'Meditation is for softies'
When it comes to mindfulness and meditation, I often feel conflicted.
Part of me sees the strong body of neurological and psychological evidence supporting claims of powerful positive effects - not just for wellbeing but for mastery and peak performance. I also know from my own experience, having practiced meditation nearly everyday for 3 years, that from a cognitive standpoint, my awareness, my concentration, and my ability to extract and process information have progressed exponentially. From an emotional perspective, mindfulness seems to have helped me cultivate patience, humility and perspective - all essential ingredients in the pursuit of mastery. I have heard countless performance psychologists and coaches speak with equal passion of their strong belief in the power of these practices.
Another part of me is annoyed. The popularisation of these techniques and their spread into the mainstream, albeit a valuable asset for all, comes with a dilution of knowledge around the subject, and sometimes the trivialisation of its mechanics. I have often heard coaches or athletes I work with talk of mindfulness as something ‘for softies’, for hippies, or god forbid, for non-achievers. Definitely not something we want to associate with in our high-standard, ambitious and driven cultures.
This drives me insane, and makes me want to give up - trying to convince people who don’t want to listen just feels silly. I wash up against my eternal frustration: “How is it possible that the very people who need this the most are the most resistant?” Not an new problem.
Taking a dose of my own medicine so to speak, here is where I am at. I realise I’m annoyed because within myself, I have my own conflicts. It has taken me a while to realise my misunderstandings about these practices, athough through this process I now empathise a lot more with the aforementioned skepticism.
Here are two lessons I remind myself of:
Meditation and mindfulness practice, in whatever form they take, do not directly create the solution to your problems. They create the conditions for you to do better work.
This is also true in yoga, something I try and emphasise in a world where much of the language revolves around what meditation and yoga ‘bring to you’ (think calm, clarity, control, etc). For a long time, I internalised the belief that if I did my 15 min of practice every morning, I was upgrading my day and setting myself up for a good experience. It was a causal relationship: meditation practice leads to a better performance. Nae, my friend. Ironically, this belief was actually somewhat disempowering. I was inadvertently delegating my responsibility for myself and my experience to meditation. I think this freaks people out, and with good reason - outsourcing your responsibility ends up equating to outsourcing your control. Nowadays, I understand better that these practices simply create a higher-quality internal environment (i.e. heightened awareness), which in turn allows me to get to work in a way that suits me better. My pre-practice mind is still there, but I have better resources to deal with it. Which leads me to the following…
It’s not (and never was) about getting rid of your problems, internal discomforts, or even bad habits. It’s about harmonising your relationship with them.
Time, and time, and time again I have read and felt and heard and thought this. Meditation helps you release stress. Mindfulness helps you be less distracted. The objective is to reduce, modify or somehow eventually eliminate the thngs that are stopping you from being and doing your best. This too, I deeply believed. I have a tendency towards perfectionism, so the idea that one day, if only I work hard enough or find the right method I will be annoyance-free, threat-free and ugly feeling-free is tempting to say the least. Thankfully, I’ve been shown multiple times how wrong I am. Not only is this impossible, but it would also eliminate our primary source of growth: stress, discomfort and problems. This includes all internal discomforts: constriction, shame, uncertainty, isolation, grief. I would rather work towards becoming a person who is strong enough to be able to harmoniously coexist with these challenges, rather than unknowingly turn into someone who is unable to confront them, feel them or accept them. This is now what my meditation practice helps me do: make friends with my problems, treat them like my allies, and draw strength from that relationship.
It looks like yielding to the unwanted, the inconvenient, and the uncomfortable is an infinite game. I might as well keep improving at it.