Another year lost to the proverbial waste bin of time and I couldn’t be happier. Not because I’m bitter, and certainly not that I am a ball-drop-and-champagne kind of person. Not because I’m particularly reflective, either. It’s simply a nice reminder of the reality that everything is constantly changing; decaying and blooming, coming and going, and so forth. We often forget about this in the day-to-day mix. But the transition from one year to the next is an opportunity to see the world for what it is: constantly in flux.
Don’t take my word for it. Here is what the eminent quantum physicist Carlo Rovelli has to say about the nature of the universe in this regard,
The world is not a collection of things, it is a collection of events. … On closer inspection, even the things that are most ‘thinglike’ are nothing more than long events. The hardest stone, in the light of what we have learned from chemistry, from physics, from mineralogy, from geology, from psychology, is in reality a complex vibration of quantum fields, a momentary interaction of forces, a process that for a brief moment manages to keep its shape, to hold itself in equilibrium before disintegrating again into dust …
What does this have to do with meditation? We’ll get to that, but suffice it to say, for now, pretty much everything.
A Rock Is an Event
It’s also the time of year when we endeavor to make improvements in our lives. Increasingly, this has included mindfulness and meditation. I’m going to leave the topic of mindfulness aside (I’ve covered it before here and also here) and focus now on meditation. It’s one of those words with many meanings. What exactly do I mean by meditation?
First responders are practical people. This is good because meditation, as I understand it, is a supremely practical exercise. According to Kosho Uchiyama Roshi, meditation is “an effort to continuously aim at a correct sitting posture with flesh and bones and to totally leave everything to that.”
Put another way: By sitting still we might see the movement of everything around us (the true nature of the universe).
Sitting with correct posture and leaving everything to that–how does that sound? I try to do this daily. You might try it now. What I notice is–well, it depends on the moment! With this understanding of meditation, we are free to notice. That is the beauty of it. We are aware. The mind does run riot! My mind does, anyway. Often. Part of the value of this exercise is being able to see this, and to recognize that not everything that comes into the mind requires action or energy. Most of my thoughts will go as easily as they came. We get, I feel, a sense of life unfolding all around us, just as Rovelli suggests: free, wild, healthy; full of space and movement and lightness.
As Kosho Uchiyama noted, posture is essential. This is because we want to be stable and awake. Momentary discomforts are okay (they too will pass), but pain is not. If you find yourself in pain, adjust or stop altogether and try another sitting position that does not cause pain. Otherwise, in short:
- Sit on a pillow; alternatively, if this is uncomfortable, sit on a chair
- Three points of contact with the ground: buttocks and knees (or legs, if sitting in a chair; angle the chair forward with cushions or books to achieve this, if possible)
- Back straight, as if a three pulled through your spinal column, through the crown of your head, and pinned you to the ceiling
- Place your hands in your lap or on top of your thighs
- Be solid; you aren’t going anywhere; time is immaterial
There’s more to this, of course. But this will get you started for a few minutes if you’re new to it. Sit like this and see what happens. This is meditation as I practice it.
A Look Under the Hood
Bring intention and attention to this practice. It can be especially helpful to (and challenging for) you first responders. You are people of action. You want to right wrongs and fix problems. What you aren’t so good at, much of the time, is accepting what you can’t change; at finding yourselves, whole and complete, in the world as it is. Meditation, as described here, is an exercise in just that.
I will note this: We aren’t looking for peace in meditation. We might find peace if we’re open and aware, but we aren’t seeking anything as such. You’ll get a glimpse under the hood, so to speak. For a first responder, this perspective on our own subjectivity allows for true situational awareness, something I’m sure you hold very dearly, as we become aware of our awareness.
Take care. And,
Happy New Year!