Sit still for 15 minutes a day (Exercise #11)

May 5, 2006

Meditation is intimidating. To me, it has a magical spiritual quality to it as if it were step one of a grand transformation where ultimately I stop drinking and eating meat, and never get angry, and shave my head. Also, there's this inner doubt that if nothing happens and I continue eating meat and going to bars, that somehow it's not working. Definitely my own issues are involved here… but I don't think I'm the only one with these issues. People who practice and teach meditation of course try to remove these expectations from us amateurs, but it's very difficult to erase meaning and association from a word. Meaning clings like glue. It's easier to just get a new word. Instead of learning how to meditate, learn how to sit still.

There are no social or spiritual implications associated with people who sit still compared to those that are associated with people who meditate. Everyone knows how to sit still and everyone knows that it's not a big deal. In fact, it may have a slightly ridiculous association if any, and one might be tempted to conduct this exercise in the corner while sitting on your hands. It brings back images of childhood and our own reckless unruliness.

And yet, it's still strangely difficult. Why is it so difficult to sit still even for a couple minutes?

Meditation is a momentum killer

I think the difficulty of sitting still is a mental one. Over time we've trained ourselves to avoid sitting still for practical reasons involving motivation, momentum, and getting the many things of the day done. When I think about the thoughts that immediately fill my head when I suggest to myself that maybe I should try sitting still for a bit and doing nothing for 15 minutes, my brain protests and says that it will interrupt the flow of the day. A certain level of buzz and motion in my brain can serve as an energy source for the tasks I'm presented with in the course of the day. To let that spin down might cause my mind to stall out and become unable to continue with the rest of the tasks I've got mindlessly lined up like ducks along the fence. When I've got a few errands to run that I don't necessarily want to run, I start figuratively waving my arms about, running in circles, screaming, and generally spinning myself up and distracting myself from too much mental investigation of true value in the things I'm doing so that I can mindlessly direct the building energy at the few errands and bulldoze them over without thinking about it and talking myself out of it. Does this sound familiar at all?

Positive and negative affect

It's a useful motivational trick to use excess physical and mental energy from one source and direct it at another source that wouldn't have otherwise been able to generate the energy on its own. For many of us, this practice becomes habit and we train ourselves to always have some reserved well of momentum available. This well is a positive affect. It is a resource to tap into and use both as a savings account for difficult tasks, and also a cushion when we're hit with a negative event of any kind. If someone insults you, or things don't go as you've planned, the positive affect can absorb the cost of that blow and you can continue on without too much impact. Negative affect, or motivational debt, is often associated with depression. Every new task seems impossible because there's no momentum or energy to tap into. Everything instead has to rely on its own worthiness in order to bootstrap itself into being done… and this only if there aren't existing tasks that are of higher (if less enjoyable) priority lobbying for that energy for itself. Those people with negative affect become overly sensitive, as every insult sends your energy and motivation into deeper debt and has a visible impact on your ability to get along in normal social situations. Because of this positive/negative affect ecosystem, which we've all experienced high highs and low lows of at some point during our lives, we tend to be very protective of our affect well. This is why sitting still (or meditating) can be seen as a treat.

The truth is that sitting still does have the ability to change your affect. It'll challenge the momentum that you've got going and help you examine why you're doing the things you're doing. It won't drain you, or demotivate you, but rather show you what you're doing… at which point you can decide for yourself if the things you are doing are actually worth doing. Because of the positive/negative affect system, we'll sometimes do things simply to keep momentum up… we all know people who are always occupying themselves and who are constantly busy with something… and we all know that sometimes the things we keep ourselves busy with are not really that important. Sitting still is one way to do some spring cleaning in your motivation and momentum systems. Or, it might just give you a sore butt.


One Response to “Sit still for 15 minutes a day (Exercise #11)”

  1. timethief Says:

    You seem to think that meditation is only about sitting still. Well, I’ve been meditating for over 30 years and you maybe surprised to hear that walking meditation, meditative dance and other forms of moving meditation exist. May I suggest
    What walking meditation does for me is to bring me into the now moment. I become acutely aware not only of the workings of my own body but of my place in the environment. I become aware of the smell of the trees, the salt sea spray, the wind through the firs, the birdsong, the woodpeckers rapping, etc. I become so acutely aware of the fact that I am an integral part of the environment that I can hear the most gentle footfalls of the deer in the underbrush although I cannot see them and I know we both are part of the whole.IMO people are utterly mistaken if they think that meditation removes one to hazy dozy space. The effect of meditation on me is quite the opposite. I would also suggest that you do some research on other forms of moving meditation. Namaste (which means I salute the divine light within both thee and me – I salute that place and space where we are one).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: