An examined life

by Rosalie Dores on 20th November 2015

It can be hard to sustain a mindfulness meditation practice. If one is really suffering, then the motivation to set aside 40 minutes per day for formal practice is a small price to pay for the benefits to physical and mental well-being that meditating offers. For most people, however, this is not the case, and the allure of more sleep in the morning, or relaxing in front of the TV in the evening is much more appealing than sitting or lying down and guiding the attention, diligently, persistently back to the breath, and or sensations.

Modern life can be busy, our working lives, family lives and the pull of 24/7 entertainment, TV’s, mobile phones and computers mean that we could realistically spend days, even months without needing to feel bored, or face the difficulties/challenges that often bubble below the surface of our lives. Henry David Thoreau described this as human beings ‘Living lives of quiet desperation’, pulled this way and that by the longing to fill the holes of un-lived life.

Derek Walcott the Guyanese poet says in his poem Love After Love:

‘The time will come when with elation you will meet yourself

arriving at your own door, in your own mirror

and each will smile at the others welcome and say

sit here, eat

You will love again the stranger who was yourself.’

Meeting oneself, is something that we do again and again in the practice of living mindfully. We intentionally pause out of the momentum of our lives, the automatic push into the future, the incessant tweets, burps and farts ( lets face it, a lot of it is hot air) of social media, we sit down and pay attention to our experience, we meet our experience. Initially this can be challenging, boring even, but we can learn to as John Cage, the composer, suggests, to cultivate interest:

‘If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all.’

Isn’t it a tragedy to find your own company boring, to not spend time getting to know this fundamentally mysterious individual called you. Wasn’t it Plato who said ‘An unexamined life is not worth living”. What might it be like to spend time each day, getting to know yourself, and what makes you tick.

Walcott continues:

‘You will love again the stranger who was your self.

…Whom you have ignored for another.

Who knows you by heart.

Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes, peel your own image from the mirror.

Feast on your life.’

When we meditate we begin to cultivate a kindly curiosity about ourselves and our experience. What might it be like, to notice the urge to pick up the phone or turn on the TV, and instead to just sit and look, and listen, to engage the wondrous faculties of the senses to meet the world. To see with fresh eyes, ourselves, and those places and people that we now take for granted? What might we find out about ourselves, and our world?

We might, after all, find that meditating is worth getting up for…