A regular mindfulness practice usually meaning 15-20 minutes of morning meditation, and almost always some variant of breath meditation now seems to be de rigeur for high performers in virtually all fields. The research indicates and the orthodoxy definitely holds that meditation improves focus, concentration, contentment, and calm, and ameliorates distracting and intrusive thoughts, and even depression. The mechanism for this is understood to be via developing the muscle that controls which thoughts we attend to, and in what way a gym for developing control of the mind.
After three stabs at undertaking a mindfulness/meditation practice the last somewhat protracted and serious and, in particular, some very recent thinking upon it… J'refuse. I reject meditation. Here's why.
I have decided that I reject meditation (for me). My reason for this is that it seems to me to be an incredibly blunt, fluffy, and peripheral tool for the job it is trying to do like trying to become an ace F-22 fighter pilot by zooming around with your arms extended for twenty minutes every morning, making Pew, pew! noises.
Please understand me. I have now come to realise that it is absolutely, urgently critical that I gain mastery in controlling my mind appropriately. Absolutely everything depends upon it: my happiness, my humanity, my commercial & artistic success, my ability to be some kind of force for good in this world and on behalf of my fellow seven billion planet riders not to mention my ability to create, cobble together, and experience some kind of meaning out of this wildly contingent, arbitrary, and often random plenum of existence in the universe.
Specifically, I ardently long to:
- be mindful of the places and times I inhabit, to genuinely and immediately have and honour these experiences;
- be totally present with and for the people I share this life with and, critically, share love with to develop the deepest possible empathy for their lives and essential humanity, to create and sustain the richest and most meaningful and most loving possible relationships, rapport, involvement, and embeddedness in their lives and journeys;
- to do my very best and most authentic work every day
- by focusing like a laser beam, getting right down into the weeds, and executing like a master craftsman when appropriate
- and by relaxing my grasp, abandoning my preconceptions and judgments, and opening my mind to panoramic awareness, in order to nurture creative breakthroughs, connect and synthesise the disparate and multivariate, and make myself a vast and unfiltered receptacle for the Muse, the Universe, and even perhaps the Godhead, for whatever is greater than my own self and abilities and creativity;
- imagine ways that I might fumblingly form myself into a feeble but determined and faithful servant of my brothers & sisters, who globally have as much need of help as they have potential to succeed and create and be heroic and become servants in their own right;
- be able to see with some clarity through the boundlessly complex systems that govern the physical world and the world of human endeavour the untold thousands of layers of abstraction, and unimaginable complexity and interconnectedness, that comprise society and culture and art and economics and technology and the natural environment and human health and flourishing and to imagine novel solutions to the critical problems we face, and to embrace courageous and wise and far-seeing/long-term decisions.
So I urgently burn to get better at all of these things each and every one of which ineluctably requires gaining control of my mind and focus, where I place my attention, how I choose to regulate my feelings, and what types of thoughts I choose to entertain in my head (and when and how and why).
And I now believe that the best way to get better at all of these things is to practice getting better at these things not by counting my breaths for twenty minutes every morning.
I do not discount that mindfulness practice specifically meditation can result, as a side effect, in better mental control in all these areas. Just as zooming around with your arms out probably doesn't hurt your F-22 piloting skills. But, as for me… let me in the damned cockpit. Actually, a better metaphor is: I've got Giza Pyramid to build. Or, more aptly, a Chartres Cathedral. The meditators advise me to go to the gym and start lifting weights, so one day I'll have the strength to start moving stones around. But I think I'd rather just start building the damn cathedral. It's a ton of work, but I know what it needs to look like, and there's an awful lot to do, so I'd really better get started. And if I do actually get the damned thing built, guess what? I'll have necessarily built up the strength in the course of doing the job. Counting breaths is, at very best, the long way round.
So I'm taking back my twenty minutes every morning, and putting them to better use. With absolutely no disrespect intended to the 5th-century BCE Buddhist monks whom meditation has served so well.
- Patience, humility, and compassion (*);
- Endeavour to be a “large-hearted” person;
- There are very many ways to view every event that happens; in almost no cases are they all negative. You get to choose.
- More awareness of my environment, every minute, every day;
- Many more books (which hold the answers to my questions);
- And much less glancing at screens.