When it comes to reaching our goals and finding the space to do it, meditation is one of the biggest steps you can take that’s actually quite small, and that will still produce gigantic benefits down the line. But it can be quite challenging, due to all the chaos we have roiling around in us and in our lives.
I started this series of posts with talking about the busy mind — the “monkey mind” — we can have when we meditate, as that’s nearly always the first obstacle that appears when beginning the habit of meditation, and is often the one that causes people to give up, early on. You will go through periods of that throughout your entire habit of meditation, because it’s a form of clearing. Remember: We aren’t salad bowls you can wash out, then seal up with a lid to keep it empty…you have a lifetime of experiences, and every moment you exist is another experience that piles in on it.
Organizing or controlling our thoughts sounds easy, but if we’re new to it, there will be a tug of war between your happily undisciplined mind and your desires for it to have a bit more social etiquette and behavior. But, like a child that’s grown up without that kind of teaching, and then suddenly finds parameters of behavior applied them, there will be struggles. But like that child, with consistent practice, your mind will learn. And, like that same child, it will like the discipline. But in the case of our minds, the chaos of thoughts is actually what leads us to order — because, in truth, you have no control over how your mind decides to store bits of information. What you do have control over is creating calm and space so you can find it better and faster.
The chaos in our minds is a wild child in us that will never completely go away. But that’s okay. (Remember the whole preference thing I talked about in my first post on this subject?) Let go of expectations, or what are called “concretized expectations” — beliefs you have set in stone; preferences are flexible like bamboo. Life is not the sun — you expect it to rise in the East every morning as it has for millions of years. It’s okay to expect something like that…life, however, is preferences. In truth, the only thing you can really expect to expect is the unexpected. (Erf…now the word sounds strange and I’m having trouble spelling it!)
When practiced, meditation ultimately does three things: it creates a better filing system (there will always be chaos), it creates awareness, and it creates compassion — for others, and, most of all, for yourself. Which is the hardest of all to give. But, really — it’s the most important. Once, as I was in the midst of a yoga practice, I had a thought come to me. The more compassion you have for others, the more you have for yourself. The more compassion you have for yourself, the more you have for others.
That was a huge insight for me, because it looped back to my whole perfectionism trait. One I’ve really struggled to hold in compassion, because it so often leads me to frustration. Compassion is acceptance, and acceptance of who you are, where you are, what you are, what’s going on in your life, that maybe you blame yourself for things blowing up (when it’s never entirely just you, ever). Acceptance-compassion means you’re stepping into a place of healing. You’re stepping into the eye of the storm so you can see things more clearly. And, once there, that eye — that calm — is like opening the eye of your intuition so it can see. It’s directly connected to hearing your Little Voice.
Meditation is a way — a tool — to connect to yourself and find a path of calm, compassionate disengagement. It’s about acceptance. It’s not a tool to get rid of things you don’t like about yourself or your life. It’s a tool for awareness. If you try using meditation like a putty scraper to get rid of things you dislike…before you accept them with compassion — that will only create more pain and more disorder and chaos. You may be hurting. You may be in a lot of mental/emotional pain for one reason or another…or many. Maybe you did screw up.
But the wonderful thing about meditation is that it allows you to create a soft place for you to start understanding that those parts of you that you don’t like simply need acceptance and healing. They’re in chaos because they have neither.
Most people who begin meditation do so to help themselves eliminate poor coping mechanisms for dealing with life and stress. To find compassion and self-forgiveness. To sort out a clearer path in getting to the person they want to be. Maybe they’ve had a big life shift and they’re feeling (very) adrift — loss of a job, loss of a marriage…or maybe they just wake up one day and feel like they’ve fallen completely out of synch with their true path (their “true dao” as it’s called in Zen) but have no explanation for it. And most of us start reaching for tools only when our lives have gotten totally out of control; we have a tendency towards emotional hoarding. And like someone whose house is overrun with dishes, newspapers, cats, clothes, boxes…so can we be with beliefs, emotions, values and so that provide absolutely no. Yet, we cling to them because we might need them again someday.
