My evolving understanding of meditation is that it is supposed to remove you from your every day mindset and sort of clear the decks for being alert to the things that you may have become numb to. The formal instructions I have received in meditation to date usually involve sitting quietly in proper posture and maintaining focus on the movement of your breath while looking down calmly.
Anyone who’s spent even one moment meditating will soon see the problems inherent in the ideas of even just sitting quietly in proper posture, forget about focusing on the breath. But looking down…maybe no so much. I’ve started examining the ways in which traditional instructions in meditation may actually reinforce the structure of our current lifestyle in a way that it did not centuries ago when the instructions were formulated.
In terms of movement, people used to move a lot more in their daily lives, working making things happen. Sitting still would actually take them out of their typical environment to a different place. Today, most people sit at desks all day or drive in cars. We sit at the computer or by the television for our entertainment. For the modern human, it is energetic movement that is the challenge, not sitting still.
Eye gaze is something that I’ve thought about extensively in this regard. When I think about my typical activities, I realize that I actually spend a great deal of time with my eyes cast downward and close. Reading the music of my students, typing on the computer, reading my email on my iPhone, reading a book for pleasure. Similarly to the movement issue, I believe that the modern person spends so much time with our eyes cast downward, that for us it is looking up and around that is the challenge.
Try this. Keep your head straight forward and just pivot your eyeballs up. Feel the pull at the bottom of your eyes? Those are muscles stretching; muscles that have been in a static contracted state for too long. The more intense the stretch you feel, the more contracted and tight they are.
Again, look back in history. As people moved around they looked around. When there was social interaction, it was live and in a room where there is variable focal distance. To listen to one person or another, your head and eyes would pivot around to guide your attention. Not true for Skype or Facebook chat. It’s not that I think these things are bad, but I do believe that when it comes to meditation, we should be challenging ourselves to do something that is different from what our every day conditioning makes us do.
So, in meditation I look up. Then part of my practice includes not fearing the fact that I am doing things differently than the way in which I was instructed – which is also counter to my every day conditioning and brings me to that place of discomfort from which I can examine life.
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