Energy and meditation
Much of the time I have spent studying psychology has been used to understand how people find meaning and happiness in their lives, and investigating tools that enhance wellbeing by making us aware of the active role we play in producing these. While positive thoughts about the past and future clearly have their benefits (many models of wellbeing encourage reflection on past successes and using these to plan or visualise the future), research on time-perspective suggests that the happiest people tend to live their lives in the present and to move easily and effortlessly between thoughts of past, present and future. Many wonderful books have been published that suggest how to bring about this state of mind, including Eckhart Tolle’s “The Power of Now”, which describes how we become more aware of our energy when we remain present to our experience and has inspired millions of people to adopt psychological tools of mindfulness and presence that help them feel more vibrant and alive.
We all get stuck sometimes in repetitive mental loops, and whether conscious of these or not, these have a huge impact on the way we act, communicate and move towards our conscious goals by feeding information to the subconscious cognitive processes our brains use to construct memories and evaluate the relative benefits of potential future actions. At Oval tube station in London a positive message is posted each day on a notice board. Today’s said “If you always do what you did, you will always get what you have”. The underlying message of this statement to me, is that we need to understand how thoughts and memories work to create repetitive cycles of behaviour, and how to break these cycles if necessary, if we are to act as agents of positive change in our own lives and those we interact with. Achieving this understanding brings about many rewards; more conscious awareness of our internal mental processes, a greater sense of responsibility in creating our own state of mind, empathy for those who are struggling to create happiness, but above all – recognition that the present is the only true moment of power and energy when it comes to creating meaning and happiness. This is where meditation comes in handy.
Mindfulness meditation is the training of the brain to observe the present, and through doing so assign priority to what is energetic and real, less to what is remembered and reconstructed. When you focus on the present you start the process of breaking repetitive thought patterns. The more you practice focussing on the present the more it crowds out illusions and false imaginings. Life can only really be lived in the present. Too much mental energy spent in other states takes us away from enjoying what is right in front of our eyes. When we tap into the present we can experience a great flood of energy. In real time, energy explodes through our body; we are rendered speechless by great beauty, the birth of our children, the death of loved ones, amazing sex, near death experiences and so on. However there is also great energy and beauty to be obtained by simply being present to what may appear at first glance to be more mundane; the way the wind and sun feels on your face, the way your cat yawns or the feeling of cold water in a swimming pool. When we recall an event, rather than living it, we do so with hindsight. We remember fragments of the past from a narrow perspective. These are half-truths, half-remembered. They render the present moment less powerful than what it can be by hiding it behind a veil of illusion and reconstruction.
We are born with a tendency to live and react to the present. Over time, this is diminished as we attribute meaning through associative learning. As our brains develop we literally learn to think rather than to be and as we get older this becomes hard-wired around our perspective of ourselves, or ego. The more you repeat in your head a mantra-like vision of who you think you are, the more it becomes engrained as truth. We often seek experiences which confirm our sense of identity and separateness, and through this search for self repeat over and over again experiences which bring us pleasure whilst we run from things we have told ourselves we dislike.
Over time, without training, the mind can harden to the point where this perspective becomes unconscious and automatic. William Blake said it subtly but powerfully in his poem, The Angel:
“I drempt a dream! What can it mean?
And that I was a maiden Queen
guarded by an angel mild
Witless woe was neer beguiled!
And I wept both night and day
And he wiped my tears away
And I wept both night and day
And hid from him my hearts delight
So he took his wings and fled;
Then the morn blushed rosy red:
I dried my tear and armed my fears,
With ten thousand spears”
For example, over time we learn to like/dislike certain foods, people, feelings, pastimes, pleasures etc. When we get what we think we want, we are pleased. When we are faced with people and situations we learned to dislike, we are angry. We become enslaved to a vision of who we think we are and ought to behave. This vision of self, separate and in constant comparison to an unreal and unnecessary image of who we think we should be, increasingly takes us away from the truth that we are simply part of the whole. The molecules in our body merge with the rest of the universe. Our thoughts, intentions and actions ripple and vibrate with the waves of energy flowing in all directions and dimensions through time and space. Everything we think, feel and do influences everything else.
Humans have been aware of this for thousands of years. In the 8th century BC, the Kings Of Zhou in China observed intricate, perfectly performed rituals to align themselves and therefore their power and authority, with naturally occurring energy. A perfectly performed and observed ceremony that conjured magic and feelings of divine harmony would certainly demand your full attention and bring about a sense of presence rather than a preoccupation with the past or future! Rituals that bring our attention to awareness of our relationship with the energy around us and help us remain present to experiences enable us to remain open to the vibrancy of the universe. In a world of increasing distractions its useful to create your own rituals that bring presence, whether through meditating or otherwise, to find ways to make them authentic and meaningful in a modern world. Its also great to practice being still, observing what’s around you and feeling the energy flow into you; just like the Kings of Zhou 3,000 years ago.
Andy Roberts runs Breathe London. He first studied economics and became a chartered accountant, working in Corporate Finance for KPMG in the UK and Australia. In 1999 he re trained as Massage Therapist and subsequently became a yoga teacher. His interest in wellbeing led him to become one of the first people in Europe to obtain a masters degree in positive psychology. He is also a life coach and is an accredited emotional intelligence coach.