How can we find inner peace in a contemporary world full of automation, pragmatic efficacy, the overbearing expectations of achievement and profit? Here are some notes about the benefits of meditation.
Most of the discomfort in our lives results from thinking. Having doubts, scrutinizing the possible direction of developments, projecting the future and ruminating on the past are thought patterns of consciousness associated with negative affect, expectations, unhappiness and grief related to loss.
Suppressing our thinking, on the other hand, means suppressing distress and grief, reducing tension, being in the present without disturbing over-analysis and its accompanying affections. Sometimes we allow our thoughts to flow freely through the mind, treat them like clouds in the sky, wantonly admiring their individual form. In such situations, our mind gradually turns into the sky. Observing the clouds of our thoughts (rather than interfering with their flow), a focus on breathing and noticing the position of individual parts of our body can all lead us to a point where we cease to strive to affect our breathing. We accept it as it is and we accept our body as it is.
Sometimes we feel bad, because, for example, during a growing pandemic we live in one of those countries where the majority of media coverage is actually a stream of fear- and anger-inducing stimuli, as if opposing forces are yanking our body and mind into a predatory fight. But we can always stop. It will calm our thoughts and thus calm our fear and anger. All we need to do is to find a moment of free time and the right meditation technique. We can also go on the road, make a move. These two ways of meditative action are not mutually exclusive at all.
It is best to start with stopping, staying still. This is particularly advisable for so-called Westerners, who throughout their childhood and adulthood are constantly urged, motivated to act and make an effort in order to accumulate capital, maximize material resources, build a house, get a well-paid job, be in power, have a career. I say ‘so-called’, because some years ago, thanks to the globalization of capital and the rise of English-language hegemony in governance and management, the division between the West and East blurred. Many employees of international corporations are detached from both their native culture and the culture of wherever they travelled for work. After all, international capital does not have a homeland, it is simply located in low-tax areas; it does not care for the profile of the indigenous inhabitants, the altitude, nor traditional local customs.
However, the pragmatic ideology of managing large international companies, where a large part of workers come from both the West and East, the North and South, has inherited some important elements of Western culture from the beginnings of industrial civilization, namely active involvement, ideals of development and the ideology of motivation for effective action. Theory is welcome, as long as it contributes to the arrival of artificial intelligence, which will finally make it possible to eradicate the human element – the source of errors and losses – from most production chains. What is more, the IT-mathematical context of production optimization is governed by practice – that is, the imperative of action is key.
Because of this, meditation for current employees of international corporations – regardless of whether they are Korean, Chinese, Canadian, Dutch or American corporations – should begin with a pause and becoming still. Some companies even offer their employees yoga classes during breaks, as it has been noted that yoga and meditation provide the best quality rest. In the long run, this can contribute to an increase in staff efficiency. However, corporate meditation coaching is subordinated to the system of control and assessment of employee performance, so this data might not be accurate.
Meditation is basically a subversive action. A man who has discovered the benefits of stillness ceases to react to the ideology of keeping active. Idleness takes on a celebratory dimension, available at our fingertips and achievable by simple means. For a person raised in the paradigm of permanent activity, meditative inactivity can become a revolutionary breakthrough. Often, and especially at first, it’s eye opening – literally. A smile appears on your face, the mind overflows with bliss. You finally understand that there really is no need to hurry. There is nothing to achieve, because everything has already been achieved. And so it doesn’t matter if you fulfil 200 or just two tasks per week – in the grand scheme of life, it really doesn’t really matter. You can relax. Now. Indian meditation teachers and Buddhist monks publishing dharma speeches and practical meditation guides online know this very well – for example, the YouTube monk-teacher Ajahn Brahm, or the now dead, but still quite alive online, Osho.
Workers, and that is mainly people earning a living working in national and international corporations, feel constant pressure from the market, employers, managers and direct superiors. This pressure is further exacerbated by the increasing automation and digitization of systems controlling employee activity and working time. Enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems track labour time in offices, at warehouses and construction sites. Blue- and white-collar workers alike have a certain number of seconds to fulfil a task, and if they don’t do so within a given time frame, they face consequences such as ‘motivational feedback’ – in other words, a nerve-wracking ‘chat’ with their supervisors. The very prospect of such a conversation, the mere possibility that we might be assessed and judged, and that ultimately we can lose our job and land on the street, increases mental and physical strain. Such strain may lead to those ever prevalent diseases: hypertension, heart problems, various neuroses, panic attacks, and so on.
Everyday stress and strain are unhealthy, and yet there are no material gains without them, there is no growth of the company’s capital without suitable management of employee motivation. That means convincing them – indirectly, of course – that their world will collapse if they don’t work hard enough. Meanwhile, the monks will say: nothing ever collapses nor rises; everything is an illusion of samsara. The ability to look at things with such detachment is a real holiday.
At a time of epidemiological and civilizational crisis, there is a growing need for meditation understood as taking a pause, staying still, eradicating tensions, subduing our thinking, suppressing expectations, and letting go of grieving for what is gone and left in the past. Employees of corporations – although these obviously differ in terms of the intensity of the pressure on employees, because their founders differ in terms of consciousness levels – instinctively turn towards this source of wellbeing. But does meditation equal idleness? No. Inaction, blissful thoughtlessness, a calm mind and relaxed body are just one side of the coin; you could say, one half of meditation. The other half is the road, conscious movement. Buddhist monks from Nepal and Indian ascetics of the Vedic tradition wander. In the West, the first generation to recognize wandering as a practice of enlightenment were the Beatniks in the 1950s – a bridge connecting Eastern and Western spirituality.
Will we ever be able to integrate the worlds of corporate parameterization and meditative downtime? Perhaps. After all, samsara – the constant process of becoming, the circle of innumerable incarnations and forms of existence – is nirvana, as Nagarjuna wrote in the the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā, or Fundamental Verses on the Middle Way (MMK). Meanwhile, life goes on between the axis of movement and stillness, work and holiday, tension and downtime.
An aesthetic phenomenon that, like our lives, consists of gestures and pauses between gestures, is dance. Dancers never think about their next move – the moves comes to them.
Translated from the Polish by Joanna Figiel
If you like reading our authors and would like to have a positive impact on the quality of journalism in the ‘New East’, please support PRZEKRÓJ Foundation.
Choose your donation