Meditation: Putting Our Meditation to the Test for Sustained Happiness During a Global Pandemic
Since 1986, meditation has been a mainstay of my life. There has been more than ample opportunity to explore, study, research and practice, practice, practice meditation. During that time, I have accumulated a handful of meaningful discovered maxims. One is, “As important as meditation practice is on the cushion, it is even more important off the cushion.” What does that mean exactly? Essentially, for me, it suggests that meditation practice on a cushion in relative solitude and peaceful environs is just that – practice. Yet, where it really counts is life; hence, the importance of steadily applying what is experienced and learned on the cushion to whatever life brings your way. Equally, if not even more important to me personally, is the notion that “Happiness is the purpose of life.” In some ways, this has been the most difficult principle to learn, and especially apply. Why? Acculturation and conditioning. From an early age, influenced by loving and well-intended parental units, teachers, mentors, peers, I was under the fundamental impression that happiness was way down the list of life’s priorities. Matters of family, faith, community, career and education were effectively the exclusive list. Sadly, the importance of happiness never seemed to be present. Fortunately, now the same “matters of family, faith, community, career and education” are still as important as then, but with a twist. It is essential to feel and express happiness along the way!
On January 20, 2020, the first case of Covid-19 in the United States was detected in the state of Washington. Closer to home, the first case of Coronavirus was discovered on March 18, 2020 in New Braunfels, Texas. I am likely to remember that fateful day for some time, as it was on my birthday. My wife and I returned home from dinner early that evening, as the restaurant in which we celebrated was being ordered closed at 8pm. As of April 18, there have been more than 778,000 confirmed cases with more than 41,000 deaths in the US. Locally, there has been 43 confirmed cases and 6 deaths in Comal County. As for cases globally, it is unimaginably alarming! Suffice it to say, it has been over a month since my birthday dinner and local and since then, state entities have been advised to recommend “shelter-in-place” orders. Many folks are struggling to be happy, especially with extraordinary feelings of anxiety, confusion, fear and worry. So much so that most recently there has been reporting of ever-increasing civil disobedience, in particular by defying “social distancing” recommendations by health professionals and by staging live protests on state capitals. So, with all of this being said, one might ask what meditation could possibly have to do with the current state of affairs? Being sequestered at home, potentially coping with matters of unemployment, staying current with the implied health risks associated with local and national “community spread”, the frustration of leading a more sedentary lifestyle and running out of Netflix options. It is here that I want to direct our focus.
A number of years ago there was a groundbreaking study at the University of Wisconsin-Madison which was later reported by Business Insider. The introduction of the article is as follows, “A 69 year old monk who scientists call the world’s ‘happiest man’ says the secret to being happy takes just 15 minutes a day.” The research involved a twelve year brain study by neuroscientist Richard Davidson that studied meditation and compassion. What Davidson discovered was that “even 20 minutes of daily meditation can make people much happier overall.” As reported, this study is both evidence-based and broadly embraced by a spectrum of mental health professionals as well as those in the meditation community. What is its relevance to our situation today, especially as relates to Covid-19? In simple terms, quality of life.
Do we as individuals, a nation, a world, struggle to mentally cope with unprecedented lifestyle changes, understandable health concerns for self and others and future uncertainty? Or, do we further explore scientifically studied solutions to actualizing greater happiness, even during a modern pandemic.
Over the past month, we as a family have had the opportunity to put our meditation practice to the test, albeit anecdotally. We have balanced our individual daily practice with weekly on-line group meditation. Additionally, we have been electronically engaged through ZOOM portals with valued spiritual teachers, as well as hosting live practices with friends in our community, by computer and phone. And, what have we learned? Has the practice of meditation contributed to greater happiness as an individual and as a family? When asking practitioner friends about their practice, do they report that their meditation is helping? I am “happy” to report that me and my family do feel that the practice of meditation is helping. Also, our fellow meditation friends are reporting that it is helpful. Even during this Covid-19 phenomena, meditation is very helpful, but does this necessarily mean to imply that at any given moment that we are not experiencing psychological challenges? Of course not! What I can say is that it is not only helping, but that it is definitely helping most of the time! And, for that reason alone, I am more inspired to practice, practice, practice meditation even more. Does this mean that I won’t continue to watch Netflix? No. What it means is that meditators can do both, especially in a balanced way endeavoring to live a purposeful driven, happy life.
Bryan and Wen Carey own and operate Everyday Zen Books, Crystals, & Tea Room, located on West San Antonio Street in New Braunfels. Bryan was the director of Patanjali’s Place yoga studio in North Carolina. He and Wen then studied and meditated in Tibetan monasteries and historical Zen temples in Nepal and Japan, and then brought their knowledge and practice to New Braunfels in 2016.
They currently offer twice weekly group meditations via Zoom. For information email Bryan and Wen at firstname.lastname@example.org