Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Olympic Dharma

As the Winter Olympics continue in Vancouver, I am reminded of some parallels (and differences) between athletes and meditators. Most obviously, like Olympic competitors, those of us who meditate must practice.

Like athletes, we practice meditation in a controlled environment, sitting still, with eyes closed, and being quiet. A top Olympic skier, working out in a specially equipped gym, is doing the same thing. They may be working on specific exercises to strengthen parts of the body, or to improve their reaction time. They are not doing these things to become world class at weight lifting or jumping on a trampoline, but to become more skillful on the race course where they must be prepared for any real-time experiences that may come their way.

A meditator is not practicing to become good at meditating. When a meditator is sitting on the cushion or chair, they are practicing getting to know events and experiences that arise moment-to-moment. Then, when difficult things happen in daily life, they can avoid getting caught up in habitual reactions and old ways of being. In the meditator's case, however, there is a sense of trying to slow down the reaction time, to take a reflective moment, and then to respond out of that moment more mindfully and less automatically. Like the skier, the more a meditator practices this kind of non-doing, the more the reflective moment becomes, somewhat paradoxically, the automatic reaction.

There are no medals given out for meditation, however. The reward is decreasing the level of suffering by avoiding habitual and automatic reactions. When we transform these old habits into reflective and mindful responses, that's when we win the gold.


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