Many years ago when I was teaching in NYC, I finished explaining the meditation technique we use in an intro class, when a brand-new person said, “Yeah, that’s what I do when I play guitar.”
This meditation technique – like any “real” meditation technique – is a practice of focused concentration. It’s an active use of the mind, focusing it in on itself with determination. When you apply yourself to it, you will soon have the experience of the world going away. Disappearing. You will be immersed in the meditation. The meditation will be all that you are.
These are just words of course. A description of an experience. So we can understand when new people mistake that description for something else.
After all, when this new student played guitar, I’m certain that he applied himself to it. I’m certain that he was focused on it. I’m certain that it’s all-consuming when he does it.
Whenever we focus on anything, it brings up energy. When we push hard to do something physical, like long-distance running, there’s a particular concentration, and endorphins are released. All of these side effects are beneficial and good. Playing guitar and long-distance running are happy activities that can bring joy to your life.
But they are not meditating.
Meditating is using the mind in a specific way. It’s unlike ANYTHING else. Meditation is turning the mind in on itself. It’s using the mental muscle in a way that’s different from every other practice.
One obvious proof of this is, if the guitar player, or long-distance runner, were actually meditating during those activities, and they had been pursuing them for some time, then it would be a trivial task for them to learn how to meditate. It would be super simple for these people to go within and quiet the mind. But it’s not. They’re starting from scratch when they first learn to meditate, just like everyone else.
Certain activities are definitely complementary to meditation – things like programming a computer, planning an architectural drawing, writing music, these sorts of structural activities are super conducive to developing the skill of meditation. Someone interested in these other things who is also pursuing a habit of meditation will find both activities reinforcing the other. Yet none are replacements for meditation.
So please don’t fool yourself. The only way that you’re practicing meditation is if you are practicing meditation. That means, sitting your butt down and doing it.
And keep going with the guitar, and the running – and see how things start to open up for you in those realms, once you add meditation to the mix!