Reflections on Meditation, Connectivity, and Two-Step
When I was a young man, I used to go to western dance bars in Houston and watch the couples doing Two-Step. Cowboys and cowgirls dressed in their Wrangler jeans and carefully pressed western shirts—checker box patterns, decorative piping, and mother-of-pearl buttons ruled. As an indicator of who was who, I would look at the heels of their (the men’s in particular) cowboy boots to see how ground-down and scuffed they were. They inhabited those boots from birth I would think. I would pick out the native Texans from the transplants. Transplants were also obvious by their dance. They were practiced and routinized, mechanical and planned. Often they were very good, yet dance for them was a procedure to be executed with a high cognitive load, a sequence of steps and movements.
Then there were the native Texans, the “cowboys” and “cowgirls.” For them Two-Step was much more organic, intuitive, and fluid. They moved together in perfect harmony around the dance floor as one. There was nothing planned or “practiced” in the traditional sense about how they danced. It flowed out of them as a unit, as one. It could not be decomposed into a male and female role or pulled apart into a series of steps—as one part in this “system of dance” moved, another part filled the gap. Cognition was fully “distributed” among and between them and cognition was “bodily” in nature. The whole and sum of their bodies were involved equally and were constantly in motion—in the make and remake. Rather than being executed as a series of tasks, the dance seemed to envelope, maybe even inhabit, them. Neither partner owned the dance. Its epicenter somehow inhered between them and they radiated an embodied soul.
This is how I have come to see the essence of meditation. It is not just mental. Although it takes lots of practice, over time meditation becomes more than a set of tasks to be executed. It is distributed equally among mind, body, and soul and “occupies” or inhabits the meditator as a “tenant” of the larger system. “Ownership” of the process is somehow not the right way to think about it.
The word meditation in English comes from the Latin verb “to measure” or to take measure of something as if to contemplate it. In the western tradition it evokes a sense of consideration or contemplation or a deep sense of communion. It finds its historical roots in Christian contemplative prayer and the Mysticism of the theological thinkers of the middle ages. Then there is eastern meditation, a form that has become more familiar to us in the west in the last few decades. Eastern meditation finds common ground with concepts such as “awakening” and “beingness.” Its roots are Buddhist mostly but go much farther back than that, actually. In the eastern tradition we tend to think of meditation as related to Yoga practice, Zen, and to a deep tranquility of the soul.
Today, meditation has taken on many faces as a practice, some involving behavioral health, as a mode of reducing stress and chronic pain, lessening anxiety, and promoting general mindfulness—simply put, the practice of keeping your head where your feet are. Meditation took its place in recovery first in the form of the 11th Step of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood him…” Notice the 11th Step does not say “sought to improve prayer and meditation.” It uses prayer and meditation as a means of conscious contact—of union with something more, of connection. This relationship with God is perhaps like how cowboys and cowgirls Two-Step.
I once asked a sponsee that I worked with in AA to describe to a group of newcomers how he meditated in a way that worked for him. He described it this way: “I play the drums because that’s what I do.” I nodded. “Oh yeah,” I said, “say more.” “Well,” he replied, “I start to play and as I play I go deeper and deeper and higher and higher, I go into a deep concentration. Then comes a heightened sense of awareness and then my world expands, a sense of expansiveness sets in.” And then he said something really profound that I frankly didn’t expect. “And then I get lost. And, when I get lost in the rhythm, I am found.” There was silence in the room.
In order for us to heal from a life of addiction, we’ve got to connect in new ways with the world and people around us and we are going to have to “be” different. Addiction is a disease of disconnection. Show me someone who is truly disconnected from this world, and I’ll show you someone who is very sick. At the root of healing is connection to something greater than ourselves. We’ve got to reach higher. And, when we connect in a way that has depth and weight around the common problem or the common solution, we heal. Sometimes that is indeed with each other and sometimes that is with ourselves, our consciousness, or with something else—something even deeper than us. We become one tenant in the larger system of being. The more we do that in recovery, the more we heal. Having a daily practice of meditation and communion with self and with more is a centerpiece in recreating our lives. We don’t question the need for good nutrition, recreation and fun, socializing with others, and physical exercise as part of good living. Well, we must equally tend to the soul or the spirit as we must tend to the body if we are to get well. And what we have learned from meditation is that tending to the soul is tending to the body and vice versa—they are one system, bodily and mental in nature.
In my 20s I started to run every day for exercise, over time I saw how total body motion—like no other exercise—had a way of re-scultpting the shape of my body. Similarly, meditation reshapes one’s spiritual form. Over time, slowly but surely it has a way of recasting our soul sense. It readjusts our spiritual baseline, puts everything in greater perspective, and our “beingness” envelopes us and radiates outward—just like the Two-Step enveloped those cowboys and cowgirls, meditation envelopes our sense of “beingness” and it radiates outward.