The ability to sit in silence does not come naturally to me. I feel a consistent pull to be distracted by work, social media, a podcast, or another shiny device. Normally I can justify this as helping my professional career, even if that’s stretching the truth. Unfortunately, this approach often leads me to a poor understanding of my current situation and if my actions match reflecting my current state. This month, I finished Why Buddhism is True, a book covering the author’s experience with meditation, silent retreats, and navigating spirituality in our current world. A few pages into this book, the author voices his frustration at attempting to meditate but continually getting distracted. Here is a brief exchange between himself and his teacher…
“So you notice that your mind is wandering?
It’s good that my mind keeps wandering?
It’s good that you notice that your mind keeps wandering.
But it happens, like, all the time.
That’s even better.
It means you’re noticing a lot.”
Giving yourself space to think can be uncomfortable. Time without distraction can reveal some not-so-comfortable things.
I run into patients and athletes often where their situation and their goal don’t line up.
A rehash of their situation might sound something like this…
“Let me summarize what I’m hearing you say. You’ve started a new business in the last year, you have two children under three, a wife in graduate school, and you are trying to train like you’re a teenager, and you wonder why your knee hurts. Does that sound right?”
Psst.. that was me talking to….me.
If you are pushing for big things, it’s going to take time, sweat, and effort. It’s helpful if you are aware and in somewhat control of your current situation.
Brief moments of intensity and struggle are part of life whether we choose them (setting ought to qualify for Boston or Kona) or not (an unexpected death or illness). Persevering through difficulty is a crucial character trait, but “grinding” when it’s better to pause and be patient is unnecessary.
The modern philosopher Tom Hanks has a great thought in this video. Check it out below.
If you’re frustrated because you haven’t reached that business goal, ran that sought-after time, or grasped some professional achievement, zoom out and remember life is such a long game.
I have to remind myself of this daily! The only way I do that is by giving myself time to think and space to breathe, even if that’s a 10-minute walk in a 15-hour day of distractions.
So if it’s a time to push, to squeeze every ounce of potential, then go for it! Because those times aren’t forever. And if it’s time to pull back, to be realistic with your current state of life, then press pause! Because those times aren’t forever either.
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