The Simple Things

Spring 2017, Living Well Magazine

God help us to live slowly
To move simply
To look softly
To allow emptiness
To let the Heart create for us.
Amen.

Michael Leunig

I was so touched and inspired by Michael Leunig’s short prayer/poem, that I contacted him when co-authoring Meditation, An In-Depth Guide with Ian Gawler, to get permission to quote it in the book. For me, this poem captures the essence of meditation in very concise and simple words, and I’d like to share with you, the meaning that I have sourced from each of its lines.

God help us to live slowly
We live in a fast-paced world, inhabited by busy, time-poor people with busy minds. Many people are addicted to the stimulation of a busy life. I refer to this addiction as “stimulation addiction”, where people replace one source of stimulation with another – work, social media, entertainment, sport, politics, fast food, world news, family dramas, financial pressures, etc. Constant stimulation keeps people running from one thing to the next – always running on the treadmill of a busy life… running towards an imagined happiness and running away from a fear of failure and inadequacy. Some people run on adrenalin, caffeine and sugar… some are ‘running on empty’. This unrelenting busyness creates stress, and is a strong causative factor in chronic illness.

Buddha identified 3 causes of unhappiness, called the Three Poisons – craving, aversion and ignorance. Stimulation addiction keeps people running on the treadmill of craving and aversion. Whilst the third poison, ignorance, refers to a false sense of identity, which is created by constantly being busy – where you lose touch with your true self.

On the treadmill, moments of happiness are fleeting and dependent on external circumstances.

God help us to live slowly, is an appeal for help to slow down. Meditation is a very skilful antidote for busy people with busy minds. Of course, the people who need meditation the most find it hardest to make time for it. When asked how long people should meditate each day I sometimes reply, “30 minutes a day is useful, but if you are too busy to meditate 30 minutes a day, you better do 60 minutes a day!”

To move simply
As well as chronic business, our lives have become more and more complex – bigger houses, more cars, bigger cars, mortgages, credit cards, social media, insurance, investments, technology and more material possessions. I call this the “more syndrome”… always wanting more stuff. We tend to overlook and undervalue the simple things in life like a walk in the park, fresh air, sunshine, simple wholefoods, quality family time, clean water, friends, relaxation, free time, the beauty in nature, and the joy of giving etc. These simple things are the antidotes (or preventatives) for unhappiness and chronic illness yet because these simple things are free and can’t be patented, they can become low priority or even no-priority activities. These simple things make up some of the most important elements of lifestyle medicine programs.

To look softly
To me, this line is an appeal for more compassion, tolerance and understanding. Neuroanatomists inform us that we have inherited a genetic “negativity-bias” in our brain and central nervous system, which predisposes us towards defensiveness, even when there is no actual physical threat to safety. Left uncorrected, this negativity bias can make us too judgemental and critical of ourselves, and others. Meditation can help soften the way that we look at ourselves, at others, and the world. We can cultivate qualities like acceptance, patience, gratitude, humility and forgiveness and begin to heal the negativity bias. Relaxing your eyes and taking a few slow deep breaths can soften a rigid attitude or viewpoint.

To allow emptiness
What is missing in many people’s lives is space. Space to unwind, space to relax, space from the pressures of life, space to think clearly and space in which to reconnect with one’s true self. But in our contemporary lifestyle, there is too much pressure, too much drive and not enough space. In counselling sessions with people dealing with chronic illness, I often hear people reporting that they feel “trapped” by their lifestyle. In meditation we continually move from a narrow focus of attention, which is dominated by the thinking mind (utilitarian mind) to the spaciousness of the aware mind (big mind). A sense of spaciousness or emptiness, and peacefulness, ensue.

To let the Heart create for us. Amen
As we slow down through meditation, and allow a more spacious mind state to develop then we can begin to hear the still, quiet voice of our “Heart”. The Heart is a metaphor for our intuition, our feelings, our inner knowing and inner integrity. With a busy mind in a busy world, the Heart’s voice is overpowered by excessive and compulsive thinking. It is sad and ironic that in a technologically advanced world with so many forms of social media for communication, one of the major causes of mental illness and distress is social isolation. We have so many people living with a lonely heart, or being disconnected from their Heart. If you slow down, open up and listen to the silence, your Heart will gradually guide you.