The point of meditating is to gain access to the present moment, because people feel more alive when they’re present. Another way to say that you feel more alive is that you feel more conscious — more aware of what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and how you’re feeling.
When you’re present, instead of constantly reacting to what’s happening around you, you approach each situation from a centered place within you.
People meditate and enter the present moment in their own ways.
There are so many people, for example, who care very deeply about strengthening their connection to the present moment, but who don’t feel particularly engaged during meditative yoga and will never utter a heartfelt, “namaste” to anyone in their life, ever.
This post is for those people.
The opposite of being present is being absent, that going-through-the-motions feeling that’s so incredibly easy to default to in your day-to-day routine.
Your brain has an amazing ability to filter out sensory stimuli and focus on whatever you direct it to focus on. In other words, when you’re wrapped up in your thoughts, your brain does its best to make sure you don’t notice much around you.
It’s that phenomenon where you read a whole page in a book (yes, a WHOLE page), get to the next page and realize you have no idea what you just read. Your brain sees the words, but it doesn’t process the information because you’re not inviting your brain to focus on what’s happening now.
The reverse of this is true, and it’s what meditating looks like. You invite your brain to focus on the present moment, so all the thoughts from the past and worries about the future take a backseat to whatever is actually happening right now.
Unless you’re the Buddha incarnate, your thoughts and worries don’t go away, you just get more of a birds eye view of them. They become smaller, less weighted, less important.
Sitting on the floor in stretchy pants in a room so quiet that you can hear other people breathing is deeply and understandably peaceful for some. For others, not so much.
Meditating in a traditional way is not at all relaxing to a whole slew of other people who find it unnatural and too forced for their particular taste. If you’re in the latter group, find whatever does feel deeply restorative to you and recognize it as a meditative practice.
It’s what author Mihaly Csilkszentmihalvi (really appreciating the copy/paste feature right now) calls “finding flow.” Finding those activities which you feel engaged in, slightly challenged by and which typically cause you to lose track of time.
Maybe it’s cooking, talking with someone, decorating, a certain aspect of your job, singing in the car or riding your bike. Whatever it is, imbuing the activity that you feel fully engaged in with spiritual meaning helps you to recognize and prioritize that activity as an integral part of your wellness regimen.
It’s important to note that a lot of people don’t have a ‘thing’ that provides a go-to route for deep engagement. Having a hobby is great if it accurately reflects a joy or passion of yours, but if it doesn’t, it’s ultimately underwhelming and turns out to be one of those things you only like in theory.
In theory, you might like creating pottery — spinning something beautiful out of muddy clay, the soothing rhythm of a potter’s wheel, the perfect messy bun and paint splattered smock, the quiet, (etc.). In real life, it might look more like getting some of that muddy clay on your expensive jeans you just washed, becoming annoyed, disliking the smell of the clay and wondering if you’re getting really overcharged for the class.
There are some things you only like in theory, that’s why there’s Pinterest.
For people without a specific hobby, just making sure that there’s free time carved out in the week can be enough.
Part of why you don’t have hobbies might be because you relish spontaneity. You don’t need to have structured activities because you always discover different ways to “find flow” if you just have free time. In that case, prioritizing blocks of free time would be your spiritual practice.
The bottom line is that finding access points to the present moment is a major component of happiness and good mental health, and those access points look different for everyone.
Whatever you do that’s enjoyable and doesn’t hurt you, there’s something deeply restorative in that. Do it more, do it regularly and don’t feel bad about prioritizing it. Just like it’s okay for someone to say to you, “I can’t do dinner that night, I have my yoga class on Wednesdays,” it’s also okay for you to say something like, “I can’t hang out that Sunday, if I don’t have some blocks of free time in my week I feel too ‘off.'”
At the end of the day, this is your life, and you can spend your energy on whatever you like. I hope that whatever you pick isn’t just something that’s supposed to bring you joy, but something that actually does.