While I was recording my latest podcast episode, I found my attention drawn to a fountain outside my window. A fairly large fountain, it's water shoots several feet straight up. It captivated me with its grace and beauty and as I was talking, I found myself being drawn into a meditative state. That experience got spontaneously incorporated into what I was talking about and became an example of two ways of meditating -- one is "contemplation" and the other is what I'll call, for want of a better word, "diving". Had I wanted to stop recording, I could have used the experience of watching the fountain in a number of ways to meditate. If I were to use it for contemplation, I would have found meaning in the way the water moved, the shapes the water takes, the whole phenomenon of the existence of the fountain. I could have thought about how the fountain was a reflection of life or how it mirrored my emotions and inner world. I could have found all sorts of meanings in the patterns of the water. Contemplation involves the exploration of meaning. Traditional contemplative practices might start with a brief reading followed by time spent exploring the meaning.
The other type of meditation, the one which I was drawn into, doesn't involve meaning. Rather than thinking about the fountain and what it might symbolize and mean, I was simply watching the movement and patterns of the water. In such a meditation, meaning is left behind. The object of attention is viewed without meaning. Meaning keeps the mind actively engaged and when we let go of meaning, the mind can "detach" and go within. This allows for a deeply restful and rejuvenating experience.
Meditation always involves a shift in attention. When we meditate, we use our attention in specific ways to achieve specific effects. In this case the focus of attention was the fountain, and I could have used that focus in a number of different ways. Another effect of watching the fountain, or anything in nature, in this way is that you take in the qualities of what you see. Everything we see, hear, touch, taste or smell has an effect. It's as if our nervous system is a complex tuning fork that resonates in different ways depending on where we put our attention. Allowing in the impressions of the patterns of nature realigns us with our own life force. As I remember the experience with the fountain now, I can feel the energy and vitality of life as it is expressed in flowing water.
Spontaneous meditations happen all of the time. Usually we're in too much of a rush to take advantage of these moments. The next time you step outside and the sound of a bird, sight of a flower or light of the moon captivates you, pause for a bit to drink in the experience. Notice those times during the day when your attention naturally shifts in a way that is nourishing and brings peace. It could be something as simple as a smile from a co-worker or an image on the web. Take advantage of those shifts by slowing down a bit and giving yourself time to sink into them.