Okay…so yes. You might need those satin pants that you looked absolutely fabulous in fifteen years ago. But (1) fashions have changed and (2) they no longer fit and (3) the Halloween costume idea is great, but since you haven’t used them for that yet, will you? It’s key to look at your beliefs — and even values — that way.
It’s the Same With Our Emotions
It’s said that our external environment mirrors our internal environment, and I know that’s certainly the case for me. When I’m feeling overwhelmed with things I want to get done, my apartment will suffer to a degree. But that’s okay — I stay on top of it as much as I can, and I get to things as I can. When I had a terrible, horrible flu that lasted for two weeks and had me down and out in recovery for another eight or so, the last thing I’m going to care about is whether everything is put away exactly as it needs. And I’ll get it cleaned up when I can — and I do.
But for many of us, our external environments never get to looking like we would prefer (I want you to really take note of how I never say expect). So if our external environments mirror our internal, then the way to really get our external environments looking spiffy, and staying that way as best as can be for where you are, is to look at our internal environments.
I love a good reorganization. I love going through things and donating what I can. I love reorganizing things so they’re in a good order. Plus I get to whip out my handy-dandy label maker. And that’s what meditation is like for me — but I will say that, in the beginning, there was a lot I had to go through before I got my internal environment into something that felt functional.
With both external and internal organization, you can start small, even if you’re confronted with an overwhelming, exhausting mess. When it comes to internal organization, I recommend to people that they start with one thing that feels like it’s clamoring for the most attention…it may seem like something unconnected to everything else, and like it should be fifth or sixth on the list, rather than first — but, again…if it’s coming forward, that’s your Little Voice telling you something. Locking a “should” or “shouldn’t” be is non-acceptance and judgment. Rejecting that part — again — will lead to more chaos. In truth, while the mind has loved living like a wild child, it actually prefers the organization. And by presenting to you that first (maybe strange) thing to work on, it’s wanting to work with you.
We’re actually the ones that work against our minds — and Little Voices — not the other way around. We’re the creators of our own chaos, even though it seems like it comes from external sources. It’s what we do with what comes at us that either creates chaos or organization…no differently than it’s up to us to either hang up our clothes or drop them on the floor. By understanding (accepting) that, more internal order can come. And meditation, that small act of stillness in your day, will help with that.
Not at first. Not right away. Yes — you’ll absolutely have insights at the beginning. But just because they “stop” (and I use quotes purposefully) doesn’t mean they’ve stopped. It’s a momentum thing. And it goes back to that whole CIA agent metaphor of a lot of blather having to rise up so you can get the gems of insight and realization…and acceptance.
Sometimes, as you begin meditating, things can come up in a big whollop that can come all at once. Sometimes people discover that as they start on a personal growth venture, with meditation or otherwise, things suddenly go kablooie externally and, therefore, internally, as if Marvin the Martian inserted one of his K-2000 Space Modulators into their life and created an “earth-shattering kaboom”. It’s easy to get derailed at that point. And maybe you’ll drop off your path of self-growth for a bit, but I encourage people to find a way to keep going. Maybe work with a coach of some sort — it’s why we provide life coaching for free with the meditation program we sell at the personal growth company where I work (this website is unaffiliated with that company). We, the coaches, understand about those kabooms and how hard it is to start creating paths of order in all that chaos.
When something like that happens — a small or large kaboom — it’s a form of healing. It’s a release. Yes, it’s more chaos…but this time, it’s chaos that leads to order. And while it may leave you feeling pretty crummy, it’s a good thing. When I’m explaining this to my clients, I liken it to the end stage of a bad head cold when you’re finally getting well, but you feel almost worse as your body starts ejecting all the crud.
