My meditation practice has been slipping lately. I still manage to get on the cushion every day, but the sessions have been getting shorter. After starting a practice almost two years ago, I have come to value the time spent being still, focusing my attention on my breath.
Over the past few weeks, however, my twice-daily routine started to fade. Morning sessions got dropped as meetings and getting children to school intervened. Without the emotional and mental space created by a morning session, I found myself increasingly pulled to the distractions of daily life.
I was proud of myself when, last Monday, I yanked myself out of bed at 7 AM sharp to claim 20 minutes of peace before embarking on the day. I was eager to reap the benefits of a morning practice. I expected a spacious, calm, and productive day ahead.
I was surprised when it turned out to be more or less the opposite.
From the outside, Monday looked like a day that was calmer than most. An orderly mix of meetings, email, and the usual challenges that make up a day in the life of an entrepreneur. Inside, however, walls were collapsing and alarm bells were ringing.
For some reason, Monday was a day where the foundations of my orderly world shook. The financial pressures of looming private school tuition pressed down heavily. Ever-present questions about the value proposition and marketing strategy for my business ballooned into existential storms, testing my capacity to tolerate them. My shortcomings as a leader came into focus, as I was reminded of all the areas where I’m not doing enough to honor my commitments.
On the surface, things seemed calm. I hammered my way through the tasks of the day: writing a report on funnel conversion, talking to prospective members, and organizing upcoming events. Inside, however, my emotions were a stew of anxiety, despair, and frustration. Throughout all of it, a single question tugged as an undercurrent in my mind: I meditated this morning! What the heck?
I was supposed to be Zen. Cool, calm, and collected. Instead, I was an anxious mess.
Until now, the concerns of my world were comfortably at bay. Now they were closing in on my consciousness like creepy clowns. And all this was happening at a moment when they should have been in full retreat. Did I meditate wrong?
It wasn’t until well into the evening that the reasons for the emotional angst of the day started to come into focus. I meditated exactly right. By clearing my mind at the beginning of the day, I opened the door to the discomfort of what needed to get done in my professional realm.
It isn’t easy to sit with financial pressure, aspects of my business that aren’t working, and areas where I need to do more as a leader. Looked at from another perspective, however, these disruptive and sometimes unpleasant feelings are actually gifts. They are signposts, pointing me toward what needs to get done.
Our natural tendency is to turn away from discomfort. When we meditate, however, we focus our attention on whatever is present. Sometimes, that can mean sitting with anxiety and fear among other difficult emotions. When we sit with the discomfort, these emotions can often yield valuable clues about ourselves, what needs to get done, and how we can shift our perspective.
Throughout Monday, a mantra repeated itself alongside the undercurrent of my questions about meditation: “Breakdown, breakthrough.” Predictably, Tuesday emerged as a mirror image of the previous day. My emotions were telling me something. Changes needed to be made. Along with those changes, opportunities beckoned.
There is a well-known saying in Buddhism, “No mud, no lotus.” Most people interpret this to mean that we cannot achieve happiness without also experiencing some form of suffering. When it comes to entrepreneurship, I discovered a new perspective on the meaning of mud. Not only is the mud a necessary aspect of our experience, it can also be the nourishment from which the lotus emerges. It is the source from which a beautiful creation becomes possible.
We start every Netcito experience with a moment of silence. The purpose of that moment is to focus on whatever is present. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes that discomfort can produce the greatest gifts. Lean into the discomfort.