It’s simple to understand how all of us can meditate each and every moment.
Once there was a fisherman. Everyday before dawn, he’d awake to a quick breakfast, and sail his boat out to the ocean to fish. Except during storms and holidays, he’d fish and fish until exhaustion set in, which usually happened in the middle of afternoon. Only then would he make his way back to shore.
Life was good. His business thrived. But there was a problem. By noon, he’d start to feel awfully hungry. Yet whenever he was on the boat, he never allowed himself to eat.
He hadn’t always done this.
As a boy, he’d relished lunch on the ocean. But one day, out fishing with his father, he bit into a sandwich and heard his father scream. He’d forgotten to secure one of the masts. A strong wind had come, swinging the mast into his father’s side, breaking his ribs.
At that moment, he decided: No food on the boat. One has to be vigilant, he’d say to himself, over and over. And how could one be vigilant eating lunch? In his mind, this was not just a belief. It was practically law: Lunch makes fishing dangerous.
What is meditation? Various definitions of meditation exist. For the sake of usefulness, let’s try another.
Suppose our fisherman begins to pay attention to what’s happening right now — starting with each and every breath he takes. As meditation goes, and the experience of countless meditators corroborates, the fisherman would at some point come to realize the truth: that lunch does not make fishing dangerous.
His illusion would fall away. He would become aware. This is meditation.
Given our culture and upbringing, many of us are like the fisherman. We have our own kinds of wonky “fishing–lunch” beliefs. These beliefs color everything we do. And often enough, they also color how we understand meditation itself.
Let’s examine one such belief, highly limiting in nature, that we would benefit by letting go. The belief goes like this:
I don’t have time to meditate.
Or in other words, certain not–now situations must be in place for me to meditate. I must close my eyes. I must be in the mountains on a retreat. Without electronic distraction. I can’t meditate while working or exercising or waiting in line at the grocery store. I must be sitting in a yogic posture on a meditation cushion. I must wait until I’m retired and old.
So many of us establish such conditions in the mind. And when there’s a desire to meditate, but our imagined conditions aren’t there, negativity arises: frustration, despair, hopelessness, apathy. And we don’t meditate.
I used to think about meditation in this way, and I suffered for it. When I’d express to people my budding interest in yoga, I believed to be true what many said in reply, “Well, I would love to meditate. But I have three kids, I’m starting a business, and I have so many other responsibilities. I can’t find the time.”
But that’s not the truth. The truth is: I can meditate all the time. And so can you.
I am grateful if you allow me to make this obvious. This way, all of meditation’s benefits are available to you all the time.
Let’s ask again: What is meditation?
To meditate is to look deeply, to listen deeply, to perceive deeply. Through cultivation of keen attention, one real-izes — one becomes aware of what is real. Inside and outside of ourselves. How else would the fisherman know (for certain) that lunch making fishing dangerous, is illusory?
These definitions may seem abstract. But in the context of a concrete practice, like paying attention to one’s breathing, very soon, meditation finds clear expression in the flesh and blood of one’s experience.
In fact, breathing meditation itself is an easy way to understand that unique internal-external situations — which we call moments in time — need not be in place to meditate.
Asking three basic questions, and realizing the answers for ourselves, can bring us to this understanding.
1) Are we breathing right now? Yes.
2) Are we always breathing right now? Yes.
3) Can we always be aware of our breathing right now? Yes.
Then it stands to reason: Saying “I can’t meditate because I don’t have the time,” doesn’t make any sense.
Each moment — every present — we can be aware of our breathing.
If our eyes are opened or closed. If we’re in the city or in the mountains. If we’re on or off our electronics. If we’re working or exercising or waiting in line at the grocery store. If we’re in a yogic posture or not. If our bodies are young, middle aged, or old.
This moment we can meditate.
As such, meditation is not a condition. It’s a choice we have each moment.
Now this is not to say that meditation cushions or mountain retreats aren’t useful. They are. Take kids learning to ride a bike: they use training wheels. Only when mastering three or four wheels, do they adventure out onto two. And even still, sometimes they fall.
The same is true for meditation.
Certain conditions or situations may support us in learning to meditate — say, scheduling time for breath watching from 6 to 6:30 a.m., when it’s dark and quiet in the house. We’re smart to prioritize such conditions. On the other hand, certain other conditions, like driving a car or managing a fishing boat, are probably best engaged while meditating after we’ve done some time on the training wheels.
And even after beginning to ride on two wheels, it’s a good bet that we’ll maintain and accelerate our meditation by continuing to allow time for the trainer. Have you ever seen professional cyclists warm up before a race? Even they spend time stationary, cycling on a trainer!
What happens if we fall off the bike? you might ask. Well, we notice we’ve fallen, and we get back on the bike.
Stumbling notwithstanding, the fact remains: Regardless of the life situation we find ourselves in (…the time), we can always look more deeply, and we’re always breathing.
We know that meditation is a key to our peace, love, joy, and success. Now we know that we needn’t wait to meditate.
We can meditate right now.
We can meditate all the time.