Our perception that we have 'no time' is one of the distinctive marks of modern Western culture.
What's that expression again? There's the calm before the storm? I think that kind of thinking leaves us feeling like we should never get calm because god-forbid-we-will-then-have-to-feel-the-storm.
So we run.
Run, run, run, run, run.
How are you?
I'm so busy!
And how are you?
Busy as always!
But here's the thing: those storms? Those storms are the life we feel we're missing! Those storms are where the connection happens, where trust is built, were we grow. But if we haven't given ourselves a moment of calm before the storm hits, we likely won't be able to handle it with much grace. You've heard this message before I'm sure. Loads of people have used this kind of analogy in the past. It's not new, but somehow it's always relevant. So let's dig into this idea together a little further with a few different examples.
It's October, I launched a new business a few months ago and I've been hustling hard. I've been trying to learn online marketing and entrepreneurship from scratch. Riddle me this: I went to one of the most prestigious business schools in the country and I feel like I have no idea what I'm doing. What help was that? I'm not sure yet. Still waiting, 10 year since I graduated and still waiting. I kid, I'm being cynical.
So I'm "cold calling" (see: emailing and DMing) my network to let them know about these fabulous new classes I'm teaching online and why they're so special and much they're going to help folks with their mental and physical health. But behind the scenes I'm also struggling with comparing myself to all the others who have come before me, have built a brand and are well-known for what they do. I'm also grieving the loss of the community that I lost in the breakup between me and the studio where I grew up as a teacher and student for the last 10 years. But God, I've been busy. I've been so damn busy.
In addition to busy and emotionally tired, I'm physically tired. Because guess what? When you're teaching online, suddenly you're also doing all the movement with the class and I've never done that in my entire 10 year teaching career. And I pride myself on the quality cues I give and that shit takes BREATH. And you know what's lacking when you're talking and exercising? BREATH. So I'm physically tired, too, on top of all the other tired.
I decided that things have to change in away. I'm going to take a NAP CHALLENGE. Hello, A-Type personality club? Room for one more? Yes, I will slow down and nap DAILY! HOORAY! So I start napping every day beginning Sept 30th on my wife's 40th birthday — we napped together, it was cute. Then guess what happens… Do I start feeling more energrgized and balanced? At first, yes. A week in though and BAM, I'm super sick. The body crashed and said, "NO. No more! You have to STOP. STOP, STOP, STOP!" So I'm now stopping. I'm stopping dead on the couch surrounded by used tissues, empty mugs of ginger tea and sneezing up a storm.
I slowed down for a week and my body started to scream: "You've got a debt to pay, girl! You owe us big!"
So let's look at the math: starts slowing down, and then gets sick. So then logically, don't slow down and never get sick! Right!? No, not quite. When we start to slow down, the little parts of ourselves who have been whispering to "Please… take it easy" get ignored. Quiet voices are harder to hear. Yes, the body sometimes speaks loudly, but her requests always begin as a whisper. I missed the whispers. I was busy gettin' shit DONE, YO!
You may have experienced this balance between busyness and stillness in your relationships, too. I noticed a pattern between Christa and I in the first year of our marriage where we were also sofuckingbusy. We moved into our first place together. I started teaching full-time again. We worked on getting Christa her permanent residency. We got married. Then she got a work permit and started her business. We bought a car. We set up all the insurances. We got cell phone numbers. We set up a whole life in Canada together from SCRATCH. Needless to say, it was a lot.
Our weeks were packed, and we protected our weekends like a mama bear protects her cubs. It was in those times where we would get closer than we had been all week, softening into each other's warm, cozy, welcoming, lover-energy. Then once we both felt at ease, it was time to bring up that-thing-you-did-that-didn't-sit-well-with-me-but-I-didn't-mention-it-at-the-time-because-Iwassobusy-but-here-we-are-and-I-value-our-relationship-and-I-don't-want-this-to-get-between-us-so-can-we-talk-it-out? We had to get still first in order to sort through our challenges together. Calm before the storm.
