Can you bring what you’ve learned on the cushion out into the real world?
Have you developed a consistent meditation practice? Have you learned to watch your thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations arise and pass away? Do you think you’re ready for the next step, but not sure what that is?
When you first begin the practice, meditation feels like its own distinct thing. For 5 or 10 minutes a day, you might feel calm, at peace, or like you’ve let go of the problems in your life. And this is great. At some point, though, you’re ready for more.
It’s difficult to know when you’re ready to take the next step in meditation, and I would be caution against taking it too early. At the very least, you should have a consistent meditation practice that you’ve developed over many months. It will be your base of support, your foundation, for the next step, so it needs to be solid.
When you are ready, you might start noticing interesting facts about yourself when you’re out in the “real” world. For example, when you’re cut off in traffic or a friend tells you about his promotion, you might see your anger or jealously from a new perspective. You might feel like you stand a bit apart from those emotions — like they’re just happening, rather than happening to you.
This is the mindfulness you’re developing in your meditation practice trickling out into your daily life. Step #2 of meditation involves consciously dialing up that trickle so that you can begin to more often enjoy the benefits of mindfulness.
You carry your meditation practice with you
You might have started a meditation practice hoping it would be an escape from the problems, stresses, and anxieties of your life. And, so far, it might have helped. The problem is, it’s only helped while you’re meditating.
Meditation, then, has acted like an island of peace and tranquility — a place where you could go to run away from the bad things in life. There, you could enjoy the sunny beaches, quiet meadows, and panoramic vistas, while forgetting about everything else.
Outside of these brief moments of reprieve, though, you feel like a tiny boat on a vast, stormy ocean. You’re helplessly tossed about by a writhing, angry sea. And each new wave brings with it the real possibility of capsizing, or worse.
In short: “real” life can be overwhelming, often terrifying, and rarely peaceful. The question is, what can we do about it?
The trick is to try to bring your island with you wherever you go.
Does that sound impossible?
Meditation is not just about changing your mind while you’re meditating. Meditation is about changing your mind. Period.
You don’t leave behind the progress you’ve made in meditation when you go out into the “real” world. You take it with you. Into every situation you find yourself, you bring the knowledge that there is a place within you that is a haven from the stormy seas. A place from which you know, in your core, that everything is OK.
Everything is practice
You’ve already dedicated a regular period of time to meditation. Now that you’re ready for step #2, it’s time to start consciously bringing mindfulness out into the “real” world.
There’s no shortage of situations we can apply our mindfulness to. Are you going on a date? Are you going for dinner at your parents? Do you have a work deadline you don’t think you can meet?
In all of these situations, you will be inundated with thoughts and emotions. So, watch your mind. What’s it doing? What are you feeling in your body? Try to be as mindful of what’s happening as you can be.
What will this do for you? Bringing mindfulness into your daily activities will remove some of the sting of life. You will be less scared, less nervous, less anxious, and more open to experience. Being mindful will help your best self shine through.
But, bringing mindfulness into your daily life is a fundamental shift in mindset, so be patient and kind with yourself. You’re going to forget to be mindful when that jerk cuts you off, but don’t worry — it’s not the last time that will happen!
Trying to use your mindfulness in ordinary situations will train your mind to be mindful under more circumstances. The more situations in which you’re mindful, the more at ease you’ll be in the world.
This means you won’t need to wait until the next time you meditate to visit your island paradise — you’ll be carrying it with you wherever you go.
Thanks for reading!
The thoughts presented here have been strongly influenced by thinkers such as Joseph Goldstein and Sam Harris.