– Gavin McKay, Founder & President of Unite Fitness
Do you feel like a slave to your emotions, which get you in trouble?
Are you stuck in poor habits: over-eating, over-sleeping, over-anything?
What if you could feel at peace with yourself, quell over-reactions and be who you really want to be more often?
For all of these situations and goals, there is a solution that has been proven to work for thousands of years. It’s only recently been in use in the Western world.
It’s the meditative lifestyle.
I say meditative lifestyle because there’s so much more to it than simply sitting, breathing and training in mindfulness, although that is certainly the foundational practice.
Meditation principles and practice, specifically Buddhist-based, have had a profound impact on my life and I want to share that with my world. Since training for several years at the Philadelphia Shambhala Center and their rural retreat centers, I am more peaceful, confident, compassionate and truly happier. My business has never been more successful, my relationships never healthier and I haven’t been sick in years!
Meditation has made it into the mainstream, but there are so many misconceptions about it. Meditation isn’t a blissful escape, zoning out or disconnecting into non-thought.
It’s actually waking up and paying closer attention, both to your own internal stories/biases and the immense details of the physical and emotional worlds around us. There is so much going on, especially in our current technology-obsessed society, that under daily and long-term stresses we tend to block much of it out and disconnect.
We then repeat the same old cruddy stories and habits again and again — which often leads to self-doubt and negativity — to justify the pain we experience or pleasure we treat ourselves to.
It doesn’t have to be this way. There’s a simpler, more direct way to deal with the world by learning to let our ego fall back and trusting ourselves to do the right thing.
Before going into the practices of the meditative lifestyle, let’s figure out what would motivate us to take on any such practices. In my experience here are the key goals or benefits that motivate a meditation practice and lifestyle:
- Reduced Stress (Mental and Physical)
- Emotional Stability and Energy Management
- Focus on Creative-Positive versus Reoccurring-Negative Thoughts
- More Compassion, Less Judgment
- Improved Memory and Cognitive Ability
- Being Happy
3 Premises of the Meditative Lifestyle
If you find anything on that list resonates with what you want more of in your life, then consider the following premises for creating a meditative lifestyle.
1. Building Mindfulness Skills to Catch Our Mind Running Off
Since we want to be more mindful in all situations, from communicating with our partners to playing a sport to driving to work, we can see every moment as a chance to train in mindfulness. There’s no gym or equipment required for mindfulness training; just effort and attention.
That said, having set times and training will greatly accelerate your mindfulness skills so you can more accurately feel what’s going on in your body and mind. It’ll also help you catch poor engrained habits faster.
Example: When I’m meditating regularly, those short times of deep quiet really change my average state for the rest of my day and allow me to pay attention to what’s going on around me.
When I don’t find the time, that’s when I get accused of not listening, interrupting people and being a jerk. When I’m too caught in the speed of my internal thoughts and stress, I’m not focusing on what’s actually happening in the world around me nor how I want to be (patient, compassionate, positive leader, etc.). I’m simply not catching and correcting myself.
2. Choosing To Move Toward Peace and Contentment
When our mind speeds up it also becomes more reactive and dramatic when it inevitably becomes stressed.
With mindfulness skills we can hit the pause button, slow down our day and reflect. By coming back to a place of peace and contentment we can make a smarter decision. We can find this peace by choosing to see the situations the world throws at us as “I’m okay. Things will be okay. I trust myself to pull through”.
The alternative is to ring the alarm and treat situations as life or death, which is choosing to fight or flee in fear.
Example: For me, such choices might be to stop and give time to a client or employee who wants to talk, even when my mind is focusing on work tasks I want to get done. Or when I am freaking out about a delay in studio openings, it might employ self-talk to remind myself of all I have accomplished and that this too will work itself out.
3. When Mistakes Happen, Be Kind to Yourself and Others
Be willing to give yourself a break again and again instead of beating yourself up, which is a negative form of motivation that has unwanted side effects. One big side effect is that we’re then hard on the people we love and need, whether they’re partners, co-workers, kids or others. They begin to resent us and pull away, the opposite of what we actually want.
Example: I screw this one up a lot because I put a lot of expectations on myself and my goals, but I’ve been successful a lot, too, since starting meditation training. The results are so different that it really reinforces the kind approach.
When I get too tough on my employees, it’s always because I am personally stressed and doubting myself. Not only do I make them feel like they aren’t good enough or don’t want to work for me, I feel like shit for having acted that way.
The more mindful I become, the greater I feel the pain I’m causing myself and others so it becomes easier to say “I’m sorry” and set my mind to not doing it again. Before I trained in mediation — and when I don’t train — I numb myself to that pain and try to blow past it; blame it on the situation. It doesn’t go away. It just builds until something blows up.
Why the Meditative Lifestyle is Key in Unite’s Heart.Muscle.Mind Philosophy
You could be fit as hell, having trained your body to the max, fueling it with clean nutrition and achieving some impressive results in sporting events, in body fat, etc. But, if you aren’t happy, confident and relaxed, you’re missing the point and what it feels like to be totally healthy in mind and body.
This is the Heart.Muscle approach which most fitness programs take because they’re so intently focused on the body looking and feeling good, which is fine, but there’s a danger if the mind portion is not properly addressed.
Sometimes I meet such people I would categorize as “fitness fanatics” who train every single day, sometimes multiple workouts per day, and/or are extremely disciplined about their diets. The issue here is the anxiety and often times ignorance that must be driving such over-training.
Unless you’re training for the Olympics, you shouldn’t over-train. And even then you shouldn’t be really training hard every day. As a rule we don’t want anxiety or fear to drive our behaviors because such negatively-fueled motivation skews our view and ends up in poor choices that can blow up on us. In this case it could be injury, burnout or obsession. In the worst situations conditions like renal fatigue — when your body just finally shuts down — can occur. We need to get a handle on our anxieties, whatever they might be.
In these situations I would ask some probing questions to understand the underlying anxiety. Examples include:
- “Why are you training so much?”
- “What are you avoiding?”
- “What are you afraid of that you feel training provides safety against?”
So How Can You Practice a Meditative Lifestyle?
If you’re now bought into the idea that we all should incorporate training our mind and working on poor habits, then how exactly do I suggest going about it?
Below are five ways, only one of which is actual seated meditation, although a regular practice is critical to actually making progress. The other four provide amazing complimentary practices to the seated meditation.
- Seated meditation is the basis of meditation training but not the only way. If we can find any time during the day or week to sit, it will help to keep our mindfulness sharp and remind us of the ways we want to be in life.
- Quiet the mind while doing repetitive activities that don’t require too much thinking such as walking, hiking, biking, cooking, cleaning or knitting.
- Express gratitude, which could be part of a meditation practice, written in a journal/app or even posting on social media. What’s important is that we’re taking a moment to appreciate what we have and counteract all the thoughts about what we don’t have or simply wish we had.
- Allow your heart to break for others in sadness and beam with joy builds your compassion capacity. Examples might be hearing about a tragedy and thinking of how they must feel or their families or conversely seeing a stranger have a beautiful moment and be happy for them.
- Learn how the mind works so we can build the foundation of being able to have a meditative lifestyle. This includes reading books, listening to teachers, taking retreats and being curious to learn more.
Which practices will you commit to in order to start living a meditative lifestyle?
If you found this article intriguing, I’m holding a Free Meditative Lifestyle Workshop this Saturday at Unite Philly. More details and register here.