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Abstract Notions

Editor Christian Williams explores the nature of consciousness through art, culture, and spirituality.

Meditating on a More Meaningful Life


How daily breathing awareness is changing my life.

The ability to multitask is considered an asset in the workplace. I’ve often found myself drafting an email, reading incoming messages, editing an article, and browsing art for a layout, all seemingly at once. I thought this meant I was pretty close to being as efficient and productive as possible; imagine my surprise when meditation showed me otherwise.

I’ve been meditating every morning since December. My guide is a new book by Buddhist writer Lodro Rinzler titled Sit Like a Buddha, and it’s the most accessible beginner’s guide to meditation I’ve read. Rinzler focuses on the calm-abiding meditation called shamatha; which, as he describes it, “wakes you up to what is going on in this very moment, through training in paying attention to something that embodies this moment: the breath.”

After about three weeks of 10-minute meditation every morning, I started to feel calmer and less anxious over the course of the day, which motivated me to keep doing it. I’ve since upped those 10 minutes to 15 minutes per session, and have noticed that I’ve become a better listener in conversations, more focused when reading, and far less prone to general distraction. In fact, I’m getting more done now at work than I ever did with my old approach of multitasking. If an email needs to be written I set my focus on that alone and if something distracts me, I’m quicker to recognize the distraction, which brings me back to the moment. Sooner than I know it, a concise and coherent email has been sent and I’m on to the next task. I still have as much to do every day, but I’m no longer frantically bouncing back and forth between a growing list of half-finished tasks that eventually overwhelm me. Instead, I’m fully engaged in the moment, rather than multitasking it away—an awareness that is starting to shape my life outside of the office, too.

Before beginning the shamatha practice, Rinzler asks the reader to establish a specific intent for why they want to start meditating. Mine was “to become more connected to myself, others, and the universe.” I considered less ambitious intents such as relaxation or stress-relief, but something about the notion of connection resonated with me. I realize now that the source of that particular intent was my intuition—a voice that I could barely hear anymore over the cacophony of distraction that comes with living in the 21st century. With meditation, I’ve been able to quiet the peripheral noise and listen to the voice in my head again; the voice I know I can trust to distinguish the decisions that shape a truly meaningful life from the ones that inevitably leave me feeling empty and aimless.

If you don’t believe that 10 minutes of daily breathing awareness can lead to those kinds of realizations, all I can say is give it a shot; they just may become the most important 10 minutes you spend every day.

Christian Williams is the editor of Utne Reader, and he also paints and makes music. View his art and listen to his music at www.christianwwilliams.com. Follow him on Twitter: @cwwilliams.

Photo courtesy Sebastian Wiertz, licensed under Creative Commons.