Shut Up and Meditate

It was an unexpected comment from an unlikely source. I was sitting there minding my own business at the Louisville Heart Ball when one of the healthcare executives at my table made an interesting comment. “It seems that most high-performing professionals attribute their success to some type of mindfulness practice.”

I didn’t realize someone had told him I taught yoga and meditation classes for 10 years along the way to getting my doctorate and license.

It’s true – there’s a plethora of C-suite and celebrity types that swear by their meditation practice as their secret way to lead a crazy-busy life, stay focused on what’s important, and stay calm in the digital age.

The business case for mindfulness is backed up by solid research: If you’re fully present on the job, you’ll be more focused and productive, you’ll make better decisions, and you will work better with other people.

I can only say that my initial experience of meditation was more like Lily Tomlin’s musing, “What if the present moment is the worst possible place to be?”

What if the present moment is the worst possible place to be?

Who wants to be in the present moment when it’s not enjoyable, interesting, or at least hopeful? When it includes the rumination of reliving old hurts and rehearsing new fears?

As I reflect on my 20+ years of meditation practice, I’ve sometimes wondered how I kept going. Looking back now, I can tell you why: Because I wanted it so badly – I wanted a better life. I wanted better relationships. I wanted to be happier and more at peace with myself. Inner Pusher that has no use for the utter waste of time of sitting quietly for 20 minutes (aka doing nothing). Fortunately, some other part of my personality understood that meditation is more about un-doing.

It’s hard to meditate when it means spending 20 minutes listening to the harangue of your Inner Critic. “Your mind wandered … again. What’s wrong with you?”

The first time I tried meditation I gave up after the first class. I was working for a law firm during the day and going to law school at night. I thought meditation might help me concentrate so I could absorb the mountain of reading required at work and school.

My first meditation instructor told us (mistakenly) that meditation means “to not let your mind waver from one thought or image.” Of course, my mind was immediately all over the place – and it stayed that way the rest of the class. So, I promptly quit meditation and got prescription eyeglasses instead.

Meditation is the easiest and hardest activity there is.

It would be years before I stumbled upon bona fide meditation instruction: “It’s the nature of the mind to wander. When you notice your mind has wandered, don’t criticize yourself – Be glad you noticed and just come back – to this moment … this breath. You’re learning the art of how to be with yourself.”

What I know now is that I was becoming more emotionally intelligent – in the form of self-awareness, self-empathy, and emotional regulation. I knew I’d turned a corner in making peace with my Inner Critic the day I found myself ending one of those excruciating “I can’t wait for this to be over” sittings with an out-loud exclamation, “That was a terrible meditation!” … and I was chuckling as I said it.

It took a little longer to “get it” that meditation would also help me with another component of emotional intelligence – relationship management. After all, what could be sillier than a whole group of people – sitting there together saying nothing – for 20 minutes? Well, guess what? If you can learn to be present and empathic with yourself… you will naturally get better at doing that with … other people.

I’ve even got my husband meditating with me every morning. He calls it “thinking.” I don’t really care what he calls it – he does a great job of being quiet and still – no fidgeting, no tension, no heavy sighs, no judgment of me for spending 10–20 minutes this way every day.

Recently I was having a hard time settling in for our morning meditation. My husband was waiting for me, but I was still dithering around in the kitchen with another cup of coffee and mindless chatter. Finally, my Inner Pusher helped me out: “Jan, shut up, sit down, and meditate.” My husband laughed, I laughed … and we began. And as it always goes with meditation, it was a better day, and I’m a better person because of it.

It’s hard to meditate when it means spending 20 minutes listening to the harangue of your Inner Critic.