On Meditation and Planning
Staying focused. The mantra of meditation, and usually it comes down to the breath. But it could be any object, like a flame, a sound, a real mantra. Mindfulness meditation could involve awareness of what’s going on around me, in the moment. Through focusing I shall develop awareness, and by focusing I shall reach no-thinking.
That is the theory. And it sounds clear and easy. When I do some lectures on mindfulness and meditation, I emphasize that meditation, or mindfulness trainings, can’t go wrong. If the thoughts drift away, just focus back. At the same time I know how difficult this can be, not losing the focus, or losing the awareness. And I know how easy it is to fall into old patterns of thoughts, worries, – and planning. Driven by emotions, like fear of not get everything done, – in time and perfection, or worries over what should have been finished, or anxiety over the workload ahead. And then I feel the irritation over not being able to keep focus, a judgmental though.
Especially planning seems to have the ability to keep me occupied for long periods of time during my meditation. I never actually have any expectations of calmness, of special insight, or of enlightenment of any sort when I meditate. Meditation with an aim is by definition not Zen, and the best we can do is to accept what shall happen when we sit. Sometimes I feel that the meditation has been very beneficial in all means, but on other occasions I can wonder whether this sitting was worth the time spent. Fortunately I usually feel my meditations refreshing, although in different ways. That’s a reason to continue my efforts in focused contemplations.
But I have no intention of letting my meditation become an ordinary part of my planning of the day, or a planning of a certain task to be done. So when I often drift into planning, and I recognize this, I get irritated, or sometimes a little upset. I have written about this in another post, so I shall not repeat myself. But one reader of that post, a meditation companion through a mobile phone app, agreed with me on how easy the planning thoughts sneaked into the meditation, especially when we were meditating in the morning. But Sebastian, that is his name, also pointed to the fact that he during meditation often made very fruitful plans, getting ideas he had not seen before.
And after his remark I have started to pay more attention to my planning thoughts during meditation. And I recognize that he is right. Indeed, during meditation I often make better plans than when I sit down with the aim of planning. Meditation seems to activate my subconscious mind in a way that rational planning does not. I am able to take into account factors I had not thought of, or I see solutions that until that moment had been obscure to me. And I take that as a proof of the impact meditation actually has on me, the way my mind functions, and how it is stimulated during and by meditation. So when I so far have judged my meditation as more of a failure because of all planning, I now admit that I that even a meditation filled with all that planning does have a beneficial effect upon me, on my mind, and on my brain. What I have always taught to others, that meditation can’t go wrong, is indeed right, regardless of all disturbing thoughts.
After the remarks of Sebastian, I have become less irritated because of my planning during meditation. Being less judgmental is the first lesson I have learned from this.
But not being judgmental does not mean that I find these drifting thoughts OK. I still think that meditation shall be meditation, and work shall be work. Confusion about this difference makes all contemplation into work, and I shall lose the the experience of calming down my struggling mind when I meditate. But the other lesson learned from this, is that a mindful approach towards planning is very fruitful, offering results that I possibly could not reach with a pure rational approach.
This way of planning is not meditation at all, but I can use techniques learned from meditation to refine my process of ordinary planning. I can use a more contemplative and mindful approach to grasp those important factors which only exist in my subconscious mind. And by combining these experiences with my rational thinking, I am able to reach a more comprehensive evaluation of the situation, and I can end up with plans containing more solutions and possibilities .
And now I experience that with the use of deliberate mindfulness and contemplation my plannings have indeed become more effective, and the results more satisfactory. Zen is not only about those situations where I chase the moments of no-thought, but Zen can be a fundamental and beneficial part of our daily lives and activities.