Meditation and the Empowered Woman

I wrote the following in response to a request to develop a meditation course for some top female athletes and outdoorswomen doing a retreat in the Utah desert. Perhaps it will resonate with you, too. For more basic info on this practice, click on the Why Meditate? link at right. Photo borrowed from the amazing Mr. Carlos Serrao

Why would an athletic, adventurous woman, one who’s interested in making tracks and blazing trails out there in the snow, sands, and surf—and maybe even the stars—want to devote the time to journeying deeper in here, into the quieter strata of her own consciousness? Or to put it more succinctly, why, if there’s so much to achieve in this short time on planet Earth, would she want to sit still, doing nothing, for minutes at a time?

Why, after developing the instrument of her body so finely and fueling up her willpower, would she want to, on a daily basis, forget her body and let go of her will—and just “be”?

Because being supports doing.

Humans have known since the dawn of time that we need to access those quiet, and sometimes silent, strata of awareness inside ourselves where the chattering mind isn’t heard and an awareness of our own “isness,” our vaster, wholer nature, can be had. That is the place of being. Still awareness.

Somehow, in the rush to modernize, to do more, do more, get more, get more, we forgot this fundamental.

We need to visit this place now more than ever. Why? First of all, because we are so insanely oriented towards doing in our culture—living four lives at once, it seems—we are overexcited, constantly stimulated, and consequently, wound up and exhausted. This means we tip into stress, lose our focus, and need longer recovery times because the amount of sleep we get nightly is never quite enough to fund the multiple levels of mental and physical demands we’re meeting daily. There’s only one choice: to be effective and to avoid suffering, we need to incorporate deeper levels of rest into what we do. Meditation’s rest is scientifically proven to be deeper than that of sleep. Energy levels and endurance levels rise as a result. Naps and caffeine shots fall out of favor. Potential that is held “on pause” by the weight of stress and busyness gets recruited as the brain finds its own way to a more organized state. Meditators manage pain better; perform more accurately under pressure, and work better as a team.

Secondly, because moments of dynamic rest fund dynamic activity. De-exciting the mind and body through meditation is like pulling back a big archer’s bow. It is unmoving—though, to be fair, it is also often bubbling and buzzing, for reasons you begin to smilingly accept when you learn to meditate—but in all cases, it is quivering with dynamic tension. Come out of meditation and you are charged with momentum and lucidity. You pick an action, you aim your bow of attention, and you find that the new energy and clarity you just scooped up makes your arrow fly extra direct and fast to its target. (Athletes tested in eye-hand coordination had 40% faster responses if they meditated; resilience to stress and physical sickness rises exponentially in everyone who does it.)

Thirdly, because in that place of mental and physical de-excitement, a huge amount of resting, healing, and reorganization, on all levels from gross to subtle, is done. We get renewed. We strip away the old and evolve towards that which is newer, better, and higher. And this is most important of all if we are not only to be happy in our lifetimes (a worthy enough goal!) but especially if we are to be the leaders, inspirations, and lighthouses for others that the world desperately needs now. It’s time to help everyone evolve. It’s time to think for ourselves; to act from a place of community not relentless individuality; to have the awareness to understand our relationship with Mother Earth, and the energy to birth conscious children who will steward the next few decades wisely. We can’t afford at this time to be clouded, scared, and sick, or shrinking from our shadows.

How does sitting with your eyes closed help in this giant mission? Briefly: Nature always wants to restore balance when given half a chance. In the deep rest of meditation, layers of gunk—from cellular distortions that cause illness, to repetitive thoughts that keep us stuck in redundant or painful patterns, to the big fears that we’ll be alone, unsupported, and unloved—get a chance to be released. They’ve just got to go, because all those things aren’t helpful to our evolution. They get in the way of us shining our true light out into the world. They keep us small, fearful, uncertain, fatigued. And so subtly, over time, they peel away, peel away, like leaves off a tree heading into fall. Nothing magical, nothing miraculous: just Nature doing its job of evolving things, keeping growing. It’s not a conquering of our nature that we’re engaged in through this practice—it’s actually a giant letting go.

Though we all want this evolution, and read a hundred books to intellectually “get” it, we can’t successfully “think” our way out of these sticky layers (“just think positive!”) to find fulfillment and grace, we actually need to start having the experience of accessing our reservoir of quiet stability and unchanging happiness. This is part of the bigger effect of meditation. With time, you notice, gosh, my way of being in the world has shifted. My fears are fading. People are responding to me more effortlessly. Almost as if I am adding to their experience by being me. I am present to the now and I can sense or intuit what I need to be doing to be a very relevant player in this drama of life. I am someone who is creative and pushing things forward, not lurking timidly in the back hoping to just ‘make it by.’ I trust in the support I feel—I take more risks as a result.

For outdoors lovers, that experience of being might be had in the midst of action—halfway up a rock face, or gazing at a glacial panorama, you feel that noisy brain fall still and your sense of connection to the whole takes over. Nature is in that instance showing us the truth. But we want to have the reliable, consistent experience of that truth within ourselves. We want to start taking our sanctuary with us everywhere we go, and we want it not to just be a ‘happy accident’. In a sense, we want to become so familiar with that place that it goes from extraordinary (“holy wow!”) to ordinary (“of course”).

By this point, hopefully any notions of meditation being something for bliss bunnies who tell you the sky is blue even when it’s obviously gun-metal gray, or something for those looking for a cosmic escape hatch from life, are getting dissolved. It’s pragmatic. It’s a survival tool. It ultimately becomes a key to thriving.

There’s no magic bullet. Meditation doesn’t solve every ill or sorrow or turn us superheroed overnight (except in rare cases). But gradually we move to a new paradigm when we have a daily meditation practice. We start finding that we can “do less and achieve more,” in the words of the ancient sages. We find we are drawing off that inner, infinite reservoir of energy, creativity, and intelligence, not living in the end zone of adrenaline, anxiety, and sheer willpower that, while effective in spurts, is ultimately exhausting (and can leave a trail of stress behind us). We begin to move wakefully and gracefully through life. We step into our full potential and individual power, little by little.

Being supports Doing. Moments of a meditation practice—if you make the commitment to do it daily, no excuses--become the foundation to a happier, more effective, more productive, less fearful, more inspired life. It takes commitment, it takes curiosity, and it takes a willingness to trust that sitting on the sidelines for a spell, even when it’s boring and you have itchy feet, supports better, faster, and much funner playing overall. Millions practice it; in this doing, doing, doing-oriented world, you have to ask yourself, can we afford to get so far from our being? Don’t we want to unfold more of our potential, and get more out of, and give more to life? Game on!