My natural inclination is to do everything as quickly as I can. Go through courses quickly, make it through the grocery store quickly, get this meeting over with as efficiently as possible. So, of course recognizing my need to slow down, I wanted to become a master at it as quickly as possible.
What’s funny is I didn’t even recognize the irony in that.
I read everything I could get my hands on (which was a good thing) and undertook as many practices as I could learn (also a good thing). The less constructive piece was the pressure I was putting on myself to get to the finish line.
I mistakenly thought the finish line was “slowness master” or “high level tai chi practitioner” or “healthy, perhaps enlightened, being” or some other accomplishment. All my ego traps were set.
The finish line is shedding this mortal coil. That’s the finish line. When you can internalize that, slowing down becomes much easier.
As long as “Accomplishment X” is the finish line, there’s pressure. There’s the desire to accomplish.
I experienced a massive change in pace, in attitude and in approach when I exchanged my desire to accomplish into a desire to be. A desire to be an expression of some trait or method in action. I found that this slight perspective shift enables me to integrate what I am learning in a really juicy way because I spend less time discounting what i’ve done because it’s not “there yet” and more time noticing how something is taking root in my life. Paying attention to how something is taking root really helps it take root more efficiently. Tossing off any impact as “not quite good enough because it’s not complete yet” makes for sloppy integration. And way less fun.
As with everything, this is still a practice. My Tai Chi teacher makes it so interesting I have a full-being desire to really embody and know this stuff, and, ladies and gentlemen, I still pretty much suck at it. But I like it so much! And so while i from time to time get a bit disappointed in my skill level, I try to use that disappointment as a trigger to practice. To be exactly where I am, and in being so actively, naturally progress just a little.
And so it has been with meditation. Oh my goodness, meditation. Talk about a trap! I spent years on the cushion trying to re-create the best meditations I’d had. Trying to reach some exalted state. Trying to transcend myself.
What a difficult way to spend time!
Two things I learned about meditation from my friend Eric Klein for which I am forever grateful:
- Any meditation is a good meditation. Any time on the cushion is well spent.
- The practice of meditation is building the muscle of: when your thoughts drift off as they inevitably will, you bring your mind back to the object of meditation.
That mentality, of just bringing your mind back to the object of meditation, be it mantra or the breath or a candle… trains you to be able to bring your mind to center when something in real life freaks you out. That you don’t just keep following the freak out off the cliff. That you feel the freak out event and say, OK, I’m going to deal with this from the calm center of my being to the best of my ability. That is some useful kung fu.
Another friend and brilliant woman reminded me of a wonderful approach to meditation in this way: Meditation is a time to visit with the universe. You can sit there asking for things and being mad you’re not seeing them, making you miserable and probably turning the universe off a bit. Or, you can sit in awe and wonder, asking for nothing but noticing everything, like you would watch in wonder your favorite painter at work…
These concepts, and so many more, transformed my meditation practices, which prior to that had been “hurry up and become less stressful” kind of stress-inducing, accomplishment-seeking frustration. As I’ve been able to integrate these newer ideas, and be comfortable just “being” – and knowing that “being” is always changing by the very nature of the universe, things have been ever so much more wonderful…