brings us to the now, and so long as we are not distracted by the rest of our lives or our worries of the world.  And so we arrive at the title of this article, What isn’t Meditation?

All things can be meditation and all things can not be meditation.  Meditation and its existence is a word that we use to describe anytime we apply our whole self to a task.  So perhaps it isn’t an action at all, but a way of life.  

And by the way, if you took the time to read this post fully, and without distraction, then I thank you for meditating with me.  

Until next time.