Moving Meditation for Westerners

Woman jumping high on a bridge - the Paris skyline in the back. It's a bit gray that day.

Most people live live habitually. What does it mean? It means people in the “civilized” or western world perform the same tasks every day.

Westerners walk the same paths and see the same things day in day out. It’s not always an issue of course!

Depending on what exactly the daily tasks, paths and things are your habits can have both a positive and a negative impact.

When you live life habitually you reduce the cognitive load and thus make your life both simpler and easier.

Yet you also lead a dull life then. How to find out whether you are typical westerner leading a monotonous life?

 

Are you living your life on autopilot?

What is cognitive load? It’s the constant decisions you need to make. Which clothes to wear, what to eat, which way to go.

By getting up at the same time daily, drinking the same drink and moving along the same path each day you can perform almost on autopilot.

You don’t have to think about and plan each exact step. This way you can spend your energy on the actual decisions that matter.

  • Will you quit that awful job?
  • Will you ask that special person for a date?
  • Will you start taking dance classes?

Facebook billionaire Mark Zuckerberg is always wearing the same neutral gray t-shirts for that exact reason. He sure could afford more varied clothing.

As a decision-maker on top of a huge hierarchy the Facebook-founder can’t waste his energy on negligible details.

This is also how I manage my daily life. I get up, eat, drink, meditate, walk the dog, train and work at roughly the same time each day.

I go about these daily tasks more or less the same way. That’s fine. It’s called routine. It works well to some extent.

Habits are not sufficient though. You can’t live the same old daily routine day in and day out without suffering from ABC:

  • alienation
  • boredom
  • complacency

You need to break up the routine regularly. Do you suffer from ABC? It’s easy to find out:

  • Do you think about your next holiday while on public transit?
  • Do you text while driving?
  • Do you stare into your mobile phone while eating?

These are signs that you spend your life unconsciously – on autopilot – without even being where you are.

You are always distracted and trying to get to the next moment – the really important one – while missing the actual moment you are in.

Don’t worry. You are not the only one. It’s basically the norm now in the West. People spend several hours staring into screens every day while they talk with their kids just for a few minutes.

 

How to break out of the dull routine

Most people break up their routines during the weekend or on holidays. When you’re young and alone you may also be able to spend the evenings in surprising ways.

As an adult who has a family and work you will most likely have to rest in the evening or perform even more daily tasks after work. Think washing dishes and the likes.

When you start depending on your daily schedule you become a zombie in a way. You stop choosing what you do.

You do what you have to. You lose awareness of your surroundings and your inner self. You become more and more like a robot trying to be as productive as possible.

Things, ideas or even people who do not fit in your daily schedule get ignored or dismissed.

You could meet your ideal partner on the way to work or even encounter them on your daily commute repeatedly without ever chatting that person up. Why? It’s because you are bound to work and have “no time”.

Some people also succumb to depression and do only the bare minimum. They react not with the frenzy of being always busy but the opposite – apathy.

The antidote to apathy and routine is parkour training. When you run, jump and climb you always are fully alert and focus on your surroundings. After all

daydreaming could mean hurting yourself and leading to pain or injury even when overcoming minor obstacles.

In a way parkour training is also the perfect mindfulness meditation. You focus on the here and now. You don’t ruminate.

Your mind is not clouded by thoughts related to the past or the future. When thoughts distract me I momentarily lose my balance.

When you are training parkour you become one with your surroundings and their actual elements. Any obstacles you find, be it trees or walls are your teachers.

 

Becoming fully alert

To achieve the highest level of performance you are ideally “in the zone”where your attention is undisturbed by anything that is not relevant for the particular move.

Like any kind of mindfulness you can expand your practice of parkour back to your daily life. I don’t just mean jumping over barriers while going to school or work.

You can even perform habitual tasks without drifting away to pointless ramblings about the past or the future.

You can’t jump over obstacles in the past or vault over them in the future. You can only practice parkour in the present moment.

Likewise your daily or weekly chores can become interesting again or in the first place. Anything like

  • washing dishes
  • vacuum cleaning
  • buying groceries

can become exciting again and part of your mental, physical and spiritual training. Instead of rushing through each task or postponing it forever you can do it with extra care.

 

The Zen of washing dishes

One of my favorite Zen sayings goes something like this – there are multiple versions of it – “before enlightenment the dishes, after enlightenment the laundry.”

The ages old Zen philosophy wants us to embrace your daily life and not seek some lofty ideals instead.

Whether awaiting your next vacation or seeking enlightenment – do not let it distract you from your current task.

Happiness is not some lofty goal you can reach one day when you achieve this or get that. It’s a daily practice.

Most people in the West just imagine happiness in the future when they find the ideal partner, have a great career or retire.

You can be happy or at least content (because happiness is such an overloaded concept) right here right now, even when washing dishes.

 

The left hand of lightness

When training parkour I always try to train both my strong and my weak leg, arm etc. Depending on the move I can do it better with my left leg/arm/side or the right one.

Thus I try to switch sides on purpose as often as I can and not to jump automatically with my stronger foot and fail in a real life situation when the obstacle doesn’t match my requirements perfectly.

When vacuum cleaning I attempt to do it with my left hand because I did it mostly with right one for decades. This way I have to make a conscious effort.

I don’t let my mind run on autopilot and think about something completely different and unrelated to the task at hand.

Consider trying to spice up your daily chores by doing them with the left hand. Even when you think it’s nonsense you will see a positive impact on your daily life. It’s not just parkour training.

It also works for any other endurance or adventure or even regular exercise habit: exercise makes your life more bearable by making you resilient to

  • daily stress
  • fear and anxiety
  • lack of comfort

as scientists have found out.

In Germany where I live there is an idiomatic expression you use to explain that you can do something with ease: “with left” (mit links). You are so good at it you can do something with (the) left (hand).

On bad days when I’m already

  • tired
  • stressed
  • sick

I can’t perform the task securely “with left”. I have to take the stronger hand, foot, arm whatever. It’s also a good skill by itself – noticing when you have a low performance day.

 

Learning extra skills to master daily tasks

On good days I get an additional confidence boost when I realize that I can do things “with left” or simply with ease.

Try tying your shoe laces or even brushing your teeth with your weak hand and you will know what I mean.

When you are able to accomplish things so easily that you only need your weak hand to perform them you can further pursue your lightness training.

  1. Can you do it with one hand, without even using the other hand for holding things etc.?
  2. Can you do it with eyes closed?
  3. Can you do it while standing one leg?

You may think these are ridiculous ideas by someone who has too much time to waste but you will need these skills sooner or later.

  • You will need one-hand techniques as a parent holding a baby.
  • You will need them when injured.
  • You will need eyes-closed techniques when camping or in a storm when there is no electricity.
  • You will stay calm because you will be prepared.

Heck you even need the one hand techniques when holding a mobile phone while on the go! Always remember to move in unexpected ways. You never know when you will need them.