At first, I dreaded these conversations. Ack! So scary! Conflict! Confrontation! But you know what? It's THROUGH those conflicts and having the messy discussions that we learned more about each other and came to respect and love each other at new levels that we didn't know existed.
It goes the other way, too… say there is no calm and the other person just brings the storm. The calm being the period of connection, trust and communication to lay the ground to bring up the hard stuff. I had a few friends reach out to me this year, giving me feedback that I hadn't been there for them enough. These were two friendships that were on the dying-side of the fires of my relationships and came entirely out of the blue. These conversations had no calm before the storm. So it was all storm. I created my own calm by erecting boundaries resulting in us parting ways.
Now, friends. This brings us to the topic of meditation. Everyone talks about how f*cking hard meditation is. And it is. It's often like sitting with a crowd of loudly complaining friends and family members who talk incessantly, and what they express sometimes ain't pretty. Of course we don't want to sit still and listen to that. I liken those inner voice to a whole chorus of inner, diverse versions of YOU. These are aspects of yourself and sometime they speak in your own voice and sometimes they speak in other peoples' voices which your mind has internalized as its own. When we begin to meditate, we realize that these are voices we haven't listened to in a long, long time. Or maybe we've been hearing them, and instead of acknowledging them, we've run from them or gone to battle with them head on.
But when you start to meditate, you become Chairperson of this mind-committee. You show up to your daily meeting with the committee. You sit down with them and start to hear what's on their heartmind. Initially, we're often dismayed, distressed, and hurt by what's being said (see: very similar to when your partner finally brings up the-thing-you-did-that-sucked-but-they-love-you-so-they're-going-to-tell-you-about-it-to-work-on-it-together). We take it personally as TRUTH. We want to abandon the practice. But here's the thing, when your inner people start talking to you, this is when you can make a skillful choice to LISTEN and ask GREAT QUESTIONS.
Inner Voice #1 shares: "You did a crap job today. No, you've done a crap job in life. I expected you to be way ahead of the game for the age that you're at." As Chairperson, you reply: "You sound like you have high standards for me. Where did you learn that? Is that the only way life can be lived? Is there anyone else here in the committee who sees the wisdom in how this Life has unfolded?"
Inner Voice #2 shares: "You're body is so imperfect. Why are we so unlucky to have this body to live in?" As Chairperson, you reply: "It sounds like you wish we had a different body. I'm going to put my foot down here and say that no, that dialogue is not acceptable, hurtful, and unhelpful. It is no longer welcome. Try this way of thinking about our body instead: This body is exactly as it ought to be. My body is wise beyond comprehension and is constantly teaching me how to love." And so on.
Can you see how in some ways it's like an adult kneeling down to come to the height of a crying toddler and asking them, "What happened? How did you get hurt? What can I do to make it better?" Sometimes it's like that. And sometimes it's like walking into a house full of raging, partying teenagers and you need to kick Every. One. OUT! This party is over!!! because "We need a good night's rest and protect the peace!" It took me YEARS of devoted meditation practice before I finally started to come into wise(r) relationship with my inner voice/children/whatever you want to call them. It took a lot of repetition — listening to the same voices, same dialogue, same narrative again and again to get a grip that:
They're not going away
They want to be heard
There's something I can do about it
No one is going to do this for me
I have a practice I can turn toward to support myself
I practiced getting really good at listening to my inner-selves. And it was only by getting steady in the seat of the Listener (Observer) that I could then begin to weather the storms of my own mind.
So see here: the storm isn't the problem. The storm is LIFE. Life isn't going to stop happening, until of course, you die. The problem is the lack of calm to help us get ready to navigate the storm with skill. To quote long-time yoga teacher Donna Farhi, "We establish a calm abiding centre, not to fortify ourselves against the chaos of life, but to help us become resilient, tolerant, and accepting of the inevitable, perplexing, and often agonizing losses we all go through." So grab your resources for inner stillness, friends. Think of them your lifeboats. Hold on tight and let's enjoy the ride of this lifetime.