Years ago I had the opportunity to participate in a panel discussion before a large audience here in Charlotte. It was my first time speaking at such an event, and I had all the nerves that came with it. But I was friends with the other panelists – I had the material down cold, and I was wearing a suit (rare) so I felt pretty good going in.
The 45 minute session flew by. Before I knew it, complete strangers were standing and clapping and I was awkwardly handing off the microphone as I stepped off the stage.
It felt great to step off the stage. I was fired up, riding the high of delivering what I thought was a decent (perhaps overcaffeinated) speech about a topic I knew well. And my suit was doing an equally decent job of hiding the fact that I’d completely sweated through my shirt at that point (not so rare). So it was with great confidence that I approached a round table of about 9 or 10 people to discuss the topic further in a breakout session following the panel.
I decided to kick things off with a quick icebreaker. I suggested everyone give the typical run-down: name, where you’re from, why you’re here, some sort of fun fact, etc. I took a seat, looked at the girl sitting across from me, and asked her to start. I leaned in as she began to tell me her story.
And it was immediately clear that she had a severe speech impediment.
I felt a wave of panic. My heart began to race. How could I have been so insensitive, putting her on the spot like that? What should I do? Well I had to do something. Everyone was looking at her and some of them were looking back at me. They must have wanted me to say something. After all, I was the one who got her into this mess. I needed to help get her out of it. I needed to rescue her.
And who knows, 9 times out of 10 I may have tried to do just that. I would have quickly interrupted her and apologized. But not this time.
This time, I paused.
Have you ever been buying something at a convenience store, looked up to see yourself in the security camera footage, and thought “wow, I’m actually really strange-looking from this angle?” That’s kind of what happened. I suddenly saw the situation from a different angle – the rest of the noise faded into the background of a birds-eye view of just me and her.
And in that moment I realized that I didn’t have to do anything. She didn’t need my help and she didn’t need to be “rescued.” I realized that this part of her story was new to me but not to her, and that the best thing I could give her at that moment was my undivided attention.
And so that’s what I did. I paused, and she spoke. Slowly at first, but after a few seconds very comfortably, and we moved on.
I’ve been meditating for over five years. This year, my New Year’s Resolution was to meditate for 60 total hours using the Headspace App, and to maintain a streak of meditating 180 days in a row.
You can see my progress here. I’ve already accomplished the streak goal:
and I’m only three hours away from meeting my hours goal, which I believe I can do comfortably since I’m averaging 9.2 minutes per session.
I’m not crazy about the structure of the Resolution itself, but tracking hours and sessions is the only way I could think of to hold myself accountable in a measurable way. But I think it misses the point of medidation, for me anyway.
What exactly is the point?
I could tell you that meditation makes me calm. And sometimes it does. But sometimes it doesn’t – especially if I go into my practice with the expectation that it should calm me down, it can often have the opposite effect. Suddenly being faced with the infinite thoughts swimming through my crazy head and feeling powerless to stop them can be downright stressful.
I could tell you that meditation improves my relationships. And sometimes it does. But other times the sense of clarity I reach during a meditation session just makes it that much worse when the zen moment is broken within five minutes of getting up from my seat when I snap at my wife or one of my kids about something dumb.
I could tell you meditation makes me feel closer to God. And sometimes it does. But other times it makes me feel painfully distant (not a particularly helpful or rational feeling, but a feeling nonetheless). FYI, while my approach to the practice is secular, I do feel that the message and the teachings of meditation, things like compassion, kindness and generosity, fit quite neatly into my personal belief system. But I won’t get into that in this series. Maybe later – at the moment, I think it’s a bigger subject than I am a writer.
So why bother meditating? The best answer I can give is this: the real benefits of meditation aren’t found in the ten minutes you sit, but in the rest of your day as you approach it more mindfully, moment to moment.
Like the moment I described earlier. That moment was, for the most part, completely ordinary. I doubt she even remembers it. But I do – I remember it as this one time where, unlike the thousands of other times I’ve screwed up, I exercised a tiny bit of empathy and ended up doing the right thing. Which was (and often is) nothing.
Is 60 hours of sitting worth one, critical pause? We’re going to explore that question this month.