Sitting meditation is practice for living meditatively. When I train my mind to concentrate — gently focusing on the breath, recognizing when I drift off, and inviting my attention to come back — while sitting in silence, I’m developing the capacity to do that in the rest of my life.
Sitting down to dinner with my spouse, for example, I can bring my awareness to the space where we’re interacting. Sure, we’re talking about our days and what happened in the hours before we sat down, but but my attention is here. I’m remembering events, not entangled in reliving or revising them. And that leaves space to see them and maybe gain some insight, from myself or my spouse. I’m here with him, not back at the office or on the highway, caught in an encounter that’s over.
We went to a dance performance last night, which I’d been looking forward to, even though we’d seen this dance company perform before and not especially liked it. And it was possible to be in that space of gentle attention, watching the dance and allowing thoughts to arise without reacting to them. Good God, a 40-minute-long piece set to Gymnopedie? Really? Thinking. Is this the end? Oh, it’s not. What!? Thinking. Even (whispered by my spouse) This is ridiculous. Maybe. Thinking.
Does it make the dance better? No. But it keeps me from going on an internal rant about the quality of the choreography. It keeps me from getting caught in a longing to be home in my comfy pajamas and denigrating where I am. It keeps me from feeling bad that I’ve brought my spouse to something he’s not enjoying and trying to list all the things I’ve done and not enjoyed because he wanted to, from being wrapped up in defensiveness. It keeps me present and lets me see the beautiful moments among the ridiculous ones.
Really, that’s what life is — beautiful moments mixed in with ridiculous and painful ones. Meditation helps me to be present for them all.
The inner quiet engendered by concentration isn’t passive or sluggish, nor is it coldly distant from your experience — it is vital and alive. It creates a calm infused with energy, alertness, and interest. You can fully connect to what’s happening in your life, have a bright and clear awareness of it, yet be relaxed. — Sharon SalzbergReal Happiness: The Power of Meditation
-by Nancy Thompson