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September 27th, 2019
The word ‘meditative’ does not refer to the practice of meditation.
In today’s parlance, it means merely ‘relaxing’. And for those who don’t meditate, this might seem confusing or nonsensical: Isn’t meditation relaxing?
Many will often say things like ‘making collages is my meditation’ or ‘going for a run is my meditation’. Sure, these mindless activities might feel relaxing but it totally misses the point.
Let’s say we’ve got two people: Julia and Alanna and only Alanna knows how to ride a bike. Julia hears Alanna talking about the benefits of riding a bike, and Julia pipes up and says, ‘oh, well I go swimming, that’s how I ride a bike.”
Clearly, Julia doesn’t have the faintest idea what she’s talking about. Swimming doesn’t have anything to do with riding a bike. Sure, both activities might be enjoyable, and they might have similar health benefits and both require the body. But, swimming is not riding a bike, swimming doesn’t give you the faintest clue how to ride a bike, and swimming definitely doesn’t give you any sense of what it’s like to actually ride a bike.
This is precisely the error that people make when they claim some relaxing activity to be their form of meditation. If there is one thing that meditation has in common with things like swimming, running or riding a bike, it’s that there’s a meaningful and unavoidable barrier to entry.
We are not born knowing how to swim, or how to run, or how to ride a bike. Everyone who can do these things spent some time, usually in youth figuring out how to do these things, and we simply don’t remember the huge amount of effort it took to learn how to stand, then walk, then run, then swim or all those times we fell on the bike before we finally got it.
Here’s a question for people who think they are meditating while doing some other relaxing activity like filling in a coloring book.
If you think meditation is simply relaxing, then why don’t you do it?
It’s for the same reason that most people don’t wake up during a day off and sit down to figure out how to write python code with no prior knowledge. It’s hard. And it’s hard because there’s a learning curve, and it takes a little while to get your bearings and figure things out.
But unlike coding or swimming, riding a bike, or coloring in a coloring book, there’s something about meditation that elevates it to an entirely alien category of activity.
Meditation isn’t simply an experience that a person takes part in for 10 or 20 minutes a day, it’s an activity that changes all experiences.
An easy way to think about this is to imagine a kid who was born with blurry vision. This kid is experiencing the exact same world that everyone else is, but the moment a discerning adult puts a pair of glasses on the kid, that kid’s experience of everything is now radically different. Everything is brought into sharp focus. It’s still the same world, the same set of experiences, but all of them are different now, better.
It’d be a bit silly, simple and inaccurate to say that meditation provides a pair of reading glasses for the mind, but the analogy with regards to changing experience is accurate. Meditation, after some months, or years changes a person’s experience of everything, even the experience of what it’s like to have a thought.
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