By Mark Van Buren
The path of meditation is not limited to just sitting and following the breath. In fact, our true meditation practice is right smack in the middle of our daily lives. Meditation throughout our day involves simply doing whatever it is we are doing. If we are walking, we just walk. If we are eating, we just eat. If we are sitting in traffic, we just sit in traffic. The only difference between someone practicing in daily life is the attention and precision in which things are done. Attention and precision come directly from two important tools: mindfulness and renunciation.
Mindfulness is our ability to pay attention to the present moment without judgments or labels. With mindfulness our awareness is like a mirror, simply reflecting whatever is placed in front of it. Mindfulness doesn’t get involved with concepts such as right/wrong or good/bad, but rather sees everything clearly, just the way it is. From this open state of mind there is no picking and choosing, but instead a clear-seeing, which allows us to relax into the present moment regardless of the circumstances.
Although concentration is needed for mindfulness, mindfulness is not concentration. Typically, concentration is a goal-oriented practice; keeping the mind focused on one object to attain a special state of mind. Mindfulness, however, has no goal as it is a full presence of mind. Instead of narrowing our awareness to one object of meditation, the entire present moment becomes our focus. If our mindfulness practice is based on a goal attained at some future time, we are literally missing the whole point of the practice. Don’t worry about results, attainments or goals, just simply be open to and aware of the present moment. This is mindfulness.
Renunciation, on the other hand, is our ability to let go of resistance to whatever we find ourselves facing each and every moment. We literally renounce struggling with our lives and ourselves, learning to open our hearts even when everything is screaming within us to close it down. Renunciation teaches us to stay, keeping us from our normal means of escaping life when it becomes uncomfortable or painful. It retrains us to be with the uneasy feelings which underlie all our painful habits, addictions, and harmful behaviors, rather than quickly finding expedient means to get rid of them. The more we practice renouncing resistance and escape, the more we learn to not take the bait of our habitual ways that keep us from fully experiencing the present moment, no matter what its flavor may be.
Renunciation, like many of the meditative practices, is much easier said than done. It sounds like an inspiring and profound idea to not act out when you are angry, or not grab a glass of wine when you feel the onset of anxiety, but the actual practice is not so easy. This is because we have been habituated to escape discomfort at all costs, and true renunciation is not always very comfortable! Liberation is not just rainbows and unicorns like we all hope it will be. Meditation master Ajahn Chah explains it in this way, “There are two kinds of suffering: the suffering that leads to more suffering and the suffering that leads to the end of suffering. If you are not willing to face the second kind of suffering, you will surely continue to experience the first.” In this case, the first type of suffering is acting out on our impulse to escape. Our quick fixes become addicting and ultimately lead to an endless cycle of suffering. Facing the discomfort without acting out on the other hand, although uncomfortable, leads to freedom and peace.
Together, mindfulness and renunciation lead to a peaceful life. Mindfulness allows us to actually be in the moment, and renunciation gives us a chance to fully rest there without struggle or resistance, regardless of the circumstances we may find ourselves in. Although difficult at times, I encourage all of you to practice wholeheartedly. The world will appreciate your practice, no matter how small. I wish you all well on your journey.
Mark Van Buren, a yoga/meditation instructor, personal trainer, and musician, has been promoting health and wellness for over 10 years. He has run dozens of workshops and retreats, and has been asked to speak at numerous colleges including Columbia, Montclair State and Bergen Community. A handful of yoga studios have already opened their doors to his message, allowing him to give talks and run guided meditations and retreats. He has also worked with autistic children and adults, and released two solo albums, based on his inward journey through meditation, under the band name “Seeking the Seeker.” Van Buren holds a Bachelor of Arts in religious studies from Montclair State University and two Associate Degrees from Bergen Community College in exercise science and music. He is currently the owner and head instructor of Live Free Yoga Studio in Northern New Jersey, and recently published his first book, Be Your Sh*tty Self: An Honest Approach to a More Peaceful Life.