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Repetitive actions, in the world of spirituality, yield a meditative, open state of being. Think about walking a labyrinth, gazing at a mandala, the beautiful sand art created by Tibetan monks or praying with prayer beads. Think about moving through yoga’s sun salutations. All of these are movements designed to help us shift gears within ourselves.
There is something about relatively simple, repetitive yet mindful movements done over and over again that helps to fully engage the wandering mind in an experience. It is when the mind and body are working together that we can best access that third aspect of who we are – our spirit. In today’s distracted, multi-tasking, addicted-to-stimulation world, managing to get all three of these elements – body, mind and spirit – engaged and cooperating can feel almost like being in an “altered state.”
Whatever you do – whether you’re an athlete, an artist, a writer, a lawn-mower or a truck driver, I suspect you have been in “the zone.” “The zone” is that timeless, peaceful state of being where what you’re doing almost seems to be doing itself. When you pop out of “the zone,” it can feel quite jarring. I imagine what happens within is like a bike chain slipping. One minute you’re zipping along, the next there is a clanging sound and you’ve been yanked to a stop.
When you pop out of “the zone,” the inner “gears” that have slipped are the focus of your mind and the physical actions of your body. The jarring “clang” that you sense is the moment they diverge into separate activities. Sadly, this dis-integrated state of affairs is “normal” for most of us.
“The zone” is like a teaser or movie trailer for meditation. In meditation, we drop even deeper into our focus by reconnecting to a dimension of ourselves from which the world often distracts us – our spirit. While connecting with your spirit can be a religious experience, it is not only reserved for those who practice a faith.
Connecting with your spirit is often described as connecting with your heart. When we do so, we gain some space from and clarity about our emotions so that we are no longer at the mercy of their ups and downs. We reestablish certainty in our deeply seated beliefs, our morals and our sense of ethics. We develop confidence in the nudges of our conscience. We learn to discern our gut instincts from our knee-jerk impulses. In doing so, we begin to recognize another source of wisdom than our intellect. This is the wisdom we were born with rather than the one we gained through a lifetime of experience and study.
The moments when we’re in this integrated state are the moments when we glimpse what it would be like to live as the people we hope and aspire to be.
I recognize that all of us here are fully engaged in hectic, worldly lives. In other words, we are not hermits in a mountain-top ashram or monastery. Sure, we can set aside some time every day to meditate in whatever way that suits us – unrolling a yoga mat, pulling out a meditation cushion, sitting down with a rosary or taking a long walk in the woods. But that’s only 1/24th (or so) of our day. Is that enough to help us stretch toward our hopes for ourselves?
Yes. It is enough. But if you’re yearning for more, I have an idea.
What if you could take advantage of all of the repetitive activities that pepper your days to practice slipping into a centered, focused, meditative state of being? Folding laundry, washing dishes, watering your plants, chopping vegetables for a salad, vacuuming the house, weeding your garden, making your bed, feeding the dogs. Truly, the list is endless and unique for each of us. Any activity fits the bill so long as it doesn’t require too much of your intellect. (A new or complicated task can subtly tip your inner balance toward your mind and away from your body and heart.)
Whatever task you’ve chosen, the key is to do it with tenderness and even love. This sweet, soft approach unlocks the heart so that you will be fully engaged in whatever you’re doing no matter how simple or repetitive.
Go ahead and give it a try today. At the very least, whatever repetitive task you choose (yes, even emptying the dishwasher AGAIN) will seem less onerous. But it’s possible that you will give yourself more time in that elusive, integrated state that humankind has craved since the beginning of time.