But you know it’s a clearing-out, and so you let it be okay you’re there. The emotional stuff that can come up when you practice meditation or a personal growth venture is exactly the same thing. Except you can’t carry around a box of Kleenex with you to help move it out.
Creating that space, that order, the acceptance and allowance for the “healing kabooms” is challenging at first. (Very much so for most of us). Perseverance, even in the midst of “nothing happening” from your daily meditation or personal growth venture is key. “Nothing happening” is us applying an expected, specific outcome — in results and in timing. You also need time for integration. The irony is that most of us get into something like meditation to help create order, but when it comes, we get thrown for a loop, and then start believing that it’s only working if we’re back in disorder. But disorder was what drove us to meditation so we could find order, and when it comes….
It’s a circle we all get stuck in at times.
For many people who begin meditation — all, really — it’s a challenge. You might find it easy to do for many days in a row — even weeks — but, at some point, some form of resistance will kick in. That’s normal. You’re making a lifestyle change that’s bumping you out of your comfort zone. The biggest argument people face in their heads is that they feel like they’re “doing nothing” and their minds launch into what they should be doing instead, more “productive” things. That “nothing is happening” because their lives are still in chaos. I have people call and say, “I’ve been meditating for three weeks and my life is still an utter mess! This isn’t working!” Sometimes it’s three or four months…as if things that took years to get in place will unstick themselves in a few meditation sessions. (Oh, I wish it were that easy!)
You didn’t get to where you are in two or three weeks, so it’s not going to take two or three weeks to get unstuck. Chaos doesn’t just die down at the flip of a switch. But the awesome thing is — neither is it going to take the same number of years you’ve been alive. It will happen in a fraction of that time, but the three biggest “action steps” (I use quotes as they aren’t physical steps) towards allowing your meditation practice to help you find order in amongst that chaos: Practice, time, patience. Remembering that is also how we can keep meditation easier to practice.
Practice, Time, Patience
Many resources will suggest meditating for 20 minutes a day. Yes, that sounds easy, and it may be at first — so try it. But maybe, at first, you’ll find that every other day for awhile is enough. When that’s easy, try two days of it in a row, then a day off, then two days in a row. When that’s easy — try three in a row, then a day off…and so on.
If twenty minutes feels too long, try cutting it in half — or doing ten minutes in the morning and ten in the evening prior to bed. Or five-minute chunks throughout the day. Go lock yourself in a bathroom stall and meditate. You don’t need a pretty setting and Celtic music playing in the background to meditate. Meditation in itself is easy, it’s the practice of it and the keeping up with it because of the challenges it presents that’s not. Remember…it’s the small changes that lead to the biggest results.
Meditation will help you get that internal organization you crave. It will help you develop and strengthen the witness/watcher/observer in you (again, I’ll cover that more in Part 4). It’s going to help you do a lot of culling and tossing and chucking and tossing away. Most of which will happen outside of your awareness…thankfully. That way you won’t have to go through every tidbit of crap that’s clogging your system. Meditation can be something like the Drano of life…most of the time it shoves those clogs along without you having to untangle it yourself. But sometimes you will have to take more care if it’s a bigger one, and do a little tugging apart into smaller chunks.
No, it’s not always pleasant…but it will make things easier.
You’ll find things you thought you lost, things you didn’t know you had in you (some pretty, others…not so much — but both are beneficial because they allow you to make more refinements). You’ll find that you like all the space you’re creating, and you’ll replace the things that are old and worn-out. You’ll start finding paths and answers you had missed before. Your external environment will start becoming organized as well (many people suddenly “find” themselves doing a big reorganization). And I don’t just mean clutter on the counters — people start finding new friends, new activities, new interests that better serve them.
Keep your focus on the benefits that get closer and closer every time you meditate (and just in general with actions steps towards your goals) and let the steps build into the larger ones.
And remember: Practice, time, patience. Practice, time, patience. Practice, time, patience.