Begin by finding a secluded spot…The Lamp on the Path – Deshung Rimpoche
So starts a manual of meditation by a major teacher of the XXth century. But he’s not alone in recommending seclusion as the first step to learn meditation. Countless other manuals, from Yoga classics to mystical Christian texts like The Cloud of Unknowing, solitude, and retreat are the requisites for learning meditation.
But I live in a City.
So, does this mean that I cannot meditate?
I would respectfully say, no, it doesn’t. What it means is that I should modify the technique and the way I meditate. I cannot ape those old masters, living in pre-modern times. I must find a way of making it work wherever I am, not pine for a moment where I will live as they did.
My name is Federico Andino and for the last 20 years, I’ve been practicing and later teaching meditation. I have both learn classical techniques (I’m the resident teacher for a Tibetan Buddhist school) and more modern techniques; I’m a researcher and teacher of Mindfulness for IBM. But at some point on the 20+ years journey, I’ve found them both wanting.
The traditional techniques are great: rich in both depth and detail, they form a great base to learn. They also have a very clear conceptual framework which makes their practice both rational and able to be measured. However, they are based on two improvable assumptions:
1) the teaching methods are not the best, especially for visualization techniques where rote memorization is taught over more modern systems like Image Streaming and
2) the learning curricula tends to favor long (months to years) periods of intensive learning and practice that are not feasible for the modern practitioner. Even those people who dedicate their lives to be a monk or a nun can lack resources to maintain such a lifestyle; therefore the techniques are never really practiced (since it would require always a moving goal of time) as the saying goes and they cannot be applied effectively on a day to day basis.
On the other hand, the more modern techniques are more portable, they are formulated in less complex terms and they have quicker subjective results. However, they also have two issues in my opinion:
1) the lack of a conceptual framework muddles both the metrics you can get from them and sponsors an “anything goes” mentality regarding technique and
2) they are geared mostly to produce states that are basically extended relaxations. You can try to visualize yourself as a mountain, sure…but what are you going to do when you’re in an overcrowded public transport or in a busy office? This is why techniques learn at a chic workshop never work in your day to day life.
Realizing this, I started to change my way of practicing. Instead of trying always trying to transport myself to an ideal situation, I started to work with the situation at hand and trying to transform my idea of a situation.
- In a busy office, with people talking? Focus on sound metacognition and integrate into your meditation.
- On public transport? Kinesthetic balance meditation will be a natural and enjoyable way to focus on yourself.
- At the end of a long day and can’t sleep? Nidra-types of meditation will both relax you and make you aware of how tired you really are.
No matter where are you and how are you trained, you can meditate. It requires a sacrifice; to let go of those hallowed ideas of monks chanting in a mountain. And it carries its own rewards: the ability to become more aware and present in each moment. But you need to see the need for yourself to change approaches.
We are going to have a talk and a recoding on Urban Meditation on the 25th of October. If you’d like to participate, you can book it here.
May you have a day full of Awareness!