From time to time I have had the pleasure of facilitating all-day retreats as part of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program. During a recent retreat an important problem was raised and discussed. Though formal sitting meditation practice is an essential part of the training, what should we do when we just don’t have the space in our schedule to apportion the time necessary for a meaningful meditation session? The reason that most of us were drawn to Mindfulness in general and MBSR in particular is because we’re so stressed out from the demands put on us by our jobs, families, and general manner of American living. If we had time to meditate, we might not be all that stressed out in the first place. It’s a difficult and paradoxical problem.
My teaching partner (Bill) and I had somewhat different takes on the problem as posed. Bill stated the need to “make time” no matter how difficult. He has a good point there. He went on to say that many times when we believe we’re too busy to meditate, it’s actually that the meditation would raise awareness of difficult issues, ones we’d rather avoid facing. The option to procrastinate and then to abandon the commitment to sit becomes very attractive; seductive, in a way. And it is likely that the resistance to finding the time is actually evidence that a meditation session is needed more than ever!
I agree with Bill, to a point. There truly are occasions when there’s not the time to settle in for a good period of practice. Not all decisions to “not meditate today” are open to psychological interpretation; sometimes the urgency to get on with our schedules and forego our meditations is just that, an urgency that cannot be denied. I think that those of us dedicated to following this path have to carefully discern our motives when we put off our meditation practice because of a demanding schedule.
However, that doesn’t mean we cannot cultivate mindfulness. Let’s not forget that meditation is a practice that we follow with the intention to cultivate mindfulness. To meditate is to be mindful, but the point of the meditation is to strengthen our mindfulness for the demands of even an ordinary day. If meditation is the tool and mindfulness is the result, what other tools might be available for us to cultivate mindfulness on those days that we cannot make the space for a meditation period?
I’d like to address this question in my next post. For now, I’ll leave you with these thoughts. First, mindfulness is a natural mind-state; we all have it to one extent or another. Second, the degree to which a person is mindful fluctuates throughout the day. Third, a person can learn to remain mindful through most if not all of the events of the day, but it does take practice. Fourth, the mindful state is defined as the felt sense of having focus, being alert, and, most importantly, not judging the objects that come into one’s awareness. With these thoughts in mind, how might the overly taxed person cultivate deeper mindfulness despite being so pressed for time each day that maintaining a formal practice becomes difficult, if not impossible? More on this later, but your ideas would be greatly appreciated too. Thanks for reading!