Friday, April 21, 2017

Avoidance by doing

Whatever physical fitness I have had during my life has been in large part due to reading.  Not that picking up a book is going to get me all that fit.  But various books and articles over the years have inspired or re-inspired me to jog, lift weights and get in some biking, walking and calisthenics.  My interest and resolve gets updated, gets a new coat of paint.  I get energized again.

It is a bit too ironic to read about exercise and not do any.  Words and pictures help me get going or point me toward something new.  For some reason, I don't need the same sort of booster for meditation.  In fact, over the years, sitting in a relaxed but upright way on the edge of a hard chair and simply being for 10 minutes has grown to be a welcome respite from reading, thinking, trying, or being guilty about whatever.  When I really stop and feel what I am feeling, all over repeatedly, many other activites take a back seat.  They have value but only faintly.

Through Eric Barker's blog post on mindfulness, I learned about the 10% Happier app launched by Dan Harris, Joseph Goldstein and Sharon Salzburg.  It is subtitled "Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics", an excellent explanation and challenge.  Harris and others say that meditation has been explained poorly.  I get their point and to some extent, I agree.  Pictures of a swami or guru sitting cross-legged in lotus position bring to mind flavors of exotic activities and influences.  But the app and the courses and the books can be used to avoid the real thing.

Sylvia Boorstein's title "Don't Just Do Something, Sit There!" ($7.49 to download) seems to point in a better and more helpful direction.  No screens, no fidgets, no diversions.  For just ten minutes, for goodness sake.  If you simply break out in itches for that length of time, use a timer for only 90 seconds.  That is the length of time the 10% Happier app starts off with.  Like writing in a diary or closing the day with three good things that happened, a short period every day when you deliberately pay attention to your breathing will pay off.  That time can develop into an ability to let your mind show its ideas and feelings without pulling you off into a story.  Good research shows that whatever you do deliberately matters to your whole mind and body.  It is like checking in with your entire self for a pleasant meeting.

Don't let the ease, simplicity and brevity of a little daily meditation trick you into living without this life-enhancing activity.  It is even more important that exercise, since it can be very helpful in tolerating sickness and aging or times when you can't exercise. Sylvia writes:

At some point or other, I took the instruction seriously and said to myself, "Go for it—just do it. Don't think about it, don't evaluate it, don't figure it out, just do it." When I did, everything changed.

Boorstein, Sylvia. Don't Just Do Something, Sit There: A Mindfulness Retreat with Sylvia Boorstein (pp. 76-77). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

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