The Fine Arts of Relaxation, Concentration, and Meditation - Foreword

Ancient Skills for Modern Minds, Revised Edition

Foreword

You are holding in your hands a life raft—a generous, life-saving gift from Joel and Michelle Levey. In our daily lives, we all are forced to navigate turbulent seas. There doesn’t seem to be any firm ground in sight, and at any moment in our day, we can be abruptly knocked off course from our plans and our ideals. But as the seas mount in strength and the winds of change become more fierce, there are ways to feel grounded and peaceful. Many of these ways are offered in this book; they are a strong, and very practical life raft.

It’s important to realize how our modern techniques of goal-setting and planning—the techniques we learned to employ as we wrestle the world into the shape we wanted—don’t work in turbulence. In fact, they do just the opposite of what we might hope: as our plans get tossed by the winds of change, we become more stressed, less effective. We don’t know how to navigate in uncertainty and ambiguity.

And yet, this knowledge exists. For millennia, many great teachers and people struggled with their own fears, and they developed practices and ways of being that are absolutely relevant to our present situation.

This is the great gift of this book. It is a gentle and generous offering of practices and perspectives that have helped people find peace for thousands of years. But in receiving this gift, you must offer a gift to yourself: the gift of time—time to pause, to reflect, to practice what’s offered here. For most of us, time seems to have disappeared. This is the Age of Frenetic Activity. Our lives are over-committed, our children’s schedules match our own in craziness, and we feel pressure to be available 24/7. Most of us resent this hyperactivity and, if we ever have time to sit quietly, we wonder about the meaning of these frenetic lives we’re leading. Is all this activity leading somewhere worthwhile? At the end of our lives, will we feel satisfied with what we’ve accomplished? Will we have contributed to the greater good? Are we becoming more effective in our lives and more helpful, or are we just becoming increasingly and senselessly more busy?

Joel and Michelle provide expert guidance in three types of practices that have generally disappeared from our busy lives. We are guided from dynamic relaxation, to concentration, to meditation. My own experience with these practices is that once I experienced relaxation, I was eager to go to a deeper, quieter place. These exercises provide so much benefit that you only need to try one or two, and then your whole being will yearn for the next level of peace. When I do any one of these practices, I’m startled to realize what I’ve been letting pass me by—silence, breathing, reflection, calmness, centeredness.

We are each responsible for cultivating peace; no one will do it for us. The demands of the world—of work and family—constantly call me away from peace. It doesn’t take much to pull me off center—it can be the first phone call of the morning, an angry driver on my way to work, a news report, a crying child. But having tasted peace, I now notice what it feels like to be pulled off balance. I notice the way it feels to be anxious, resentful, angry, or fearful. I feel the contrast between these emotions and inner peace; I hear it in my voice, feel it in my energy, see it in my thoughts. Having learned how to cultivate peace, I know now that I can consciously choose for peace, in any situation, at any time. But not if I haven’t taken time to do some of the practices that lead me into peace.

Of course I’m too busy, and of course the time I spend on cultivating my peace varies widely with the circumstances of my life. But now, when I find myself slipping into impatience, or fear, or anger, I know it’s time to pay attention to my practice, to the practices introduced in this book. I know another way of being in my life is possible, if I’m willing to exercise discipline and carve out the time for practice.

I hope you will give yourself the gift of time, experiment with a few of these practices, and discover how much more capable you become to deal with life once you know what inner peace feels like. This world certainly needs more peaceful people. May you contribute to that and so benefit many.

 

Margaret J. Wheatley