In case you’re wondering what’s the cause of all the buzz around the water cooler, well, people have been talking about The Borten Principle. I introduced it in last week’s newsletter, Meditation and the Lottery. Basically, it states that your decision to act (versus not acting) is the biggest hurdle and yields the biggest improvement in return on the energy you invest. One you’ve taken that first step, bigger investments are usually easier and also less significant.
Two minutes of meditation may be better than one minute, but one minute of meditation will get you much farther than zero minutes. Moreover, that one minute is your ticket into the game, and who knows where it might lead? The same is true for exercise, stretching, and many other healthful pursuits.
If you’ve been putting these things off because you believe they’re only worth doing if you can devote an hour to them, don’t let duration be your hurdle. Just start doing any amount – one minute of stretching when you can get it, a five minute walk, playing a single song on your clarinet. It’s so much better than nothing.
It’s not that I believe one minute is ideal, but look what I have to work with here. The images in television and movies move faster than ever. Those disclaimers at the end of commercials sound like they’re being narrated by auctioneers. Our preferred forms of communication are text messages and 140-characters-or-less tweets. While people have meals with their friends, they simultaneously carry on text conversations with other friends, browse a stream of status updates, or check emails. We’re training ourselves to have very short attention spans and a minimum of mental downtime.
In contrast, there’s meditation. In my opinion, one of the most valid reasons to do it is as a counterbalance to our usual behavior. That is, we should meditate as a much needed rest from mental processing and as an exercise in holding our attention. Both can be accomplished by simply fixing the attention on something that doesn’t require thought – the experience of breathing, the flame of a candle, a mantra.
In a way, it can feel like work, because it’s not our M.O. But when we stop fighting it, we can sink into the delicious, restful simplicity of it. Cultivating such a state in waking life is a different kind of replenishment than what we get from sleeping. Sleep doesn’t train us to experience life with greater ease and presence the way meditation does.
Last week, I introduced a one breath meditation as your entry level ticket to the benefits of meditative practice. Hopefully, you were able to watch a single breath a few times since then. This week, I want to challenge you just a little bit more. Rather than ask you to sit down and look at a candle, which would mean potentially missing some very juicy tweets, I’d like you to just do whatever you’d normally do.
There’s just one tiny difference. I’d like you to watch yourself do whatever you’re doing. Put your attention on only what you’re engaged in. Choose one mundane activity today, like washing dishes, cooking, cleaning, driving, or bathing, and see how long you can pay attention to just what you’re doing and nothing else. Your mind will be understimulated, and that’s fine. If you’re washing a dish, and your mind wants something to chew on, you can let it think, “I’m washing a dish.” Don’t indulge any unrelated thoughts. Pay attention to the process completely. Easy.
Then tell me what happens in the comments section below.
Dr. Peter Borten