I often meet people who say playing music is their practice, or taking a bubble bath, or walking in nature. The implication is that whatever happens in meditation can happen in these activities too.
Is this true?
Beats me. Who am I, Yoda? But I’ll make a conjecture: it depends. It depends both on what you’re hoping to get out / not get out of your meditation, and how you approach these activities. In terms of the first part, different people want different things from meditation, and different techniques deliver different adjustments. Some techniques are about calming the mind—letting all that agitated psychic sediment settle down. As the mind sighs and lets go the body follows. The two integrate; we feel peaceful. Who doesn’t need more of this? For many it’s enough. And yes, music and bubble baths and nature-steeping all seem to make this happen to different degrees. In this sense they are meditations, sometimes the only meditations we have time for.
But what if you want more ambitious things from your meditation? You want to work through limiting patterns, or get insight into your emotional reactivity, or—really ambitious now—you want to exfoliate that grubby layer of alienation surrounding your selfness and reunite with your cosmic doppelganger, ie, Reality. Actually, I think you can approach music and bubble baths and nature in a way that brings even these kinds of insights. You just have to be a bit deliberate and—Ok I admit—freakishly intense about it. The question we are really asking here is what is the minimum a practice needs to be successful in that more ambitious sense?
My guess is this: a lot of concentration (keeping attention focused in one direction, say, on the bubbles in your bath), a penetrating energetic curiosity (bubbles, bubbles breaking up, bubbles reforming, bubbles collapsing into the pregnant bubble-free void), a spirit of heightened existential inquiry (what are these bubbles and what be the nature of bubble-hood and why is it my lot to pose such ridiculous questions?), and finally a whole bunch of equanimity, which, when mixed with tranquility, gives you just the right inner poise for the whole kooky investigation (all bubbles come and go, what’s more, these bubbles doth bubble me—and ye—thus, as we drift here in this mighty sea of bubbles, all of us bubbles are actually … free! —“wait – stop, baby I’m not done my bath!”—sound of water draining irate girlfriend apparently wants private bath time too etc).
I believe el Dude would concur:
Go meditate! (ie, take a bath.)