The Art of Meditation
in Daily Life
Our "everyday life" is really not something separated from our "spiritual life". That's why our inner evolution gains great benefits if we apply the the principles of meditation to everything we do. This article by James Harvey Stout shows how.
We gain more benefits if we apply the principles of meditation. Regardless of our reason for meditating - perhaps for relaxation, centering, peace of mind, or spiritual awakening - we can apply many of the same principles to our daily life.
When we do this, we multiply the rewards simply because we are increasing the amount of time during which we are attending to our inner states, and we are sustaining the momentum which we cultivated during meditation.
We also have the opportunity to test any revelations which we acquired during meditation; when we try to apply these new ideas on a subject such as "divine love," we gain feedback which adds new dimensions to our understanding of these abstractions, and we can see how this divine love (for example) takes form in our activities, our home, our friendships, our job, our finances, our physical health, and other situations. The feedback assists also to keep us solidly based on the realities of our human world. (The "real world" has ways of rudely pointing out any bizarre misconceptions that we might have created in the isolation of our meditating mind.)
The Illusion of Dualities
We don't have to view our everyday life as a distraction. Outside of meditation, whatever attracts our attention - our interest, our desire, our emotional response - is not a diversion from some ideal spiritual state. On the contrary, we might find that the reason we are enticed is specifically because there is something for us to learn - a spiritual principle, a karmic situation which we have created, or an attachment which needs to be released with love.
We can adapt any meditation style to our everyday life. If we use a "concentration" type of meditation, we can practice concentrating on any task, such as driving or reading. If we use moving meditation, we can use the same principles in every motion -- when we are typing or gardening, for example. Be creative with the adaptations, and enjoy the exploration of these states as expressed in the outer world.
We can also learn about dualities. We might see the ways in which we separate our life into "meditation" and "non-meditation," "spiritual" and "secular," "inner reality or illusion" and "outer reality or illusion," "inner thoughts and feelings" and "outer manifestation of those thoughts and feelings," "passive" and "active," and so on. When we bring meditation into our daily existence, we learn more about such dualities and the common ground that lies beyond them.
Besides, we sustain love toward our human existence. As we find a commonality between our inner and outer worlds - principally with the idea that our outer life is a reflection of the inner - we are less likely to think (mistakenly) that the inner world is the only sacred one, and that our physical life is nothing but illusion or evil or sin.
On the contrary, many meditators develop a greater love and acceptance for their own humanity, and they feel that their spiritual challenge is to find the sacred within the mundane.
We can receive the physical world for what it is - our temporary home, our place for learning, and a creation which evokes our compassion, natural affection, and desire to serve. This outflow of loving energy helps us to live fully in the world and yet simultaneously to experience the loving divinity beyond this world; if we were to scorn our physical life, we would be succumbing to the illusion rather than seeing the light and truth behind the many elements of our life.
It's important to remember that we can maintain the qualities which we develop in meditation. Certainly, we must shift gears for whatever activity we are doing; our sitting Zen practice might not be easily adaptable to our fast-paced restaurant job. But we can try to re-create the same inner quiet, like the calm at the center of a hurricane.
Other qualities which can be brought into daily life might include love, attentiveness (mindfulness), joy, simplicity, clarity, compassion, relaxation, poise, and a feeling of connection to the rest of the world. As we apply these principles, we will discover a depth to our everyday life which will make each moment more interesting and more joyful.
Change and transcendence
Do we change or transcend? Although the expression, "Before enlightenment, you chop wood and carry water, and after enlightenment, you chop wood and carry water," might imply that spiritual evolution doesn't spur us to express our new realizations, "chopping wood and carrying water" refer to basic activities and responsibilities of life (like eating and sleeping); the expression doesn't say that we won't change at all.
Spiritual growth and enlightenment might be based somewhat on acceptance and transcendence and bare observation (which imply not changing ourselves or our personal world), but our expanded awareness introduces elements which alter the dynamics of our mental processes; the mere presence of these new ideas and energies will change our ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving.
We might want to change our outer life. As we experience the enjoyable states which occur during meditation, we naturally want to recreate those states throughout the day. We look for ways to change our outer life to make those states more-easily accessible during those other hours. For example, we might choose to stop eating meat, because we discover that the digestion of meat causes lethargy and heaviness which diminish the sweet lightness which we found during meditation.
Also, meditation increases our sensitivity to subtleties; we realize that some of our friends are abrasive and energy-draining in ways that we hadn't noticed previously. We might quit a career which is now offensive to our insight into human and environmental needs.
Changing from within
We change our life also to come into accord with our new experience of vitality; we might become more outgoing and active and adventurous - or, contrarily, we might quit some of our involvements in order to have a quieter, simpler lifestyle. We might want to change other aspects of our life: our hobbies, the place where we live, the manner in which we run our business, our spending habits, our daily routines and habits, our taste in art and movies and books, and so on.
We change from within. Ideally, we develop this new lifestyle in accord with personal insights rather than on the basis of any concept of "the religious life." The spiritual path is perhaps a refinement of our own identity rather than the mimicking of someone whom we consider to be "religious."
For example, we can choose to listen to a different type of music because it calms our emotions into the same state which we enjoy during meditation; we don't listen to it simply because a certain guru likes it.
Nothing in this world is inherently more "spiritual" than anything else; if we are true to ourselves, we find and use whichever elements will enhance our growth, regardless of any stereotyped ideas regarding the proper lifestyle of a meditator. Our needs will change constantly, so we must monitor ourselves, and find enjoyment in the freshness of each new development of ourselves.
Some changes - perhaps all of them - will happen automatically. Meditators often say that their destructive habits - drugs, smoking, etc. - simply "dropped away"; the people lost interest in them.
Self-discipline and willful abstinence can help us to convert to a more-healthful lifestyle, but we will maintain this change only if we feel a waning of the attraction toward our old habits, and if we now have the strength and the means and the alternatives to establish new ways of being.
Spiritual Growth as a Natural Process
We might realize that spiritual growth is a natural process which is powered by parts of ourselves which know more than does the conscious mind. As we receive more input from these parts, we learn that we can trust them, and we can surrender to this grand process; then we bring our concepts and models into alignment with the revelations, and we use our will to enact and embody the information from those revelations. But we are starting from the personal intuitions, not from the concepts.
Although religious concepts can help us to understand our inner experiences, the concepts themselves tell us neither the timing for us to make changes in ourselves, nor do they show the precise manner in which we need to change; that information is available only from our inner counsel.
Meditation alone won't transform our lives. Although our inner guidance might become more distinct as we proceed in our practice, we need to act on that guidance; this might mean going to a doctor or psychiatrist for an illness, or getting a better job to pay our bills - instead of expecting meditation to be a cure-all. However, meditation is likely to help us in our lives by giving us larger perspectives, and increasing the clarity of our thinking - and enhancing such qualities as detachment and love, to smooth the way.
Copyright © James Harvey Stout. Read more of James Harvey Stout's work at http://www.james-harvey-stout.com