Do you meditate? This question seems to be all the rage in popular media, and it is rapidly becoming a point of prestige among the high earning, high performing, corporate tech crowd. I have nothing against mediation - I do it regularly. However, I still think that "do you meditate?" is not the most helpful question.
One of the modern misconceptions about mindfulness meditation is that it is synonymous with relaxation. The reality is that when you practice paying attention, you may experience a relaxed state and you may not. Just like life. And this is okay. The goal is to observe and accept what shows up, not to control what shows up.
The second challenge is the notion that stress, anxiety, anger, fear, and other forms of upset are something we should be eliminating or fighting against. These internal experiences are not some enemy to be vanquished. These internal experiences are information that we can work with wisely and peacefully.
Thirdly, the pressure to meditate can feed into the all too common belief that there is something wrong with us that needs fixing. Meditation can fall into the same pitfalls of self-improvement as dieting, plastic surgery, and get-rich-quick investment strategies.
Finally, meditation can be used as a reason to fuel the ego rather than an opportunity to see the ego for what it is. It is tempting to see ourselves as better than those who don't meditate. Today's enlightenment becomes tomorrow's arrogance. Mindfulness is simply a practice, not a badge of honor that separates the "right people" from others.
There are all kinds of practices for using attention purposefully and responding effectively to stress and discomfort. The question is not "are you meditating?" The question is "how do you intentionally access positive internal resources, connect with others, and put your energy into what really matters?" In others words, how do you practice being well and doing good?
The other day I watched someone receive some challenging feedback. She was quiet, maintained eye contact, and seemed to be listening calmly and intently. I asked her what she was doing internally as she sat there. She told me that she was praying for the strength to hear what was being said and connecting with the goodness that she appreciated in the person who was giving the feedback. Not mindfulness meditation...and really great practice.
The skillful use of attention is the foundation for the practice of wellbeing. And there are many practices that lead to greater skill. Anxiety and stress are natural parts of life, and how you work with it has an enormous impact of the quality of your life, your relationships, and your performance. The thoughts and sensations of upset are not a problem, but how we respond to them can create all kinds of difficulty.
Practices that have been shown to help us work positively with stress and anxiety include exercise, prayer, adequate sleep, journaling, listening, engaging in acts of kindness and service, spending time outside, savoring positive experience, expressing gratitude, working on meaningful tasks, actively learning, and identifying deeply held values.
Do you practice accessing the positive internal resources you already have? Do you use your responses as opportunities to build valuable skills? Do you have an intentional relationship to your circumstances - comfortable or otherwise? You do not have to meditate to live mindfully and purposefully. What are your practicing right now?