This past weekend, I had the opportunity to attend the Wisdom 2.0 conference in San Francisco, California. This conference is rapidly becoming one of my favorites–not just because I can attend in yoga pants and tennis shoes, but because the conference brings together some of the greatest minds and hearts in mindfulness, compassion, technology, and entrepreneurship.
This year, one of the highlights was listening to Jon Kabat-Zinn, psychologist and founder of the powerful Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) movement. His talk began with a meditation, a powerful way to bring myself back into my body and attuned to my constant internal chatter and monkey mind. Jon then went on to speak about how meditation is more than just sitting and quieting the mind. Meditation is also about getting up off of the cushion, and taking that perspective of stillness into the world with us as we go about our day to day lives.
One of my favorite quotes from his talk was this: “Life is the real meditation. Sitting is not the real meditation. It has to translate into the full catastrophe of the human condition. That’s the magnitude of the challenge. That has to be the magnitude of the love.”
Since the conference, I have returned to these words several times. Meditation on the cushion is vital. It is vital to be able to sit with ourselves in silence and observe ourselves. It is vital to cultivate a deep compassion for ourselves and others. It is vital to become aware of the breath and our bodies in time and space, as a point of focus to return to time and time again.
But that is not enough. What do we do with our silence, observing mind, compassion, breath, focus? How do we take that out into the world when we scrape the side of our car, or run late, or the kids are fighting yet again, or exhaustion is setting in? When you are in pain, be it emotional, physical, spiritual, existential? When you are frightened and dismayed by the depth of injustice and trauma unfolding in the world?
This is, as Jon says so aptly, the “full catastrophe of the human condition.” Sometimes big, sometimes small. Sometimes reparable, sometimes not. But through it all, all we have is ourselves, and each other, and our love. And it is indeed the magnitude of love that allows us to keep putting one foot in front of the other. It is this love that allows us to take action, or resist, or persist, with wisdom. It is this love that keeps us sustainable, that keeps the flame of our breath alive, in the midst of a messy, confusing life.
I think it is perhaps easier to keep meditation on the cushion. In stillness, and solitude, we are challenged only by our distracted thoughts, rather than relationships and politics and the body. But we can choose easy, or we can choose a path that demands more of us, and is also that much more full and rich. We can choose to do our best (however imperfect), to not just sit in meditation, but live in meditation. That is where we can hope to thrive, at the intersection of you and me and all that life brings, moment by moment, breath by breath.
So today, and in the week ahead, I invite you to join me in considering how you can take meditation off the cushion and into your day to day life experience. What do you discover?
With gratitude, Monisha