How to Meditate Without Meditating

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If you're not sure how to meditate, here's a simple approach from mindfulness teacher Jon Kabat-Zinn: sit still and just be with what is.

By Jon Kabat-Zinn

In its outward manifestation, meditation appears to involve either stopping, by parking the body in stillness that suspends activity, or giving oneself over to flowing movement. In either case, it is an embodiment of wise attention, an inward gesture undertaken for the most part in silence, a shift from doing to simply being. It is an act that may at first seem artificial but that we soon discover, if we keep at it, is ultimately one of pure love for the life unfolding within us and around us.

When I am guiding a meditation with a group of people, I often find myself encouraging them to throw out the thought “I am meditating” and just be awake, with no trying, no agenda, no ideas, even about what it should look like or feel like or where your attention should be alighting…to simply be awake to what is in this very moment without adornment or commentary.

Such wakefulness is not so easy to taste at first unless you are really in your beginner’s mind, but it is an important dimension of meditation to know about from the very beginning, even if the experience of such open, spacious, choice-free awareness feels elusive in any particular moment.

Because we need to get simpler, not more complicated, it is hard for us at first to get out of our own way enough to taste this totally available sense of non-doing, of simply resting in being with no agenda, but fully awake. That is the reason that there are so many different methods and techniques for meditating, and so many different directions and instructions, what I sometimes refer to as “scaffolding.”

You might think of these methods as useful ways of intentionally and willfully bringing us back from a myriad of different directions and places in which we may be stuck, dazed, or confused, a bringing us back to utter and open silence, to what you might call our original wakefulness, which actually was never not here, is never not here, just as the sun is always shining and the ocean is always still at depths.

As the pace of our lives continues to be accelerated by a host of forces seemingly beyond our control, more and more of us are finding ourselves drawn to engage in meditation, in this radical act of being, this radical act of love, astonishing as that may seem given the materialistic “can-do,” speed-obsessed, progress-obsessed, celebrity-and-other-people’s lives-obsessed orientation of our culture.

We are moving in the direction of meditative awareness for many reasons, not the least of which may be to maintain our sanity, or recover our perspective and sense of meaning, or simply deal with the outrageous stress and insecurity of this age.

By stopping and intentionally falling awake to how things are in this moment, purposefully, without succumbing to reaction or judgment—and by working wisely with such occurrences, with a healthy dose of self-compassion when we do succumb—and by our willingness to take up residency for a time in the present moment in spite of our plans and activities aimed at getting somewhere else, completing a project, or pursuing desired objects or goals—we discover that such an act is both immensely, discouragingly difficult and yet utterly simple, profound, hugely possible after all, and restorative of mind and body, soul, and spirit.

It is indeed a radical act of love just to sit down and be quiet for a time by yourself. Sitting down in this way is actually a way to take a stand in your life as it is right now, however it is. We take a stand here and now, by sitting down, and by sitting up.