The ripple effect: Meditation as an investigation
August 11, 2017
The ripple effect
An enquiry into how the tiniest of behaviours can have a large impact in our lives
“It’s amazing how much you can learn about someone when they get caught in the rain!” — Josh Waitzkin
At this point in my life, the mundane and the monotonous have become deep wells of insight. Little by little I learn more about myself and the world around me through the small actions and behaviours I often forget to pay attention to.
Waving my hand to stop a fly from landing on my face has taught me about my relationship with discomfort.
Running for cover from a sudden downpour of rain has taught me about how I react to unexpected events.
Wiping a drop of sweat off my face whilst practicing meditation has taught me about my ability to sit with tension.
Throwing the last bit of water out of cup before finishing it has taught me about my tendency to avoid seeing certain things (,i.e.projects) til the end.
Although seemingly unimportant, observing my reactions to these small events and asking myself how they might play out in other areas in my lifehas been incredibly valuable. I remember the first time I noticed the simple yet profound act of accepting a fly hovering and landing on my face*. I was practicing walking meditation along a bush track near my home. It was a hot and humid day. My black shirt attracted heat. My sweaty forward attracted flies. Initially I did what I had always done: wave my hand like a fan in front of my face to protect myself. But then I decided to do something I had never done: let them be.
Watching my reactions to a few flies surveying the skin so tightly wrapped around my skull was fascinating. My breath became short and rapid. My stomach and chest tightened. I felt like I wanted to jump out my skin and scream GET THE F*** OFF MY FACE! But for the most part I didn’t**. I focused on the sensations on my body and the rhythm of my breath. And if I felt my hand reaching for my face I would return to these anchors.
What this experience taught me was not that I should always be cool with a bunch of flies tip-toeing over my face like a group of teenagers sneaking out of home for the first time. It was noticing the thoughts and physical sensations that preceded a reaction to discomfort or frustration, which are feelings I’m sure we all have felt. When watching a colleague take credit for your work in front of your team or department you start to feel this sinking feeling in your gut, your chest tightens, your breath shortens and all you want to do is jump out of your skin and yell “SHE STOLE MY F****** IDEAS!” And, to be honest, you’d have every right to make that choice. But you also have another choice. You can Stop, Take a breath, Observe your internal or external environment and then Proceed (S.T.O.P).
This is why I call it the Ripple Effect because just like how the big, long ripples at the edge of a pond can be traced back to a small, tiny stone, I truly believe that our reactions to big events in our lives (,e.g. breaking up with a partner, losing a job, being hurt by a loved one etc) can be traced back to our reactions to the small, tiny events we experience everyday, but are often unaware of. By becoming aware of my reactions to these tiny events, asking myself what these reactions might mean for other areas in my life and later on choosing to respond differently to them, I feel as though I’m practicing for when the big events come along.
Although different—and definitely weird—this sense of curiosity and compassionate self-enquiry has become a habit for me now both within myself, but also those around me; transforming the banal from things to ignore and forget into things to admire and learn about.
*Writing this down for the first time was as odd and hilarious as it probably was for you reading it
**Admittedly there were certain areas of my face that were more sensitive than others (,i.e. tip of my nose, corners of my mouth and my eyelids,) which made it more difficult to resist the urge to not swat them away.