Do I Have to Sit to Meditate?

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You know all those guided meditations that are so popular these days? I think they’re lying to you. I don’t think those lies are harmful; most people tell me those recorded meditations are helpful. But, to me, they are lies in that they aren’t really meditations. They’re listening exercises. In my (never claim to be humble) opinion, there’s no difference between listening to that ‘Full Moon Meditation’ recording and listening to The Dark Side of the Moon.

There are many ways to meditate, but all agree on one thing: meditation is an act of devotional, intentional focus on the present moment. When we are listening to a guide tell us what to experience, we are robbing ourselves of that crucial invitation to experience things as they are. We have to take some ownership of our experiences, and we can’t do that if someone is literally directing our brains.

But, over my years of cultivating a meditation practice, I’ve also come to realize meditation has to fit into my life in order for me to make it a habit.

I practice Tonglen meditation, which is a form of deep compassion. It helps me come to terms with pain on a small and large scale. It also helps me to connect with the people in my life more, be more available to them, and slow my impulse to compete.

But, many days I don’t sit Tonglen. Many days I just think, “Oh! I haven’t meditated yet. I have 30 minutes, but my mind is racing, and I need a short cut.” On these days, I opt for other mindful activities. A mindful walk does the trick in a pinch. Sitting to pet my cats will also do. Some days, the best route is to head to the beach and stare at the ocean.

Plenty of people have plenty of humble and not-so-humble opinions on what constitutes meditation. Mine is: as long as you are taking ownership of the present moment, you can count it as your practice.

Here’s a method I’ve been loving lately. I sit and read pages from one of my favorite authors. They include Pema Chodron, Brene Brown, Desmond Tutu, and Stephen King.* I find a passage that speaks to me in that moment. Then, I make some art with it. I take my time. I feel how I react when I like what I’m drawing or when I think I made a mistake. I notice my breath, my jaw, and the position of my tongue in my mouth. I notice how hard I’m grasping the pen – often with a lot of force – and I soften what I can.

With this one, I ran out of room for the word participation. My initial thought was to tear out the page and start over. Instead, I went with it and stayed committed to my practice. I added this little face of Hanuman, which also didn’t have enough space, and I thought, “Ugh. I shouldn’t have drawn him!” Noticing my tendency to want to make even my meditation practice an act of perfection helped me to cultivate compassion and light heartedness.

Each drawing takes about 20 minutes. They are on display at the front desk. Some soak them in; better yet, make your own.

*Seriously, few people get life like Stephen King. They’re not horror stories, they’re gospel.