We live in an increasingly frantic world where life has become a non-stop bombardment of the senses. Younger readers have never really known any other reality, but most people born before the 90s will remember what life was like without the now ubiquitous internet and the dawn of social media. These changes to the culture within which we live in have undoubtedly had more benefits to the global population than they have negative repercussions, but it can all get a little bit overwhelming sometimes.
Many people thrive on the hustle and bustle of modern life, but a lot of us also feel a little bit spun out by it all. In what I see as a direct response to this, practices that were traditionally associated with the East have gained more and more popularity in the West. Yoga and meditation, with their roots in Buddhism and Hinduism, have been popular in some circles for decades, but their rise into the mainstream continues at a pace today.
Stepping out of Samsara
For those that don’t know, Samsara is the Buddhist notion of the material world in which we live as being nothing more than a illusion which we should all be seeking to escape through enlightenment. Or by becoming the Buddha. This may sound quite like a dramatic goal to set oneself, but it is the basic aim of all Buddhist traditions.
Becoming the Buddha may be too much hard work for most of us to take on in this cycle of life, but the practice of mediation is an excellent one for those people out there who want to take a step back each day and simply observe.
This may in itself not seem like much of a challenge, but the practice of sitting in meditation is actually a lot more difficult than it sounds. It’s only when you come to try it for yourself that you will appreciate just how difficult it is to just let go of things and empty your mind, but at the same time you will also get an immediate grasp of its benefits.
Meditation is Not Enough
If you can settle into the habit of doing meditation each day that is awesome. Getting into the practice of meditation will almost certainly have a positive impact on your life and allow you to feel a little bit more in control of the world around you, but in my experience that is still not enough.
I believe this is particularly true as you get older and fall into the bad habit of doing little or no exercise. In my experience I also realised that one of the biggest difficulties of feeling comfortable with meditation was that I had too much nervous energy in my body when I came to sit down. A great way to counter this was by implementing my meditation into a daily work out.
I have to admit that this ideal combination of meditation and exercise that I found was actually one that was given to me through my interest in the work of the American philosopher Ken Wilber and his Integral theory. The regime I found there is a 35 minute work-out that can easily be done in the privacy of a medium sized room and needs nothing more than a towel or yoga mat.
The beauty of this simple work is that it gives my body a solid daily work out, and after 35 minutes I’m feeling focussed and able to concentrate much more when it comes to my meditation.
Maintaining the Practice
As with all things, the novelty of doing exercise and meditation does wear off after a not very long time. At least it did for me. There are just so many things that can get in the way. One night you may go out with friends and have one drink too many and not feel like getting up earlier to maintain your practice the following morning. Or you may go on holiday, or a business trip, and have your routine broken that way.
There are a whole host of other reasons why you might let go of your meditation and exercise practices, but I think the most important thing is that you don’t allow a break to ever become a definitive one. Genuine habits take a long time to form. Just because you stop once does not mean that you have to stop for good.
When you do find yourself in a position where you have fallen out of your practice, you should just take the time out to think about how you and your perspectives on life were different when you were sticking to your regime. I’m almost certain that you’ll look back on that period as one where you were feeling more in control and had a greater sense of overall satisfaction with the way things were going.
Be Flexible. Be Kind
There are not all that many ways in which you can approach meditation. All you need to do is sit down and concentrate on your breathing, or a mantra, or on completely emptying your mind. Exercise on the other hand can take up so many forms. And one of the great benefits of living in this digital age is that we can never complain of not having access to lots of interesting and inspirational resources to help us get back on track.
One other key thing is to make sure you never get frustrated at yourself for not sticking to your routine. If you take your failure to stick to your meditation and exercise regime as a sign that you were just wasting your time anyway, you’ll probably find yourself getting pretty down.
The reality is probably more likely to be that the routine you had found just wasn’t the perfect one for you. Be patient, be kind, and you’ll be getting back into those good habits in no time at all.