Monday, April 7, 2014

Can We Be Mindful Without Meditation?

I am currently training to be a yoga teacher with Rolf Gates, a phenomenal yoga teacher who has a fabulous practice with a large following of teachers he has trained. He also has a group of readers who have learned from his book Meditations from the Mat. In his book, Rolf teaches the different principles of yoga through a focused intention and lesson for each day. He is currently writing a book on meditation practices, which has raised an interesting issue between us.

Rolf and I have an ongoing dialogue about mindfulness, and he frequently challenges me with the following question, “Can you really have mindfulness without a formal meditation practice?” In my mind, especially in light of my research on technology and mindfulness, the question becomes: Can we really counteract some of the distracting consequences of the digital age without following a formal training of meditation that includes an intentional practice, a time and space for meditating? Can we be mindful without learning this formal practice?

My initial response is yes, I do think we can be more mindful without a formal practice. Is it ideal? Probably not, but it’s a start. To some, the thought of meditating feels too foreign a concept, too hard to do in the busy-ness of their lives, but the suggestion to be aware of one’s thoughts and actions seems more palatable. In a current article on mindfulness the thought that if we can teach people “to keep their attention focused on whatever they’re doing at the present moment, whether it’s eating, exercising or even working,” we can say that they have moved into mindfulness. Usually, this starts with formal meditation, but to some the thought of sitting down to meditate for a prescribed amount of time causes them to negate the entire notion completely. I often hear people say, “I tried, but it wasn’t for me,” or “I don’t have time,” or “I can’t settle down; I’m too restless,” These same people might have a different attitude if they were simply asked to just be aware of themselves, to watch their minds as they talk to a friend, walk down the street, or work on the computer.  I don’t disagree with Rolf that formal meditation practice is most likely the preferred method for living in the present moment, but I think we can start where we are and go from there.

As I write this, I realize that perhaps a differentiation between formal meditation practice and informal mindfulness is needed. My fear, if we say we can only be mindful if we have a meditation practice is we’ll lose the people who may need awareness and focus the most, the teenagers whose lives involve more distractions and opportunities to be unmindful through the very nature of their interactions with technology.

It is much more effective to ask a teen about her technology use, rather than tell her she uses it too much. The first step, as in any parenting technique, is to ask questions. When we ask teens to simply watch themselves when they check their iPhone, Facebook, Instagram, rather than stating they use it too much, we’re creating an opportunity for presence, focus and self-knowledge. Once there is an understanding that we can live in more present moment awareness, and that presence becomes desirable, then there may be more of an opening for a formal meditation practice to enhance and further this state. When it comes to technology, though, once someone realizes they may overuse technology, or perhaps be addicted to it, there is an opportunity for change, but the awareness is essential.

To Be Continued…

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