The Power in "Non-Doing"

words on meditation


If you're like me, your typical week reads like a laundry list of to-dos: between work, socializing, personal time, and creative/entrepreneurial endeavors, it's all too tempting to fall into the role of the chronic busy bee. "I have no time" and "Sorry I couldn't make it, I've been so busy" have become automatic responses in the 21st-century New Yorker's lexicon.
Alan Watts, a world-renowned meditation teacher, speaker, and long-time student of Eastern Spiritual systems such as zen and yoga, critiqued the assumptions of the busy bee in the following way: On our watches and clocks, time is represented by a hair-thin line which moves constantly. In my own interpretation, this conception gives us the idea that a moment is like a tap of our fingernails on a table. It is so short and fleeting that as soon as we become aware of it, it's already gone. With this perspective, of course we seem to be out of time!
As Alan Watts suggests, time is more like the ringing of a gong; its reverberating sound rippling off in all directions, linking one moment to the next and the next moment to the one before it. What might happen if you were to consider time in this way, as a stage for the play of cause-and-effect? How might that change the way you think, feel, and act in your everyday life?
I understand the effects of a stressful lifestyle, and that sometimes you can feel so overwhelmed as you work to meet your obligations. I do not denounce this: It means you are a socially responsible person who is rooted in the world. You and I both know that feeling we have at the end of a long, stressful day. We feel overstimulated, maybe we haven't eaten anything nourishing or drank enough water, maybe we snap at the people we love for no real reason just because we're feeling so over-stimulated. That's a bad feeling for just one day, imagine for an entire lifetime! Life feels faster, more chaotic, you may stop enjoying the things and people you once coveted. Consider meditation like your E-brake. Once you move past the beginning stages of meditation, in which the mind usually sits in the corner barking at you the whole time you are sitting, you'll start to treasure meditation as a way to temporarily pause whatever is going on in your life. And don't worry, you won't "forget" to think about and deal with important thoughts later. Instead you'll be more likely to handle them with more ease and efficiency, now that the mind is on your side. Contrary to popular belief, meditation won't turn you into a zombie! The world will keep spinning without your active participation in it for the time you take to meditate.

Nonetheless, it may very well happen that solutions come to you during meditation. That is because you have taken yourself out of the mind's superhighway of overlapping, redundant thoughts which dart about lawlessly in all directions and at any speed, some demanding that you get in their poorly inspected cars without a seatbelt and go for a joyride to end all tomorrows. Observing this superhighway from a distance, you are on your own quiet streets, where you are the traffic patrol. If a thought breaks through the guardrail and passes by you, you gently but firmly tell it, "Hello, anxiety. I see you in that same old rusted red sedan. But you may not stop here, please move on. You, too, Mercedes. I know you always want me to distract myself by buying new things." And you continue this process for every single thought, feeling and emotion that crosses your path.
Then, to your intellect's surprise, you may find one brand new shiny blue car pull up shyly in front of you. Her license plate reads "Solution." Ever cautious, intellect checks to make sure that there is some substance to this new thought's pretty appearance - luckily, intuition is there with her succinct approval. That new car, afraid of getting dented and banged-up in the chaos of the superhighway, had patiently been waiting in a concealed parking lot off to the side, and finally felt that it was safe to present itself to you.
When we get quiet, solutions come. But this is a side-benefit to meditation, not the goal. If you asked a zen monk why he meditates, I imagine he would find the question very odd. Why do you breathe? It is a part of existence, and a vital one at that. Perhaps instead of asking “why meditate,” we'd ought to ask “why not?” or better yet, “what could be the consequences if we don't?” Could men and women continue to make decisions bred from a mind set on apathy, greed, and hostility if they knew that they were not their thoughts, not their judgements, not their pasts, not their minds?
As a yoga teacher and lifelong student, I feel that anything we can't put to trial and experience for ourselves is better left untouched. If it can't be applied in our own lives, where we are our greatest teacher, then it reads as dogma, not yoga. Which is why I believe that meditation is a practice that you must come to on your own terms, and allow others to do the same. Sure, you can invite a friend to your meditation class, but I would leave it at that, and not try to "sell her" on it by telling her about your extraordinary experiences. Let those be private and precious to you, and fuel your drive to go even deeper in your daily practice.
There is a saying that goes, if you think you know how to meditate, you're not meditating. That's because meditation is a goal-less endeavor. It is not stress-reduction or time to ponder your problems. Nor is it the same as concentration, though concentration is necessary to achieve the state of meditation. That's why many meditation styles utilize a focus on the breath, an object, or a set of words (mantra.) From concentration, comes meditation. It is the simple state of abiding in the role of the observer, and from there, transcending the endless chatter of ego, memory, and judge which we've come to collectively call "mind." It may only happen for a few seconds before more thoughts come driving down your streets. Gradually, those moments of peace get longer.
There is such a power in non-doing, much as a ball placed at the top of the hill may be inert, but is teeming with potential energy. By pausing at the peak, we begin to see how every event in life presents us with a host of choices, about how to feel, react, and ultimately, how to relate to others. Then we place the power to see clearly back into our hands.



Originally published by Fit+Flow Yoga, with adaptations