Why do we meditate? I often think of the Zen saying: You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day, unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour. Yes, it makes us chuckle, but what is it about meditation that brings truth to this saying?
When is the last time you were still? Just still, not doing anything else? Yeah, we don't do very much of that these days. We are always jumping from one thing to another, multi-tasking we say. Actually what we are doing is switch-tasking, not multi-tasking. Multi-tasking is what you do when you are making Thanksgiving dinner for 10. You know how you have to coordinate all the food to be ready at once, while making sure that the table is set, the kitchen is relatively clean. All of the things you are doing are working towards one goal. That is multi-tasking. Switch-tasking is another beast entirely. Here's a little experiment: as fast as you can, count from 1 to 10. Go ahead, give it a try. I'll wait. Now, as fast as you can, say the letters A to J (in order). Easy, right? Now let's try switch-tasking: as fast as you can, alternate between the numbers and letters, so 1, A, 2, B, and so on. Not so easy, right? That's your brain, trying to hold two tasks and switch back and forth between them. How many times a day do you do this? Well, while you've been reading this, have you been interrupted by your email, or a Facebook notification (or Twitter, or Instagram...)? Gloria Mark at the University of California, Irvine, (and others in Germany) published a study on The Cost of Interrupted Work. Did you know that when you stop what you are doing to check email (or Twitter), it takes on average of 23 minutes, 15 seconds to get back to what you were doing? And people are switching tasks every three minutes and five seconds. How on earth is anyone getting anything done? Does anyone know how to stay on task any more?
When is the last time that you did what you were doing? When we wash the dishes we sing along to the radio. When we go for a walk, we listen to a podcast. We go for a drive, and we mull over the conversation we need to have with our teenager. And all of these things are being interrupted by the red circle with the number in it at the top right-hand corner of your screen.
Meditation is the opposite of this. It is doing exactly what you are doing. It is training for the mind so that when you are not meditating, you know how to do what you are doing. This is why it's important to practice every day. But more than that, when you are busy and stressed out, it's so much more challenging to stay focused, to keep on task, to not let the mind run you. And that is why we should meditate for an hour when we are most busy.
This is why on Monday evenings we practice together, so that we can work on this most important skill. We work on training the mind to be present. What else is there besides this present moment?