Meditation lite

They say that meditation is sitting on a cushion and emptying your mind. But I do mine while I’m, like, shopping

David Rickey at Land's End labyrinthBY DAVID RICKEY  — I know it doesn’t come as a surprise to say that meditation is important for spiritual growth. The post-modern philosopher Ken Wilbur claims that it is the quickest way to advance the evolution of consciousness.

But it might come as a surprise that I myself — a psychotherapist and Episcopal priest who has devoted a lifetime to spiritual development — do not meditate.

At least, I do not meditate in any classic way. I could tell you, “I don’t have the time.” But in the tradition of confession, here is mine: I have never had much discipline.

So, I have a form of meditation that takes no real time and requires only a smidgen of discipline.

The first step is simply to notice that you are thinking.

Just learning to observe your thoughts, to watch them from a slight distance, changes your relationship to them.

What is the ‘observing ego’?

In modern psychology this is called developing an observing ego.

Rather than just having thoughts, you begin to notice the process of thinking: An event (either inside or outside) triggers a thought or a series of thoughts. These thoughts, in turn, then start an action. It either happens inside in the form of ruminations (going over the event, and the following thought process over and over), or outside in the form of some action . . . expressing anger, resentment, or, my personal favorite, a judgemental attitude.

At first you just notice the process. It’s the beginning of being self-aware. It also provides a little gap or space between the thought and the action.

My mantra: “I don’t want to go there”

The next step is to recognize that it isn’t a pure ’cause-and-effect’ system. In that space you can realize that you have a choice about what comes next.

We have an expression “Don’t go there!” In this space, you can realize that you don’t have to “go there.” Often, not yet always, I can pull myself back and say “I don’t want to go there.”

My experience is that there is a real pressure to “go there.”  I can feel it. It’s probably a bit of adrenalin. It feels very visceral.

However, when I notice the feeling, and realize it’s probably a chemical coursing through my blood stream, I also discover that I can breathe and wait. The pressure subsides.

Although I said this doesn’t take much discipline, it does take some.

And more than that, it takes a certain will to change.

I don’t like how people experience me when I do “go there”

For me, this will comes from the sense that I don’t like watching me “go there.”

It may be satisfying for the moment, but I don’t like it in the longer term, and I don’t like how people experience me when I give in. Partly this is an image issue – I am supposed to be a spiritual teacher after all — but I also believe that by not “going there” I can actually have an effect on the course of evolution, if only a small one.

I value the teaching of Gandhi: “Be the change you want to see.” I really do want the planet to evolve and become a better place of all life. When I “go there” I become (or continue to be) part of the problem, not of the solution.

If you want, you can take the further step of noticing what part of you (your sense of self-importance, goodness, righteousness, etc.) is fed by “going there”. This can help you be even more self-aware. I caution you to do this with self-compassion. It can strengthen your will to behave differently.

I really believe that human beings are a high expression of the entire evolutionary process. We are the first animal that has a developed ability to observe our self and make adjustments. (Dolphins and even elephants show capacity to recognize “self”, but don’t seem to have the ability to self-correct or choose.)

So, next time you’re driving or navigating a grocery aisle (my two favorite places to practice), start watching your mind, with gentleness and love. Then, after some practice, try changing course–and give yourself a little credit when you do. That reinforces the behavior change. Then laugh when you watch your mind react to giving yourself credit. The laughter makes the whole process lighter.

David Rickey is an Episcopal priest, Soul’s Code co-founder and psychotherapist with a quarter-century of experience who lives in San Francisco. He conducts a weekly ministry at a residence for the elderly in northern California. Follow David on Twitter.

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3 Responses to “Meditation lite”

  1. David,

    The reason I don’t formally meditate is because it promotes achievement of a goal. Despite how essential many spiritual authorities claim it to be, it just has never worked for me. I prefer to think of meditation as a way of living. I am continually aware of the movement of my thoughts, and this awareness puts me in touch with who I am in my essence.

  2. Superb advice, as always David. Practicing awareness of the machinations of our minds, and observing how we project our thoughts onto others is part of the process. I love the control of realizing that I won’t allow a person or situation to “push my buttons.” It’s not smugness (I hope!) but more not wanting anything to kill the buzz I have in being alive and so lucky in many, many ways.

  3. Peter V. Stevens Reply 12. Jul, 2011 at 6:15 am

    Thanks for the article.

    I have found meditation, and the inner space that it provides, to be transformational in overcoming past trauma, in centering myself and in enhancing my ability to show up authentically.

    Meditation = life changing

    thoughts > feelings > behaviors