Fun, Powerful Alternatives to Sitting Meditation

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You do not need to sit still to meditate

Meditation is without a doubt one of the best things you can do for yourself. You will experience immediate, short term, and long term benefits. It can make you happier, smarter, calmer, stronger, wiser, and more healthy.  It can be difficult--especially the most commonly promoted form of meditation, sitting meditation.  Sitting meditation is so difficult because it is so simple.  If you have tried sitting, you may regard meditation as a constant struggle with the wandering mind and the fidgety body. Wouldn't it be great if there were some way to meditate that would automatically reduce or elminate these problems, keeping your mind and body in a focused, relaxed, meditative state throughout the practice? Well there are! It's easy.  Practicing these forms of meditation may or may not strengthen your will and powers of concentration quite as much as much as prolonged sitting meditation, but they can provide you with just as much, or more, emotional balance, calmness, energy, and spiritual development.  Especially if you are a beginner, and experienceing difficulty meditating, you should try some of these, and if you still want to practice sitting meditation, it will be easier.  And if you are one of those people that have grown up believeing that self-improvement must involve self-torture, it is time to set that belief aside for a while, because meditation can be fun!

(1)  Moving meditation.  Tai Chi, Qi Gong, and some styles of Yoga are forms of moving meditation.  Tai Chi and Qi Gong are especially effective and fun for many reasons.  Most importantly, they give your mind something to do; during Tai Chi or Qi Gong practice you will be paying attention not only to your movements and posture, but also to your breathing, counting, and guiding energy through your body in certain ways.  This is more than enough to keep most people's minds from wandering. At the same time these gentle rhythmic exercises automatically calm you and deepen your breathing. In addition, you will be able maintain a meditative state of mind much longer than you would be able while sitting--in fact you will have no choice, because it can take anywhere from 20 minutes to several hours to perform and entire sequence.  But you don't need to memorize endless "forms" to learn these arts; your teacher will also teach you short simple exercises that you can do over and over, again for much longer than you would be able to sit still.  Qi Gong and Tai Chi are among the most easy, rewarding, and powerful meditative exercises for the mind and body ever known. Of course, any physical activity can be done as a moving meditation, but if you have trouble concentrating, you can get the most benefit from doing one that involves a sequence of movements, counting, and a breathing pattern.

(2) Art meditation. Whether you have only fingerpainted, or you have performed at the New Orleans Jazz and heritage festival, you should recall that when you get carried away into creating something intuitively, improvising, you automatically focus, relax, and stop thinking, for long periods of time; this is meditation also.  Anyone can practice artistic improvisation as mediation. It requires no skill, no tools, and no audience. However, if you are like most people, you just don't know how to get started.  So, start the way you did as a child. Pick up the instrument or paint brush and start making random noises. If this is difficult for you, all the better; you need it.  However, you will need to do it with a certain attitude to make it effective meditation.  The keys are calmly listening to, or observing yourself in the act, while acting without thinking. Watch yourself play. Watch yourself draw.  if you can get started you will soon learn that there is a certain state of mind, which feels completely open and relaxed, in which something beautiful simply flows out of you, and all you have to do is observe it.  This is a powerfully meditative state of mind that can be transferred to other domains of activity (or sitting).

(3) Art of Moving meditation with a partner.  I separate these practices from those above because the additional element of the partner makes a world of difference.  In both cases, the difference is that your collaboration can, when done correctly, force you to maintain a much more focused meditative state than you might otherwise be able to achieve.  Two forms of moving meditation that can do this are dancing and martial arts sparring--especially Tai Chi sparring, which is called "push-hands" and which is gentle and safe for almost anyone (but do ask your doctor if you are unsure).  Why are these such great ways to meditate? because you absolutely have to "listen" to your partner's body carefully, constantly, and in a relaxed open way. You don't know what they're going to do next, and you must maintain a meditative state in order to respond appropriately.  Not only will you experience all the benfits of still meditation, but you will get your exercise for the day at the same time! 

In terms of art meditation, my experience is in collaborative musical improvisation, where again, you MUST listen carefully, openly, "panoramically," constantly, in the moment--for the same reason as in moving meditation--because that's the only way you can respond instantly and appropriately to what your partner is doing.  I have also seen people do the same thing, by painting together.

You may need someone experienced to help you get started at these activities, but I guarantee you that almost anyone that knows how will be happy to do that for you.  It is always difficult to find enough partners to paractice these arts as often as one would like to, so don't be afraid that you will be imposing on someone; your prospective partner will probably be overjoyed to have someone else to practice with. 

So, if you find meditation difficult as a beginner, open your mind to the many options available for becoming familair with the meditative state of mind and its benefits.   By the way, some other fun meditation-friendly activities include zen archery, gardening, hiking, star-gazing, and making love. Remember that the ultimate goal of a meditative practice is to change your mind permanently, so that everything becomes a meditation, or in other words, so that you will normally be relaxed, open, attentive, aware, and responsive, throughout your life. So why not start right away?

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Charles Dexter Ward

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