For a long time I’ve been a person that is always on the go. It’s been this way since I was a kid. Even then, I constantly needed something to do and was devastated when I had free time. As an adult I’ve always have a few jobs, several creative pursuits, multiple social commitments, and in the last five years a lot of service work for others in need. My Dad used to say that I ‘burned the candle at both ends.” He was right, when eventually there was no candle left I’d get really sick, get injured, or just get really depressed. I’d swear that I’d lighten my load and start saying No more often, but it wouldn’t take long before I was at it again. Even after I began my daily meditation practice this pattern continued. Meditation was just another activity I added to my plate. However, with my meditation practice in place, when I reached the self-destruct part of the cycle it was less and less acceptable. Mindful awareness of habitual behaviors and patterns makes all the difference. Over the past few years I’ve becoming more willing to slow down and take it easy.
One reason it can be hard to start a daily practice is that you are forced to stop your constant busy-ness. Your mind may still be going full steam ahead, but your body is not moving. You are sitting motionless on your cushion. You are not doing the 101 things that must get done. You are not reposting vital information about cats or politics on Facebook. You are not rushing off to squeeze in that late lunch with an acquaintance, who you don’t really want to be friends with, before yoga and then work. You are not toting one kid to a play-date and the other to her piano lesson. You are sitting still.
When you sit still things come up. For people new to meditation its usually physical pain and awareness of negative mental talk. Eventually you form a new relationship with both of these and eventually both subside for the most part. If you sit your way through these first roadblocks you’ll get a chance to get into some very interesting stuff. For me this began with a huge amount of grief and then a period of absolute bliss. I preferred the bliss, but probably got a lot more out of experiencing the grief. I had never slowed down enough to let it surface and process through and that had taken a toll on me in many ways. The constant tension in the body and mind that is required to hold down emotions like grief and anger is immense. All that tension kept me from really participating in my life or having intimacy with others. Using my meditation practice to observe, explore, and allow the grief was the beginning a journey that I am still very much on. This is obviously a good thing, but it can hurt like hell sometimes. If you use the tools of meditation you may find that this pain has a great rewards.
The slowing down that meditation can inspire will also show you what you really want and what’s really important to you. But look out. Not everyone wants to know these truths about themselves. It can mean anything from changing careers to ending a romantic relationship, to reevaluating long held beliefs. Most people want to feel safe and secure in their lives, so much so, that some stay in unsatisfying relationships or jobs for years. I’ve spoken to many people who simply choose to consciously ignore parts of themselves. Sometimes all it takes is a few months of meditation before it becomes impossible to do so. It’s hard to stick to the status quo once you slow down enough to see who you really are.
I wasn’t incredibly happy when this started to happen to me. I had some very solid ideas of who I was and what mattered to me and it was frightening to see that fall away. Yet once I slowed down and really saw myself, it just happened of its own accord. My career focus changed, relationships changed, even my diet changed. The way I lived and related to world began to change too. My beliefs began to change, too. For example, I noticed that my understanding of compassion shifted. I had always thought of child molesters as people who deserved no pity or forgiveness. One day a huge amount of sadness for those people hit me. The sadness turned into compassion and I after than felt differently about them. It’s not that I condone those acts in anyway or think that child molesters should roam free. But now I see them as human beings, however sick they may be, who deserve love like everyone else. This shift spread out far in my life. I also began having more compassion and understanding for politicians I disagreed with, for people who held religious views that I saw as wrong, for family and friends, and of course for myself.
There can be a huge amount or fear and resistance around slowing down and being with yourself. What I have found is that the fear and resistance are the real monsters. Sometimes the truths that arise from slowing down are uncomfortable, or even heartbreaking, but they always point me towards a richer and more full life.
I’ve reached a point where being overly busy is no longer acceptable. I have made lots of small changes and a few big changes to create a life that has space and time for me to be with me. This means being with what comes up in that space, some of it painful and some of it incredibly enjoyable. As I continue to practice slowing down, on and off the cushion, I gain more tools to experience my life with ease and curiosity. I know there will be busy times in my life, times when my plate feels a little too full, but I will not use that as a way to shut life out. Life is too good to shut out, and so I continue to practice slowing down.