In Bridges to Consensus, I recommended three mental or spiritual values that support good consensus building and communication practices: compassion, calmness, and curiosity. I recommend regular meditation as a way to foster the second value, calmness. Now I’d like to share what is, for me, a new way to think about meditation.
Some people become frustrated if their minds wander while meditating, for example, while counting and concentrating on their breaths. However, mind wandering is normal, and a number of meditation teachers suggest that one calmly observe the fact that the mind has wandered and resume counting. In fact, I once heard someone say that meditation is noticing when the mind wanders.
This week, I read an article about a meditation technique that seems to take this concept a step farther, a step in a direction I think a lot of you readers will like. This meditation technique, recommended by former Buddhist monk Andy Puddicombe of Headspace, has only one step: do nothing. He goes on to say that this means simply sit still and observe your thoughts and anxieties without passing judgment, Just experience them.
After reading this, I realized why I’ve experienced such good results when I simply sat outside for a few minutes and looked around noticing things, but not working at any particular train of thought. It always seemed to me that, when I did this, I received the benefits of a good meditation session even if I wasn’t meditating. Now I know that I was meditating.
The article about Puddicombe also points out a couple of problems that ten minutes per day of this do-nothing meditation can solve–loss of focus and stress.
Focus is crucial during negotiation, consensus building, or any other important conversation. But the fast pace of our electronic lives works against focus. Nick Begley, Headspace’s head of research says that a worker using a computer typically changes windows at least thirty-seven times per hour. This divides the worker’s focus. A part of her mind is still on the previous window after she has switched to a different one. This happens any time we changed tasks rapidly, reducing efficiency and ability to distinguish between relevant and irrelevant data. Not where you want to be during an important conversation.
Ten minutes of “do-nothing” meditation helps to reset your focus on the day in question, and like any other good meditation practice, when done regularly, also produces long-range benefits. One of these deals directly with the second problem identified above—stress. It replaces that stress with calmness and builds your ability to calm yourself more easily and quickly before or during an important interaction.
Now that the weather is becoming milder, I plan to get that lawn chair out of the garage and resume my practice of “do-nothing” meditation on my patio. But wherever you try this, I hope you do, and I’ll be glad to hear how it goes for you.
Excellent point. I am concerned that many people, today, may not know how to be silent, be still or do nothing. Texts, emails, sykpe, all while talking, eating and “listening” to others…
I believe it is paramount for us all to take time to do nothing daily and weekly. Thank you for this reminder.
Thanks, Rev. Royal. I will also mention your comment in my follow up email to my “private” blog subscribers (see my reply to Mark Hoelter’s comment above).
Margaret, I totally agree, and from experience: “Don’t just do something; sit there.” And I would add to your thought. First, doing nothing, just letting and “watching” thoughts and feelings arise like bubbles and then pop, only to be replaced by more bubbles, attunes one to much of what’s going on inside us unawares, unconsciously. After a while, we get attuned to how much some of that “stuff” actually runs our lives or our reactions. It also allows one to realize these thoughts and feelings are transient; that if we just watch them they vaporize. And it allows us to become aware that there is some other “part” of us that is watching them come and pop and disappear. That’s the part to stay engaged with.
Then, if one adds-in paying attention to one’s body and body-sensations related to those thoughts and feelings, one becomes attuned to the body signals of when something is going on. For example, I’m in a difficult conversation, carefully moderating my tone and language, and I feel a tightening around my solar plexus (or wherever) that I’ve now come to associate with a feeling of anxiety (or anger, or hopelessness, or whatever) that, in retrospect, often derails me. In other language, a button is being pushed, but it’s now not out of my awareness but, instead, in my awareness.
This can lead to a new interchange, even if a slightly (or more than slightly) risky one. One can say, “I’m noticing my stomach is in a tight knot, and I’ve come to realize when that happens I’m really anxious about something. Can we pause here? I need to go inside and figure out what’s really going on for me…. Okay, I am anxious, and what I’m anxious about is….” Even just the pause and such a change of expressed thought can jiggle the conversation in a whole new, and often better direction.
