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Meditation Is Not a Substitute for Action

man practicing pranayama at Chidambaram Temple, India
I love meditation but it is only one part of life.

Meditation Is Not A Substitute for Action

I have spent a large part of my life, and continue to spend a large part of each day, meditating. My main two practices are Transcendental Mediation and The Work of Byron Katie, both of which bring me a lot of inner freedom and peace. 

The value of meditation is that it brings to my awareness the experience that nothing in the world has to happen in any particular way for me to be happy. When I meditate, I find freedom and happiness inside that doesn’t depend on outer circumstances. 

Having this inner freedom always as an option, no matter what is going on, gives a confidence that I can handle anything. That’s why I meditate. 

Meditation Also Improves My Ability to Act

When I’m not stressed, my ability to act naturally improves. When I’m not desperate for things to be different in order to be happy, I can act in ways that are much more rational and effective. 

So just by meditating, my ability to do things and be effective in my actions improves.

But This Does Not Mean That Meditation Is The Only Means

When I first started getting into meditation, I saw it almost as a substitute for action. Instead of pursuing a course of action towards something I wanted, I would meditate and let go of it and watch how sometimes I still got it anyway. 

My focus was only on my meditation. And it almost seemed sacrilegious to “step down” to the regular way of doing things by planning, gathering resources, and putting them together manually.

It was partly magical thinking, and partly a kind of hiding—as well as a genuine desire to put inner freedom above accomplishing anything. 

Over The Years, My View Has Changed

Now, I think of life as having two complementary directions to move in: one is inward, the other is outward. Inward is not better than outward. They both are valuable. 

So when I do The Work of Byron Katie, I spend that time letting go of the things I want to do and accomplish. I question my thinking, and I often understand that not getting what I want is as good as getting what I want. This brings freedom.

But after I do The Work, even when I find this kind of freedom, I spend my activity hours letting go of my letting go. This feels like balance. Instead of holding onto my turnarounds (that I don’t want what I want), I dive into activity and hold the opposite (I do want what I want). 

What I Find Is That These Two Opposite Balance Each Other

I want what I want AND I don’t want what I want. I’m willing to listen to myself and act on my desires AND I’m clear that not fulfilling them will also be just as good. This allows for action without stress because I win either way. 

If I want to learn French, for example, I question my impatient thoughts to reach the goal of fluency as soon as possible. And through my work, I find that not reaching fluency is just as good—my life can be just as good without it. That brings a lot of peace.

But I don’t stop studying my French. I still take action. And action brings results… I’m a little more fluent every day. But I also don’t forget what I found in inquiry. I don’t NEED to become fluent. With this perspective, I can dive fully into learning and memorizing without a feeling of desperation that I’m not fluent yet. It becomes something I do because I love to do it. And ironically, my ability to learn with that mindset is way better.

So Don’t Forget to Act!

Don’t forget to forget your spiritual point of view!

There is a lot of freedom in pursuing what I want to pursue. Meditation is just there to remind me that I don’t have to get what I want in order to be happy. With that, I can live an active, happy life that is both relaxed on the inside and productive on the outside. 

For me, that feels like balance. Sure, I could just meditate and enjoy that inner freedom even while my outer world was falling into disrepair. But why not have both? There is time for meditation and time for action. And they complement each other nicely.

Join Us for The Work 101

Today is the last day of the old pricing for The Work 101. Join us for nine weeks of meditation as we do The Work of Byron Katie together. Learn some of the nuances of this practice, and gain confidence to question any stressful thought that would block your inner freedom.

Have a great week,

“There is no way you can’t have the best business on this planet. No one stops you but you—that’s the only possibility. Your employees aren’t responsible for your success; you are. And for those of you who are employees, it doesn’t matter whom you work for: if you do this Work, there is no way you can’t be a success.” Byron Katie, Question Your Thinking, Change The World

Further reading: The Paradox of Action

Todd Smith has been doing The Work of Byron Katie on an almost daily basis since 2007. He is just as excited about this simple process of self-inquiry today as he was when he first came across it. He also enjoys writing about The Work, and training others in the subtleties of this meditative process. Join Todd for The Work 101 online course, private sessions, virtual retreats, and his ongoing Inquiry Circle group.