At last all my university exams are over for the year, and I have one more year to complete before getting my BA in Japanese. But now I can enjoy a bit of a break and share some more chats with you.
Basically, the one-minute meditation is like checking your vital signs. It is an awareness exercise through which you scan your mind and body in a particular way from top to toe and then finish by taking three deep breaths. It is very simple once you understand how it works. But before going through the meditation in detail, I want to explain why this is such an effective meditation, even though it is less than a minute.
As I’ve said before, in my experience, most people are too busy to commit themselves to the longterm discipline of lengthy meditation practices such as 30 minutes a day, every day, at the same time, same place, with samurai dogged determination. I do admire those people, but it seems just too unrealistic for us mere mortals. Also, in my experience, there are people who are natural meditators, in just the same way that someone is a natural athlete or artist. And I think that my teacher in my home temple in Japan is an Olympian Gold Medallist! But, in the same way that you don’t need to be an elite sportsperson to enjoy playing tennis or going for a walk, you can enjoy meditating and benefit from meditation very quickly. The trick with one-minute meditation is to simply remember to do it, and to do it whenever you remember. But more about those tips later. Let’s just look first at why it is so effective.
Okay, when we’re going through our day, we all have these tapes running in our heads – familiar favourite mind-tunes that we are largely unaware of, but which determine so much about how we respond to the events of the day as we encounter every moment. These mind tapes are what cause us to feel stressed out and tired, but it’s hard to keep tabs on it because it’s happening in such a familiar and automatic way. It’s just like breathing, which is going on all the time but we are largely unaware of each breath coming in and going out, unless we’re out of breath from too much strenuous exercise (rarely, in my case!) It’s the same with our minds – just tootling along without being aware of it. However, every thought that you have does have an immediate impact on your body.
For example, say your sitting at the table having a quiet cuppa, grabbing a moment of respite by yourself and you’re just chilling, letting your thoughts wander. But what if you had an argument with your partner the night before – sure enough, while sitting there sipping your tea, thoughts about that argument will pop into your head and you’ll start going through it all over again, usually with a sense of indulgent self-righteousness – after all, you were in the right, right? What you’re probably unaware of, though, is that when you think about the argument and how angry you felt, your body will be responding as if it is really happening all over again. So in that moment, when you think that you are relaxing with a cup of tea, your body is actually responding as if you are in the middle of an argument and experiencing a stressful adrenalin rush, which in turn puts a great deal of unnecessary stress on your nervous system.
Try this exercise… next time you go over an event in your mind, whether it’s about an argument or a sad movie you watched or the excitement of a first kiss, take a moment to bring your awareness into your body and feel that emotion physically. What is interesting about this exercise is to realise that although you are not actually in the reality of that situation – after all, it is a memory of something that happened in the past and is not really happening right now – your body is responding not to what is happening in the present moment but instead responds to the memory of something that is no longer happening. Give this exercise a go and let me know what you find. Next time I’ll look at just how this mind-body connection works through your autonomic nervous system (sounds scientific, but actually the basics of meditation really are just working with these kinds of scientific processes – there isn’t anything particularly spiritual or otherworldly or metaphysical about it… that comes later!)