You are meant to flow. Your brain evolved to navigate your body through its environment. Your organism – your brain, body, and its multitude of components – is a highly sensitive instrument that responds to stimuli, reads and reacts simultaneously, and seeks to understand this world. Whether it is music, exercise, or words, you respond well to movement, but perish when stagnant.
Paradoxically, our modern society is plagued by sitting in front of screens; either watching make believe life, or consuming information that we do little with. Endless television series, internet websites containing opinions of the latest news buzz, scouring through databases of “experts”; the pattern seems to be sit-consume, sit-consume. We sit in the car, sit at work or school, sit at mealtimes, sit when we get home, and all the while wonder why forty-five minutes of exercise three times a week doesn’t seem to change our body much. To top it off, we eat too much of the wrong foods – which can be considered less than nutritious. Overall, our day to day lives have become something to dread – or, at the very least, have become extremely dull and boring – moving us further away from our potential, and closer to becoming lifeless globs of plato-like stuff.
There is a type of society, though, that sits quite often, and appears calm and rather healthy and lively. The zennists. However, these people sit purposefully, and they sit every morning and every night, quietly, with nothing but themselves, breathing fully and observing all that comes to pass. Then, after some time and at a certain point, they stand up and go about their business. They clean, shape the garden, cook and eat, have tea, walk, conversate and live. After their daily affairs are in order, they may do more artful things, like paint or play music. Then, they sit again before bedtime. If it was allowed in the dojo, I’m sure you would catch a zen monk or two laughing at a television show every once in a while. But I can’t imagine the monks would sit there for more than one show at a time. There seems to be something very different about our sitting and that of a zennist. But what is it?
Have you ever been driving somewhere, or going through some other mundane task – like washing the dishes or taking out the trash – and all of a sudden it’s over, you wonder where it has gone, how it was even accomplished? Where were you really at during that time? Your body was taking out the trash, but you didn’t seem to perform the action with it. Where were you?
We seem to have so many lapses in consciousness. Personally, the high school classroom and early on in my collegiate education were where these lapses happened most frequently. As students, most of us sit, uninterested in what is being “discussed” or “learned,” wishing we were elsewhere and thinking about what we should have said to the rude cashier, or how we are going to fix what happened last weekend. This carries on in to our adult lives. We go about our work trying to get to the weekend so we can numb our senses, or increase them beyond necessity. Then, if we do move, we move to get somewhere else – from this bar to the next, from this man or woman to the next – and when we get there we don’t know what to do with the situation. We are uncomfortable and we try to get away from that feeling, that anxiety. When you really think about it, the majority of our time is spent trying to get away from the uncomfortable, or dull, present situation, attempting to escape into the future, or figuring ways we could have done things differently in the past. And, in this way, we miss out on a lot of what life has to offer.
But, what if we got all of the mindless wandering and anxious tendencies out of the way? What if we cleared up the speedy, incomplete thoughts, half consumed sensations, and mindless experiencing, by spending a little time just sitting. So that when we watch television, we take something away from it; or we realize that there is nothing to be gained from it at this moment. What if we took time to clear our minds early on, or late in the day, so that we could give the world, the people in it, and our action, full attention and consciousness. Would our lives not be so much different? Would our anxieties not settle as we realize the futility of endless worrying, thinking about situations and outcomes we can’t control? Would we not see the joy in the simple moments of life, and enjoy living more consistently, with more energy, compassion and love?
At least not right away.
At first we would fidget, trying to escape the tension. Then we would run through our never-ending, ever-growing to-do list, thinking about how much time we are “wasting”. Next we would open and close our eyes, adjust our back and shoulders, and roll our neck, fidgeting more and more, because, times-a-tickin’. By that time we would probably be gasping for air because there just doesn’t seem to be enough even though it surrounds us in magnificent quantities. Breathing from our neck and upper chest, faster and faster, oh boy, we have got to get going! What if… What IF… WHAT IF!…
What if that was only one minute? What if that was only five minutes, or ten at the most?
Well, then we might let it all out; have a full inhale or exhale. A sigh of relief just may give us some poise in our spine and let our heart beat a little stronger. Because, face it, even the strongest, most centered and loving person can worry sometimes. It’s quite alright to wonder about what life may bring. Wonder is part of life’s beauty. Once we realize this is the only place we can be – here and now – there are no other places you could be, or choices you could have made, that life is about experiencing and learning, then we can relax into the moment. We can take a walk alone and not be afraid. Or we can walk with another person and enjoy quiet conversation. We can experience the love that we are in every situation.
That we sit, think, and consume information endlessly isn’t the problem. It’s the way we carry out these actions; mindlessly out of habit, because we are afraid to be alone, and with no expression of the inspiration that surrounds us. Sitting, thinking and consuming are human activities; but, they are only part of the flow of life.
There is an artist within each one of us. No, not necessarily the “high art” of the Renaissance; but art, nonetheless, resides in all of us. Art is our soul! And the endless consumption and inspiration that surrounds us gets stuck, spoiled, festered and infected, stagnant with a stench, if we don’t express ourselves artistically!
Marcus Aurelius said, “everything that belongs to the body is a stream.” Buddha taught, “there is only mind.” Life is movement. Life flows and changes constantly, from the largest and slowest changing things – like mountains, oceans, and the atmosphere – down to the the smallest bacteria and atoms. Life is insubstantial, and emptiness pervades through all that we see, hear and feel. Existence, then, is about “going with the flow,” dancing with people, places and things, singing with the music of the moment. When we never take the time to contemplate our position of existence – who we are – our soul lies restless.
Contemplation isn’t about defining ourselves by profession, social status, or talents. Living in the moment certainly isn’t about getting as high as you can all the time, blowing your money and screwing people over. Contemplation and presence are about inhaling all of the beauty and pleasure of life, filling yourself up with the inspiration of nature and wonder of existence, and then exhaling it all out, giving all that has past through you back, through love and compassion.
So, when you sit, sit in peace and wonder. Let your breath move freely and easily as inspiration takes over your body and mind. Thoughts will come and go as they please, but it does no good to be disturbed by any one thought in particular. When you sense that happening, when you are hung up and stagnant, frustrated or anxious, let out a sigh of relief. Clinging to sick thoughts does you no good; you are only preventing the flow of life when you hold your breath. And it is the same when you walk, talk, run, or sing.
Don’t hold your breath, and as they say, let come what may.