Meditation, Relaxation or Mental Laundry?

What is relaxation? Now and again I come across a passage in some book or an article which makes me wonder about this. It seems that many of us develop little rituals which we think of as ‘chill-out time’ such as slumping on a sofa with the TV remote or firing up the Facebook page. Enjoyable, of course, but are they really relaxation? A passage from ‘Running with the Mind of Meditation’ by Sakyong Mipham (Shambhala, 2005), a marathon-running meditation master, prompted me to think more about this:

‘Often what people like about watching television and movies is that it allows them to temporarily exchange their personal concerns for those of others The news of something happening far away has a less immediate effect than what is happening in our own life: we are distracted from our own mental concerns.’ (Chapter 24, p 120)

That makes sense. If my mind is buzzing with work problems or personal issues, what’s wrong with a bit of distraction? The marathon master goes on:

‘We feel a certain amount of relief, but it does not allow the mind to fully rest, relax and rejuvenate. …. We can use meditation as a cleansing process – the time of the day that we do our mental laundry. Doing the laundry, we feel fresh and uplifted. Therefore, after a long day, take ten, twenty, or thirty minutes to meditate. Sitting there, placing the mind on the breath instead of on your worries, you are developing the ability to alleviate your stress and strengthen your mind.’

So, what do we want? Temporary relief or full rest for the mind? Well, I think there is a place for distraction and zoning out, but it’s important to distinguish that from the resting, relaxation and rejuvenation that come from meditation. It’s something like doing the laundry instead of just piling on the dirty socks.

Written by Kevin

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