Last week I was on a 5-day Silent Meditation Retreat. Besides no talking, there was no reading, no writing, no music, just nothing to distract me from the present moment, other than my own thoughts. I loved it, and hated it. I love being silent, as you may now by now. It was my thinking that I didn’t like at times. I got caught up in the stories I was telling myself. You see, I am not only very critical of myself, I also hold other people to those same high standards, when I believe that is appropriate. When I go to a renowned meditation institute, I think it is fair to expect there to be teachers who are very good at what they do (i.e. being mindful). At least, that is the story I had made up in my mind. So when those teachers didn’t meet my expectations, this gave reason for all kinds of mental commentary. Full disclosure: it was pretty relentless, not to say disturbing. This doesn’t mean I didn’t have any moments of complete mental stillness, which was blissful, but it just wasn’t as quiet in my mind as I would have liked. Unlike the first time I went there, I did not feel like I had been away for a year when I returned home.
Since I got back, however, I have noticed that something has shifted inside me. Truth be told: it isn’t always easy to be my own boss. Sure, it sounds great to be able to make my own schedule (mostly), and it is. It is also challenging to stay focused on what needs to be done, or what I think should be done, when there are other (more fun) things calling me (read: distracting me). I’ve always felt guilty when I wasn’t doing what I ‘should’ be doing, or when I felt like I’m not working hard enough. But that seems to be different now. For the last couple of days I’ve been ‘going with the flow’, rather than sticking to my to-do-list. Rather than feeling guilty, I’ve felt inspired, energized and uplifted. As well as productive and accomplished.
On Monday, instead of getting up at 6 a.m. when my alarm went off, I went back to sleep until I woke up at 9. I had planned to spend the early morning to work on my book, but apparently the day had something different in mind for me. I jumped in the shower, and then went to a last-minute appointment with my dermatologist (yes, skin cancer also happens to yoga practitioners!), and – since I was on the road and off my plan anyway – went to WholeFoods to get groceries for the week. They had healthy looking organic herbs in pots, so I got some and planted them when I got home. The rest of the afternoon was filled with scheduled meetings. I never got to write one word of my book. I meditated before I went to bed, as I hadn’t gotten to it in the morning as I usually do. The fact that I wasn’t resisting the direction in which my energy went (something that I would have done in the past) made a huge difference in how I felt. In place of feeling frustrated, I felt accomplished and content.
And so it happened that on Tuesday I got up at 5 a.m. to meditate before I saw a client for a private yoga session at 6 a.m. The thought of how I would feel after that early morning meditation got me out of bed. Indeed, sitting in the quietness of the moment, while the birds were waking up and the sun slowly appeared, was wonderful. It set the tone for the rest of that day, allowing me to do what felt right. When I was ready to go sit behind my desk, I noticed how nicely the sun was shining on my reading chair. I seized the moment and took 45 minutes to finish a book I was reading. By the time I got to my to-do list, my mind was so calm that I got done even more than I had planned.
Why am I sharing all this? I am sharing these experiences with you to help you see that productivity and a sense of accomplishment don’t always come from an attitude of just ‘pushing through it’ (it actually will cost a lot of extra energy). When things don’t go the way you had planned or expected them to be, it is not that what is going differently that will bother you, but the attitude you have towards it. Mental suffering (i.e. any mind state that is not contentment) is caused by resisting the moment as it is. The more you can allow yourself to go with the flow, the less there is to resist. This will cause more ease and well-being, as well as a peaceful mind. You don’t even have to go on a meditation retreat for that, but a daily meditation practice will certainly help. As one of my teachers once said: “Enlightenment is an accident. Meditation will make you more accident prone.”