About three months ago, I embarked (again) on a daily meditation practice. Even though I have known that sitting quietly, focusing on my breath and noticing my thoughts (and my tendency to get all swept up in them) is good for me, knowing and doing can be two different things.
This time, the habit stuck. For more than three months, pretty much daily, I’ve been sitting with myself for forty minutes each morning. I’d like to say that it’s been a blissful, Zen-like experience, but sitting and observing the contents of one’s mind (okay, my mind) can be anything but Zen-like.
Here’s the truth. Once and awhile, it’s been an experience of easy untangling. I’ve been quiet, been present with myself, and my thoughts and feelings have easily sorted themselves out, leaving me happier and calmer than I started. I love those days. Other days–not so much. This mindful meditation creates a lot of space for noticing and observing. And when I notice my thoughts (and do my best to be nonjudgmental), as often as not I see things I don’t love. Habits, thoughts, tendencies and behaviors that really don’t serve me. What’s really fun (not) is when I notice my mind working against me in ways I thought I’d long outgrown—ways of thinking or attitudes that I thought I’d entirely left behind but that now I notice are still there in subtler ways. Damn.
In meditation, the idea is to focus on your breath. When thoughts intrude, the direction is to notice (“Oh, there goes my mind again—thinking about my meeting this afternoon…”) and then gently and without judgment, bring yourself back to the focus on your breath. Detached (just notice), compassionate (no judgment), and purposeful (always move back to the intention—focusing on the breath).
Guess what? These instructions make a fantastic set of directions for life.
Notice (where my thoughts are going, how I’m choosing to spend my time, what behaviors I’m gravitating toward, the patterns in my life I like and those I don’t, the unhelpful thing I just said out loud).
Stay compassionate and nonjudgmental (notice with caring and side-step all the drama of beating myself up, calling myself names, shaming myself or feeling frustrated because of the silly thing that I thought or did or said).
Be purposeful about the next step and just take it (return to the intention, whether it’s being in the moment, asking for help, eating healthy, or something else). There’s no “blowing it” or “having to start over on Monday.” There’s no keeping yourself on the hook for a choice that’s now in the past–no wasted energy reacting with frustration to what has already happened. There is simply owning it and deliberately moving forward with the very next step.
If I follow these rules, life can be so much simpler.
The drama, unpleasantness, and all the wasted energy happen in the static between these three steps. That’s where everything can go sideways, my mood can go foul, and I can really stress myself out.
Notice, stay compassionate, be purposeful.
The drama starts if I fill my life and my brain so full that I stop noticing my choices and my thoughts or my reactions. If I’m not aware, I abdicate my ability to act with intention and purpose. (When I’m on autopilot, I’m just reacting, I’m not choosing my direction or being in control of my choices and my life.)
Life definitely gets more negative when I let go of compassion and curiosity. That’s when noticing the contents of my mind can lead to a shower of self-judgment (“You idiot…”) or guilt or being mad at myself. All of the above shut me down or move me far away from that final helpful step of being purposeful and simply returning to my positive goal or intention.
And really, just calmly returning to my original goal or intention is a pretty simple act.
It turns out that noticing my bad habits is not that awful. It’s actually helpful—when I follow the rules. My daily meditation has been helping immensely with the static and the tendency I can have (don’t we all?) to stay stuck in unhelpful places.
What helps you stay true to your intentions and be purposeful with your goals? Are you a meditator or have you found other practices that work for you? I’d love to hear. Leave a comment and share your tips and advice.
Take good care,