Thursday, February 25, 2010

The equivalent of an afternoon nap

A new study announced this week says taking a midday nap greatly improves cognitive function and learning ability. These studies come out frequently, causing some of us to pine for kindergarten's cots and cookies and mandatory afternoon naps. This study, of course, is talking about a 90-minute nap. At noon. Do you have time for that?

But thanks to an occasionally kept new year's resolution (and a vow to give up not doing this for Lent), I'm learning — that is, remembering — the difference a simple midday break makes. I'm in a job in which it's alarmingly easy to sit at my desk in the morning and not really get up, or at least snap out of it, until nightfall. I eat lunch al desko, and I too frequently take my afternoon tea while pushing ahead. I wind up stiff and sore and sometimes cranky. This is not conducive to the cultivation of tea mind.

Tea mind comes from sitting, from not doing. Tea mind comes when you take a break, when you stop focusing, when you remember you're one human being on a big planet. Even if I eat my rice and veggies at my desk, as I did today, I'm finding it more and more important to stop in the afternoon for a tea break and reboot. (In old Mac parlance, I'm "rebuilding my desktop.") Tea is the means, but tea is also the end. Just getting the cup — away from the office, in a shop, in the building next door, on the sidewalk, anywhere else — and sitting. Just sit. Just sit. Just sip. Check email, then put away the phone. Watch the light, or close your eyes. Listen to the sounds, let them flow around you. The mind is excited and runs around like a dog newly sprung from its crate, but eventually it settles. Eventually you relax.

I like to sit and relax in a public space, somewhere people are walking by, talking, milling about. Meditation in a quiet room is fine, often desired, but I find long-term benefits in learning to let go amid activity. The Zen monk Hakuin promoted this idea, saying meditation in the midst of distractions was better than meditating in quiet solitude. Hopefully then we take those lessons of peace amid chaos into our chaotic lives. I find tea to be an effective implement in this practice. As life scurries around me, I sip. I taste. I focus, and sip again. I find tea mind by finding the tea. Then I try to stay there. It often doesn't last long, once I get up and return to the working world. But the moments of peace are getting longer.

No comments:

Post a Comment