For about two-thirds of my life -- from the age of 21 to my current 61 -- I've meditated almost every day.
By "almost," I mean that during those forty years I can recall only a couple of times I didn't put in at least twenty minutes of meditation time. And usually it was more like a couple of hours.
I've been a big believer in the benefits of meditation.
But I've begun to wonder whether my dedication to sitting still with eyes closed, usually concentrating on a mantra (or simply doing as little as possible mentally), makes as much sense as I've assumed it did.
The past few days I've experimented with not meditating in my usual fashion: making it a sort of morning pre-breakfast ritual. I brew a cup of coffee; retreat to a quiet corner; read some vaguely "spiritual" literature (broadly defined, could be Scientific American); and then focus on observing what is within my psyche, as opposed to what is without.
I haven't found that I feel any different. My day seems to proceed in the same fashion, neither more or less harmonious, nor more or less happy, when I don't meditate.
Of course, maybe abstaining from meditating for a longer time will cause me to observe different effects. Maybe some sort of meditative hunger will start gnawing at me. Maybe I'll find that bit by bit I'm losing a centeredness or balance that meditation produced, which I didn't appreciate until it was lost.
I'm starting to question, though, whether viewing meditation as a practice is preferable to seeing meditation as inseparable from living. After all, I've always looked on meditation as a way of coming into closer contact with reality, with what's real.
For a long time I favored a dualistic conception of life, in line with most spiritual, mystical, and religious teachings. Mind or soul was something different from body or matter.
Thus meditation, the way I practiced it, was aimed at experiencing a higher form of consciousness that transcended everyday physical existence. The goal was to flip some sort of enlightenment switch, eliminating shadows and darkness that were illusory in comparison to a much more radiant transcendent reality.
But what if all the realness we'll ever know is right here, right now, as whatever we're experiencing moment to moment? Then meditation, if it isn't simply mindful awareness, would be an effort to escape reality, rather than to embrace it.
My understanding is that Buddhists often (or usually) meditate with their eyes open, rather than with them closed. They also meditate while walking, rather than only when sitting still.
This used to seem rather crazy to me.
It didn't seem like genuine meditation, because it wasn't the sort of meditating that I'd been taught was the highest and best. However, now I'm coming to see that viewing meditation as something separate from life, instead as how life is lived most fully during every waking moment, is counterproductive.
I'll probably go back to meditating in the morning. From now on, though, likely I won't view meditation as a special time of the day. Just as something I do after I wake up, no different from everything else that I do.