What exactly is meditation? When most of us imagine meditation, we imagine sitting around, perhaps with some impossibly hard to achieve posture, maybe with some incense and a few meditation pillows. This perception of meditation as a hippie-dippy new-age pursuit is pernicious, because meditation (and mindfulness) can be achieved by doing the same things that we do every day, but in a mindful way. If we brush our teeth and are fully aware of the fact that we are brushing our teeth, not lost in thought about today’s work meetings or yesterday’s arguments, we are being mindful, and we are meditating.
One of the best ways to meditate, in my opinion, is by watching movies. This can be done at home, but I think the best way to achieve a state of mindfulness is by actually going to your local cinema and watching a film. The reason watching a movie is so great as a form of meditation, especially at the cinema, is because it’s so easy to engage fully with a movie. When you’re at the cinema it’s pretty much impossible to check your phone every few minutes (I would hope! I know there are a few people who annoyingly do check their phones all the time while at the movie theatre). Distracting thoughts are less likely to permeate into your skull when you’re being blasted by a massive sound system. Okay, that doesn’t exactly sound pleasant, but you get my point.
Movies are also a good way to cultivate compassion. When we go to the cinema, most movies give us an opportunity to engage with the characters, and take on their problems and feelings for an hour or two. If you go to see a film about an Indonesian skateboarder, it’s likely that you’re entering a world you know nothing about. For a brief amount of time, you’re transported into this whole other universe and get to think about the problems of others that you didn’t even know existed.
Meditation, at its core, is about focusing on the present experience instead of being focused on the future, or on the past. Movies are a way that most of us do this very often. That isn’t to say that it’s incredibly easy to be mindful while we’re at the cinema, we can still get distracted and we can still lose track of the plot because we’re thinking about other things. But it’s easier to bring our focus back to the trials and tribulations of a character on the big screen than it is to bring our focus back to the breath during a meditation session.
I love movies. I read a study a few years ago that suggested that people who go to the cinema regularly are generally happier and calmer, and I can totally believe it. By taking the time out of our stressful lives to watch a movie, we allow ourselves to become totally engrossed in someone else’s life: this allows us to cultivate empathy and be mindful in a way that’s relatively easy, and fun!