The Benefit of Downtime through Meditation

The Benefit of Downtime through Meditation

The Benefit of Downtime through Meditation

Meditation is a process of training the brain and the transformation of the body, mind and soul. The benefits of meditation are discovered, not on the cushion, but how they are reflected in all the aspects of your life, in your actions and attitudes. So it is necessary to develop a regular practice and allow yourself the opportunity to fully immerse yourself in the practice, even if it’s simply for short periods twice a day.

As you practice, with consistency and sincerity, over the course of time you will begin to notice real changes taking place in you. This is why it’s important to spend time in meditative practice, even if it’s only 20or 30 minutes a day, of course, when possible, more would be better. I especially enjoy the morning meditation, it can give my day a whole new ‘color,’ and in a subtle, yet powerful, way it’s effects permeate all aspects of my day, from my the inner relationship with myself to those around me.

You will notice that, as you continue throughout the day you carry the experience of your formal practice. Because you carry that experience with you into your day you will be able to refer to it and drawn upon it as you move through your daily activities. And when you have a momentary break in the action of your daily hustle and bustle, it will be easy for you to slip back into your meditative experience, because it’s now familiar, and you’ll find you easily maintain its beneficial effects.

Another way to immerse yourself in meditation is to experience a meditation retreat. In his article, “Downtime for the Stone Age Brain,” Michael Taft tells of his experiences and his insights after a nighty-two day silent meditation at a retreat center in rural Massachusetts. This is, however, about more than a ‘what I did at my retreat last summer’ type of literary hug, he explores why it was necessary for meditation to arise in the first place. But, hey, I’ll just let Michael speak…

“Recently, I found a meditation retreat center in rural Massachusetts that cost just 10 dollars a day. That super-affordable price included a room of my own, and delicious, organic hippy food. As I was moving to a new city anyway, I let go of my apartment, put my stuff in storage, and went off to the center for three months. Ninety-two days of silent (absolutely no talking) meditation in a cabin in the woods. There were about thirty other people there, the size of your basic hunter-gatherer tribe in the Paleolithic. Because I have been meditating for decades, I had no trouble sinking into the groove of long sits for many hours a day, every day…”

That experience made me very sensitive to a condition that I call my “brain being full.” It’s a specific feeling that I have taken in enough stimulation, and now need to just go be quiet for a while. Having felt what it’s like to have all the backlog of experiences cleared out of my head, I’m intolerant of letting it build up a backlog again. It feels too good when it’s all clean and clear. Another way of talking about this is to say that the frantic, amped up feeling of too much seeking clears away. When we are seeking all the time, we are intaking new material constantly without ever actually dealing with it.

And that makes sense in terms of evolution and our ancestral environment. Our brains would have been more than adequate to handle the few exciting things that came up, and been perfectly content to sort of idle along the rest of the time. That idle mode feels really, really good, because it is probably the natural waking rest mode of the brain. Not caught in a seeking feedback loop. No stress, no anxiety or cortisol, and no overload of problems problems problems that our information overlords shovel into the gaping maw of our need for novelty. It’s like feeding Cap’n Crunch to kids: they can’t stop eating it, even though it’s not doing them any good.

Stone Age Nights

If you were instantly transported back to the Paleolithic, with all your modern faculties intact, what would be the number one thing you would notice? The beauty of nature, the enormous herds of game and flocks of birds, the fresh air, the lack of noise? Sure, those would be wonderful, but your amazement probably wouldn’t last all that long. I suspect that, if you were to stay back in the Stone Age any length of time longer than, say, a week, you would be slammed in the face by how incredibly boring it was. Boring and painful.

Those would be your main impressions. Imagine a world with no books, movies, television, music on demand, Internet, texting. Imagine a world where you only had the same thirty people to talk to, every day for your whole life. Nature is beautiful, but it is also placid. Bird calls, rustling leaves, and babbling brooks comprise the soundscape, something so boring that we call it ambient white noise. It all looks great, but after a while it all looks the same. If you want to see something different, there are no pictures, no magic of the world wide web. When the sun goes down, you can’t see anything for twelve long hours until it comes up again. Next to a campfire or on the few nights of the bright moon, you can sort of see something, but in general you’re just stuck there, staring into the darkness for hours and hours. Boring…”

Seeking

“…Mammals are wired to look for novelty in the environment, a behavior called “seeking…”

“…Our brains have an insatiable urge for seeking new things, but now we have a limitless source of novelty. We are stuffed beyond the limit with unprocessed, undigested, and unhelpful experiences that we cannot convert to energizing, useful, practical knowledge. We can’t stop pressing the seek button, looking for another little hit of dopamine. We are information junkies, and our brains are full. Like rats in a lab, we could just keep hitting the seek button until we collapse.

