I was at the end of a particularly difficult workout, but I was confident because the final movement was one that I was especially good at: muscle-ups.
I ran over to the rings, jumped up and ripped out a single rep. I went for my second–and failed. I tried again–and failed. The clock was running out, so I didn’t waste time with chalking my hands, collecting myself, or even setting my grip correctly. I was so determined to get one more rep and I thought that determination was enough.
I spent a full two minutes flopping like a fish on a line without a single additional rep.
I was miserable and couldn’t understand how I had failed in the one movement that I was best at. My girlfriend had an explanation. She pointed out that the reason I was good at muscle-ups was because I never underestimated them. I always took the time to chalk up, to align my posture, and to set my grip.
They aren’t flashy or obvious, but those ‘little things’ are actually the very reasons I am especially good at gymnastics-based movements.
So, instead of neglecting them because I was under a lot of time pressure, I should have actually given them even more attention.
There is a Zen saying: you should meditate thirty minutes a day. Unless you are very busy. Then you should meditate an hour.
It seems counter-intuitive: How can you do more of something when you have less time? Isn’t it better to focus on the task at hand, on just getting the important job done?
Meditation is a difficult habit to develop because its results are not always obvious, so we tend to push it aside when other things demand our time. ‘Other things’ can be as mundane as a special TV episode or as earth-shattering as giving birth.
We think we need to focus on the big issues, but if you have ever been able to make space for meditation for any length of time, you know that it makes it so much easier to handle the big issues with grace and effectiveness.
In some cases, a meditation practice is what gave you the groundedness and clear-headedness to be capable of taking on the big issue that is now crowding out meditation.
So, by giving it up, you are shooting yourself in the foot, and actually compromising your ability to handle the stress.
We need to recognize our own limitations and our responses to certain kinds of workloads. W all like to believe that, as our work increases, we just turn up the throttle. Very few of us admit that we should make accommodations for increased demands so that we can account for them.
I have a tendency to dismiss meditation in favor of sleep. I neglect the need to shut down early, so instead I stay up late, then remember I’m supposed to meditate, then decide it’s too late and just go to sleep.
The irony is that I get much better sleep quality when I meditate regularly, even if it means I stay up an extra twenty minutes. It also helps me wake up gracefully and have a good day, even if I didn’t get enough sleep that night.
The reason for this was expressed beautifully by a friend of mine who meditates regularly. Meditation isn’t magical because of the particulars of the practice. It is significant because it represents a commitment to setting aside quiet time for ‘inner work’.
Think about it: regular exercise has immense benefits regardless of the type, but it HAS TO BE REGULAR. Part of the effect is that you are making a daily commitment to your health, which sends a message that bleeds into other areas of your life. It’s the same with meditation and ‘inner work’.
We spend so much of our day focusing on the ‘outer work’: making money, making connections, getting promoted, finishing projects, expanding our skills, etc. We don’t make a lot to time to work on our thought patterns, our mental frameworks, or our worldviews. And we make even less time to simply accept ourselves, to sit and breathe and have that be enough.
So, consider what ‘little things’ you let slide when the going gets tough and ask yourself if those are the very things that, done regularly, allow you to be as effective as you are.
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