Perhaps you wonder: Is sitting meditation really that important of a practice to develop? I mean, really, you may be thinking, all I’m doing is, like, sitting there, doing nothing. Well, yes. And no. Classic Zen answer right?
On one hand sitting meditation is a matter of doing nothing in the sense that we’re not involved in something externally active. But on another hand we’re actively engaged with our inner environment and let’s face it, there’s a whole lot going on in there. With such a vibrant, tumbling, churning, cycling, ongoing inner landscape it seems a poorly inadequate sentiment to think that sitting meditation is a matter of doing nothing.
The editor’s summary of a study published in Science magazine in July of 2014 states:
Don’t leave me alone with my thoughts
Nowadays, we enjoy any number of inexpensive and readily accessible stimuli, be they books, videos, or social media. We need never be alone, with no one to talk to and nothing to do. Wilson et al. explored the state of being alone with one’s thoughts and found that it appears to be an unpleasant experience. In fact, many of the people studied, particularly the men, chose to give themselves a mild electric shock rather than be deprived of external sensory stimuli.
The abstract states:
In 11 studies, we found that participants typically did not enjoy spending 6 to 15 minutes in a room by themselves with nothing to do but think, that they enjoyed doing mundane external activities much more, and that many preferred to administer electric shocks to themselves instead of being left alone with their thoughts. Most people seem to prefer to be doing something rather than nothing, even if that something is negative.
For more info click here.
When looked at in the context of this study it’s evident to me that sitting meditation has the potential to be extremely beneficial in regards to simply learning how to be comfortable in one’s own skin. When I think more about it in this light it seems to me that sitting meditation is perhaps one of the most important things we can do.
What is it about sitting with one’s own inner environment that makes it so uncomfortable, so foreign, so difficult? Are we just so tuned out to the nature of slowing down, of stillness, of silence that meditation is simply too far removed from the way in which we tend to normally live our lives? Are we just so used to being distracted and having our attention dispersed in a myriad of different ways that we are relatively incapable of doing one thing, anything, by itself alone? Or perhaps there is this deeper sense of disconnection with our own selves that speaks directly to the challenge we often face when first delving into sitting meditation. My sense is that it’s a combination of all of these things.
I want to be clear though. Meditation is not the same thing as sitting in a room getting lost in thought, as was the case in the study mentioned above. Who knows, if the participants were first given some meditation instructions beforehand perhaps their experience would’ve been different and they would’ve been less likely to self-administer an electric shock just to have something to do. Meditation is not a matter of just sitting and thinking, spinning around and around with our endless parade of thoughts. Meditation is about investing time and energy into gently letting go of our thoughts and coming back to our present moment experience in the here and now. This is where the doing nothing part becomes a fairly inaccurate description of what sitting meditation is all about. Because we most certainly are doing something.
What we’re actually doing when engaging in sitting meditation:
- We’re practicing to be still, physically and mentally.
- We’re practicing how to connect in the present moment, just as it is.
- We’re practicing to let go of our constant need to be doing something else.
- We’re practicing how to embrace ourselves without judgement or ridicule, just as we are, thereby learning how to be comfortable in our very own skin.
- We’re practicing to see and understand ourselves and our experiences more clearly so that we are able to engage with the world around us with more skill and ease.
So, we’re really doing a whole heck of a lot in some respect. And all of what we’re practicing, in embarking upon the cultivation of a routine sitting meditation period, is vitally beneficial to our quality of life.
During sitting meditation the technique is simple. Not easy, but simple. When thoughts arise we notice them (without judgement or commentary), embrace them (not fight against or with them), release them, and return back home to our in breath and out breath. And we do this over and over again.
Sitting Meditation Technique (in reference to our thoughts that arise):
Return back to our breath
And…well, repeat some more
* In my experience and opinion this step might be the most important one.
Sitting meditation is not reserved for Buddhists or certain spiritual groups. Meditation is not, necessarily, faith based at all. It’s based on our own human nature and learning how to interact with our inner and outer environment with some solidity, calmness, openness, adaptability, and joy. To experience the fruits of meditation requires diligence. It will take the unfolding of time.
Be patient. Keep going. You can do it.