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August 29th, 2020
A novice meditator will often come across the instance during a session when they just want ‘out’. There’s so much to do. The day’s schedule is packed. Some of these things are important and need more preparation. Perhaps other stresses are weighing emotionally, maybe even physically, and the idea of sitting for 10 or 20 minutes doing nothing just seems like it’s not the greatest idea today. Even then, a novice meditator can experience this antsyness for the session to be over without any obvious external reason. There are certainly times when you just don’t feel like it.
As with everything that crops up in meditation, this too is an opportunity for insight. While an experienced meditator might be able to navigate this feeling and the accompanying thoughts deftly and with skill, a novice can benefit from a bit of prepared strategy, specifically in the form of a couple questions.
When that faceless and ambient anxiety to get up and get away from the meditation session arises, we can deepen our practice significantly by asking: what exactly would I be running away from?
Taking this question as the object of meditation quickly yields a core insight of the meditation practice in general: meditation is a practice that grows our familiarity with something that is always present, no matter what we are doing - namely: the moment.
In terms of our experience of the moment, what really is the difference between sitting and breathing and directing the mind to simply notice what’s going on within the sphere of consciousness, and doing anything else? Certainly the activity is different, but is it the external that determines our experience? Or is it our internal perspective of external circumstances that determines the nature of our experience?
This is where the school of stoicism and the meditative insights of buddhism intersect. The philosophy of stoicism advocates a practice of internal direction before external influence: meaning, decide how you allows the events of your life to influence who you are and what you do, don’t let those events decide for you by impulsive reactions. The ability to pause, be thoughtful and determine the way you wish to interact or be at peace with circumstance is the core aim of stoicism. It’s also, as it turns out, much the same result that a practice of mindfulness meditation achieves.
The stoic who takes up a mindfulness practice and experiences this anxious sense of getting up from the session to do something else would wonder: how do I want to react to this anxiety? Do I want this anxiety to steer my life? Or would I rather stay the course?
Chances are, the anxiety that goads us to get up from a meditation session is still going to be there as we move on to different activities. Even if it does fade from our experience, there remains a thread of consciousness that persists through all of these changes, whether we are meditating or not. It’s that vivid thread that meditation enables us to grow closer, and with enough time, and practice, that thread becomes a tool used to stitch together a better life.