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Rodney Yee Says "Be Quiet": Q&A on Meditation
In his second book, Moving Toward Balance: 8 Weeks of Yoga with Rodney Yee, the author devotes one day's instruction in each chapter to meditation — a discipline he practices every day to offset the attention-draining demands of life today. Rodney talked to us recently about what he says is one of the most important skills a regular meditation practice can help you learn — and bring into challenging situations in your everyday life.
Gaiam: You mention in Moving Toward Balance that you want to take "living in the present" a step further by asking "How are you responding in the present moment?" How does meditation help you respond appropriately?
Rodney: Really it's about relationships. Any relationship is deepened by responding to what's actually happening in the present moment. If we don't let our responses come up organically, then what we're doing is reacting to things that aren't happening. We already begin to calculate what the other person is going to say. If you really take the time to let something penetrate deeply before you try to respond, then there will be more genuine communication.
Be here now. Really listen. You'll begin to let go of knee-jerk reactions. There's a quietness. You might listen to your breath, heartbeat or a mantra. Or listen to anything — let it all in. This is what I've been doing lately. Through meditation, you allow yourself to get into places to listen to your whole body, and your listening ability gets more keen. Meditation is also a time for the mind to clear itself. The brain is like a blackboard, and it has to be erased before it can absorb new information. So a time to digest is really important. Sleep doesn't always work, because a lot of times you dream — that can actually give you more to think about. Without a clear mind, how can you listen? If you can't listen, how can you respond?
What is a typical example of how someone might be reacting instead of responding?
In a relationship with a spouse, someone might do something they've done a million times before. Maybe it's not the same. But your reaction is the same. You start reacting to things because the listener isn't listening anymore — you are assuming you know already. That image exists in your own head.
Here's another example: Let's say you have people you work with all the time, and you have a meeting once a week. Same cast of characters, same things happen in the meeting. You have this experience that repeats itself, and it's very easy to slip into that pattern. But today, you say, "I'm going to listen differently" … Meditation really allows you to do that. "I'm sitting down again today. Can I keep an open mind? Can I not get into my old patterns or habits? Can I take the responsibility to listen more deeply in everything I do?"
What about responding to something completely unexpected?
When you meditate, what you learn is the first Buddhist concept: Everything is impermanent. You start to realize, "I'm just pretending everything is the same, so I feel safe." What you learn in meditation is everything is changing. You just don't freak out anymore. Well, you do, but a lot less and a lot less frequently. My meditation begins to show me that my body is radically changing, and I can't control anything. Most of people's stress is based on control. Once people realize they don't have control, they let go of the result. You do your best and then you go to sleep at night.