Of course, when one shares such things, and what one shares, are still matters of important choices. One might with individual-A just want to be aware and not share (because of power differentials or lack of trust rooted in prior experiences), while with individual-B be willing to take the risk and share. That choice is there, but one knows about the feelings and thoughts and intuitions (some of the thoughts that pop up will prove to be a deeper knowing about what’s really going on for oneself or for the other person).
I think this adds up to the nitty-gritty, the literal “embodiment,” of what we have come to call “Emotional Intelligence.” It takes a while to get really-really skilled at this (ultimately it probably takes Dr. Ericcson’s “10,000 hours” of practice), but actually in a few weeks one begins to become so aware, and it can change one’s life and conversations a lot even in that short time.
Other resources about this include Jon Kabat-Zinn’s work (“Wherever You Go, There You Are” or “Mindfulness for Beginners”) and Daniel J. Siegel’s, too (“Mindsight”). And more. Hope this is helpful to someone.
Rev. Mark, thank you so much for sharing your experience with this. I love the way you have elaborated and the image of bubbles rising then popping. I have a list of people who prefer to get their link to my weekly blog by direct email from me, rather than by subscribing to the blog. I am going to make a rare exception to my rule of only writing them once a week, and suggest they return to the blog to read your comment.
The article is, per usual, informative and thought-provoking. The follow-up responses make this something on the order of soul-searching. Though it may seem like a question of semantics, “Doing Nothing” is not that at all; it’s active internal (psychosomatic) Awareness. ● Regarding Emotional Intelligence, knowing ourselves (metacognition: intellectually, emotionally, spiritually) is one side of the equation; learning to read/know others in the same way is the other side of the equation.
Like one of the respondents, I pay close attention to what my body is saying, but I’ve learned that saying “This seems to be very important to you… I need a little time to process this…” (or something similar for those speak their mind/feelings before considering how they will come across) works best for me.
As a musician, I’ve learned that the best way to ensure that what I intend comes across in performance, is to pay very close attention to what my body is saying when I’m practicing/studying (mentally or physically). If there’s the slightest bit of internal tension or hesitation, I need to rethink my approach — technically and/or musically/interpretively. (Musical tension is absolutely essential in any work, but one should not feel it physically in any way that distracts breaks one’s focus.) It often takes many months (often a year or longer) before a work is ready for public performance AFTER the physical/internal tensions are resolved.
Thanks, Gary. It is interesting how different people all apply these principles to such different endeavors.
Margaret, I am so glad to read this blog and the comments. I have been practicing Centering Prayer or Christian Meditation for almost 30 years and I couldn’t agree more. I, too, would recommend Jon Kabat Zinn’s book, and also John Main’s work and Thomas Keating’s for a Christian perspective.
One other important point to add is that in addition to Doing nothing, it is important to EXPECT nothing but simply, as you say, to BE.
Thanks, Mary. You are so right. If you expect something, then you try to make it happen, and now you are working, rather than taking a break from work to help your mind re-center and your stress flow away.
wow, I am so glad to have come across this particular entry in your blog. I am currently spending time with my mother who is recovering from a knee replacement. The recovery is going well, but due to other health issues, her recovery will be challenging. I am feeling overwhelmed and finding it difficult to decompress and “turn off” the pressure that I have placed on myself. yesterday I found myself sitting quietly when the phrase “be still and know that I am” popped into my mind. I like that phrase because it can be applied to any spiritual practice. I repeated it in my mind, shortening the phrase by one word at a time until I was simply thinking “be”. What a sense of peace that word gave me. I never thought of it as meditation but I suppose it is.
I agree, Gracie. That was a wonderful meditation. I love your idea of repeating a phrase and eliminating one word at a time, and I intend to try it.