The moment in which we most need to be peaceful is the very moment in which it is not easy to be peaceful. In this excerpt from Martin Boroson’s new book One-Moment Meditation: Stillness for People on the Go, he encourages us to find peace now.
Many people see meditation as an endurance test: the longer they can sit still, being peaceful, the more spiritual they are. Many people also believe that meditation must be practiced in a serene and beautiful retreat—far removed from everyday life. They have these beliefs, no doubt, because so much of our spiritual heritage has been handed down by monks, nuns, hermits, and prophets—people who renounced ordinary life to spend years and years in silent contemplation.
But times are changing, and our understanding of meditation is, too. Scientific research is confirming that the benefits of meditation are not just esoteric or “spiritual,” but quite practical, too. Laboratory experiments and psychological studies have shown that meditation can improve our mood, decrease anxiety, alleviate depression, lower blood pressure, strengthen the immune system, and promote optimism and resilience.
Today, more and more people believe that the benefits of meditation should be available to us when we need them, and that the practice of meditation should be do-able everywhere—whether we’re stuck in traffic, starting a business, or changing a diaper. Many people today also want to bring meditation, or meditative principles, into their relationships, their parenting, and their work, and see a need for more meditative approaches in politics, business decisions, and public conversations. Surely the more quickly we can be peaceful, and the fewer props we need, the better. So let me tell you why I believe that it is not only possible to meditate in a moment, but essential that we do.
We all fantasize, from time to time, about being peaceful in some other time or place. We imagine being peaceful in the future—at the end of the day, on the weekend, after the kids grow up, when we retire. Or we imagine being peaceful somewhere else—in church, in a park, on that deserted beach. But each time we do this, we fail to meet the moment that is here. We let ourselves off the hook. This is an especially self-defeating form of procrastination, for the moment in which we most need to be peaceful is the very moment in which it is not so easy to be peaceful.
Also, whenever we think that peacefulness takes a lot of time, or will come only in the future, we are focusing on becoming peaceful rather than being peaceful. We are keeping ourselves in a state of “wanting,” and this state of wanting is, by definition, not a state of being or “having.” So if you believe that you must meditate for a long time in order to become peaceful, you are creating more stress for yourself. It’s like throwing a ball out in front of you, then racing to catch it, and then if you do catch it, immediately throwing it out in front of you again—while also complaining that you never ever have a ball.
On a deeper level, if our sense of contentment is dependent on circumstances, then it is vulnerable to a change of circumstances. If we are only content because life is going well, we will not be content when life is going badly. That’s just not a very stable or deep kind of contentment. True contentment transcends the “ups and downs” of life. It embraces life as it is now, with all of its imperfections. In other words, the only way to be really peaceful is to be fully content with what’s happening now—even if, sometimes, it isn’t peaceful.
In the wonderfully succinct words of the spiritual teacher Krishnamurti, “It’s now or never.” This doesn’t mean that if you aren’t feeling peaceful now, you will never feel peaceful. It just means that contentment is only possible when you are not throwing that ball into the future. It is only possible in the present tense (or rather, the present not-tensed). When you are truly present in the present, your mind is not concerned with wanting things to be different than they are—and that is contentment.
Since contentment can only be found now, in the present moment, this also means that it doesn’t take any time at all. It doesn’t happen over time: it happens in a moment. So you don’t have to go on a retreat or quit your job or find “twenty minutes, twice a day” in order to become peaceful. Peace is always available. It is offering itself to you now, now, and now again, wherever you are. But you aren’t aware of it because, well, you’re too busy doing other things, like trying to become peaceful (or reading this).
So think of my approach as just going straight to the point. If being peaceful is possible now, and is only possible now, then you might as well get right to it. But please know that I don’t intend this approach to replace any other form of meditation or prayer, any path of self-discovery, or any of the excellent self-help or leadership books available today. It’s just that whatever path you choose, whatever help you seek, if you don’t learn to master the moment, then your chance of success is limited. But if you do learn to master the moment, well, then there’s nothing stopping you.
Excerpted from “One-Moment Meditation: Stillness for People on the Go” (Winter Road, May 2009) © Martin Boroson