June 19, 2019

Meditation Without a Yoga Mat

by William Fraser

If you are like me, the word meditation conjures up a vision of a person sitting on a yoga mat, legs crossed, eyes closed, and chanting a mantra. While this may be one form of meditation, it is not the only one. As I looked into this topic, I found that many of us practice meditation without even knowing it.

Definitions in Oxford and Merriam-Webster dictionaries include both an original definition from the Latin meditor meaning ‘think deeply about,’ as well as more popular definitions such as ‘focus one’s mind for a period of time,’ or ‘the act of giving attention to only one thing,’ or ‘engage in mental exercises such as concentrating on one’s breathing or repetition of a mantra for the purpose of reaching a heightened level of spiritual awareness.’ When we examine these definitions, we find that we engage in meditation each time we target shoot, practice archery, or play golf, to name just three examples.

Target shooters know how important it is to ‘focus one’s mind for a period of time.’ Control of breathing and the elimination of distractions become extremely important. Also of importance is consideration of wind and distance, as is the slow and steady pull of the trigger. Suddenly, when that concentration ends, and after a check of the target, the shooter once again moves into a state of ‘thinking deeply.’ These feelings are why many believe that the noisy shooting of a gun is actually very relaxing.

The mind takes a vacation and you end up feeling relaxed, less stressed, and more content.

Asian cultures have developed a number of activities that have a meditative strand. For the practiser of Tai Chi, a series of moves involve legs, arms, hands, and even fingers. Breathing properly is also an important part of the exercise. There is no talking, and the exercise is done either with a group or individually. It matters only that mind and body focus on one thing: the moves.

The Japanese have a form of archery called kyūdō that is descended from a ceremonial or contemplative practice. Contemplative practice teaches kyūdō as meditation in action. The student begins with a rubber bow until the basic actions are mastered and then moves on to a real bow and finally adds an arrow. The belief is that shooting correctly inevitably will result in hitting the desired target. For this, the phrase seisha hitchū, ‘true shooting, certain hitting,’ is used to describe this state of meditation.

In golf, our attention is on a little white ball, so we ‘give attention to only one thing.’ Thoughts and worries of the day are replaced by attention to stance, grip, swing, and the wind. We strive for that special sound and feel of a perfect hit. Often, a golfer will swing again, just trying to remember that perfect hit and what it felt like.

All of these activities fit the definitions of meditation: ‘focus one’s mind for a period of time,’ ‘giving your attention to only one thing,’ and even ‘concentration on one’s breathing.’ Activities that require this kind of focus provide a break from daily living and its cares for those who practise them. The mind takes a vacation and you end up feeling relaxed, less stressed, and more content. So, the next time you play a round of golf, just call it eighteen holes of meditation.