But maybe there’s a way out. It’s not to shut off the firehose, although I gave up television 30 years ago, and it’s not a bad idea. Instead, it’s to every so often take a break from new information.

I’m not suggesting that everyone take three months off to look at trees (although it wouldn’t hurt). What I am suggesting is that our brains require some real down time. Down time doesn’t mean watching a movie (which is just a bunch of emotional stimulation, and more novelty seeking) or doing something exciting and fun with friends. Down time means deeply quiet, really simple, totally open time in which you are not working, accomplishing anything, or taking in new information. Down time means staring at trees, or strolling aimlessly in a forest. Hanging out at the beach, or sitting on a mountainside. Even in the city, it’s not that hard to just kick back and watch the sky or relax at home. Let yourself get really bored.”

Meditation

Will sitting in a park looking at clouds really be enough to clear all the detritus out of your neurons? My guess, from experience, is that it probably would be, if you could do enough of it. The trouble is that our complicated, busy lives do not afford us enough down time to actually allow the brain the downtime it needs. With all that happens in just one day of modern life, it would take something like a week of hanging out next to a stream to process. Simplicity is not an efficient enough process; it cleans too slowly. We were not designed by evolution to have that much stuff to clear out. Input is greater than the processing available…”

“This is where meditation comes in…. Meditation is a fuzzy word in English. There are many different definitions, and many different techniques, some of which are apparently the opposite of others. For most people, meditation means sitting with your legs crossed and trying not to think. That is actually a very difficult and advanced technique, and not necessarily even the best one. There are certain forms of meditation (such as Zen shinkantaza, Krishanmurti’s choiceness awareness, and various advaita non-techniques) that are essentially just sitting there without doing anything on purpose. This is different than trying not to think, or doing a mantra, or trying to concentrate (although all of these are useful meditation techniques). It is essentially getting out of the way, and allowing the brain eventually to revert to its “natural state.” Although natural is a loaded word, often used to obscure rather than reveal, in this case I think it’s exactly accurate in the sense of the state your brain evolved to be in most of the time. A kind of alert, relaxed openness. Not thinking about anything in particular, but not striving to remove thinking either. Not seeking, in other words.

Meditation is, in a sense, unnatural. It’s very unlikely that HGs in the Paleolithic sat around meditating. They didn’t need to, because everything was much slower, spacious, and gentle. It was low impact on the brain. But with the rise of modern society (and I’m calling India at 500 BCE a modern society, meaning people living in cities), people couldn’t find enough down time to return their minds to a natural state. There was too much novelty, too many new ideas, too much cool stuff to do, talk about, and see. The feedback loop of seeking had too much fuel, and something had to be done. Something that itself was a new technology, an activity that people had not done before, but which would return the brain, and the person, to a relaxed, open state. So we can think of meditation as an unnatural way to return to a natural state. Sort of like weightlifting or special diets–activities which no hunter-gatherer would have engaged in, but which help our bodies return to a more natural state of health and wellbeing…” Click here to visit the original source of this post

I’ve only provided a taste of what Michael has to share and this one of those rare pieces that is well worth spending the time to fully experience.And if you are interested in learning more from Michael you can check out his book, “Ego; the Fall of the Twin Towers and the Rise of an Enlightened Humanity”

Meditation is compatible with, and I believe, a necessary component of an active professional and family life. Meditation provides us the chance to see the events of our lives from a larger perspective while experiencing greater serenity and to move confidently into our future. You will find yourself being less effected by the inevitable setbacks that occur in our life or being carried away by superficial success.

That is the transformative effect of meditation, which happens organically and without effort, as your practice deepens, so that you will find yourself acting more effectively in the world, with a greater sense of personal peace.

“The very best and utmost attainment in this life is to remain still and let God act and speak in thee.”

-Meister Eckhart