I got this question from Abigail, a friend who read an authors copy of my book, and I think it’s a very pertinent concern. Her question was:
“Roger, I loved your book! I found it readable, entertaining, lucid, inspiring and encouraging. The only sticking point for me was the central story you told of the ‘hopeless meditator’ doing a retreat in the meditation center, and his exchanges with his teacher, the monk. As much as I found them extremely informative, and quite funny in parts, I worry that most people who read your book will not be meditating as intensively as that guy, so maybe some of the information won’t be useful to them. So I’m wondering why you made this conversation a centerpiece of the book.”
My email back to Abigail went as follows:
“Good question, largely because it refers to a concern I also had when I wrote the book, which caused me to think quite deeply about what I was trying to do. So here’s the thing:
For sure, it’s true that meditating for eight to ten hours a day in the silence and peace of a monastery or meditation center creates very different results than meditating for a short session in the mornings and afternoons in the cut and thrust of daily life ….
The lessons are exactly the same.
The only difference is, when you meditate intensively for long periods of time, those lessons, and the effects of meditation, are more noticeable, because they’re more intense. The calm and insights that can arise are often extraordinary when meditating intensively, as is the pain and angst that can arise is also magnified by intense practice.
Counter to that, when meditating for a short periods in our daily life, the calm and insights are very subtle, as is any pain and angst.
And it’s for this reason that some people choose to throw off their worldly life, and become monks and nuns in Buddhist monasteries and meditation centers. In devoting themselves entirely to meditation they ‘fast-track’ the transformative process that meditation elicits.
But for those who don’t choose that path, meditating for relatively short periods throughout daily life is incredibly helpful in every area of our life.
I’ll give you an example.
Each morning I wake up, have a cup of green tea, then I sit down to meditate. I close my eyes and pull my attention into my body and what do I notice? I notice various tensions in parts of my body which I hadn’t noticed before – which gives me the opportunity to let them go.
Perhaps I notice a resonance of anxiety or an emotion which, though I woke up with it, I was not aware of it – which gives me the opportunity to observe it and resolve it by letting go of the physical tensions around it.
And as I keep meditating, in the stillness that slowly comes, I feel my entire mind and body integrating, settling, coming into sync with each other. And thoughts come and go, flitting about like butterflies, but as I keep re-orienting my attention to the breath, they become less bothersome, and the settling, integrative process goes on. Until the timer signals the end of meditation, and I open my eyes.
And no matter if it was a messy meditation or a calm one, I always feel refreshed, integrated and ready for the day, in a way I would not have had I had bumbled into my day with all those things I was not aware of before I meditated, still jangling in my inner space.
So, though the meditation process as we practice it in daily life is not as intense, nevertheless, with practice, it becomes an essential part of a life.
I call it ‘maintenance meditation’.
And as I said, the lessons in maintenance meditation are the same as those learnt in any monastery – that being, ‘be aware, accept, let go and move on’. Whether you’re meditating in a monastery or as daily practice in the mundane life, the problems faced and the solutions to them are identical.
And the reason I made that conversation a centerpiece of ‘Being Still’ is simply because I needed the main character to be meditating so intensively that the problems he was experiencing with meditation would be highlighted, so I could then address them.
And I needed the wisdom of the tirelessly patient monk (who was based on one of the monks who trained me) to be present to address what was happening. Added to which, I wanted to write a book that entertained as much as informed, and the idea of putting a hopeless meditator together with a long suffering monk appealed to me.
‘BEING STILL – MEDITATION THAT MAKES SENSE’, Roger’s new book, is available now.
(The audiobook includes all the exercises, as well as ebooks of Being Still, to fit any device.)