“When we are mindful, deeply in touch with the present moment, our understanding of what is going on deepens, and we begin to be filled with acceptance, joy, peace and love.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
My friend Chema seems pretty average on paper. He works at a bank full-time. His busy schedule only permits about five and a half hours of sleep each night. Like most workplaces, at the end of the day all of his coworkers complain about how hard a day it was and how tired they are, Chema is right there complaining along with them.
Chema is someone I look up to a lot as a role model. He’s actually one of my heroes. You see, Chema has a secret. When all of his coworkers start to fuss and bellyache at the end of the day, he does too, but he’s just playing along. He isn’t worn out or beat and he didn’t have a hard day. He complains for a variety of reasons: out of solidarity, to keep face, so people won’t accuse him of not working hard enough, to avoid sounding condescending or holier-than-thou, but never because he is tired.
Chema sleeps so little because for him its enough, but more importantly because it creates time for him to meditate…a lot. He tries to sit for 45 minutes in the morning before work and for 90 minutes in the afternoon or evening. As the founder of a mindfulness mediation group in Madrid, on top of his full time job at the bank, he leads two to four donation-based meditation classes each week. With so little sleep and so much on his plate I wondered how he could have any energy left at all for his own meditation or personal life. When I asked Chema he replied, “I have an abundance of energy.”
He went on to explain that when you are mindful at work you don’t use any energy and when you meditate you create more. According to Chema mindfulness means being present in each moment and conscious of each action. Through practice one can learn to be more and more aware of each passing moment, such as observing each step on your walk to work. Chema says that as we become more aware we aren’t distracted by our thoughts and emotions and don’t waste energy brooding, worrying, or getting upset. We simply observe “reality” without judgment and without becoming entangled in it. It doesn’t mean unpleasant emotions or experiences won’t arise, but that we can accept them without identifying with them. We get upset less and learn to respond to others with more compassion. When we make a mistake or get angry we understand why we did and don’t beat ourselves up about it. We begin to find humor in ordinary things and generate more positive emotions. When we learn to accept things as they are and spend the day in a state of equilibrium our energy flows towards where it needs to go and we don’t waste time or energy getting lost in the superfluous.
I offer Chema’s story not as an illusion of something we will all attain overnight, but rather as a lifestyle to aspire to if you wish to live a less hectic, more tranquil life. He is living proof that the stereotypical busy office lifestyle doesn’t have to result in stress and despair, that modern life doesn’t have to be so complicated. He has demonstrated that when you make your work just another part of your life, rather than something separate and negative, then your quality of life can improve and an abundance of energy is not out of reach. When we seek inner peace, rather than grasping for happiness all around us in the form of temporal experiences and material objects, we will see joy sitting like a flickering spark, waiting to burst into flames.
Chema isn’t the only one who believes in the benefits of meditation. Many scientists around the globe have been conducting studies and amassing evidence of the benefits of meditation, new ones come out all the time. Click here to read about a recent study done by Harvard University.
“Knowledge does not mean mastering a great quantity of different information, but understanding the nature of mind. This knowledge can penetrate each one of our thoughts and illuminate each one of our perceptions.” – Matthieu Ricard
Author’s note: Chema has 19 years of meditation and mindfulness practice under his belt, this article isn’t intended to imply that everyone should sleep so little. Most health practitioners would agree that a good night’s sleep is fundamental to our health and stress management.