Meditation and the Lesson of Non-Striving

For the past eight weeks, I’ve been part of a group gathering on Tuesday nights to learn what mindfulness and meditation can do for our brains, stress level, relationships and ultimately our sense of happiness. The class is called Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), and the curriculum was developed in the 70s by Jon Kabat-Zinn for patients dealing with chronic pain, anxiety and other medical diagnoses. Thirty-five years later, it’s mainstream.

All fifteen in the group are there for the same purpose. We want to feel calmer, more in control, more peaceful and happy. At the outset, each of us was eager to master the practice of meditation and mindfulness. We talked about our individual goals on the first night, and along with the others, I was filled with purpose and wholeheartedly striving to be a good, competent, successful meditator.

buddhaMy remarkable teacher, Breon Michel, led us through a discussion following our first week of a daily body scan meditation. What had we experienced? The guy on my right described feeling frustrated that he wasn’t “getting it.” When he finally experienced some prolonged attention to the body scan, without too much mind wandering, he felt proud. But then he got caught up in feeling good about his progress, and was back to square one. He felt defeated.

“Could it be you’re trying too hard?” Breon asked. “There’s no good or bad meditation. It’s simply the repeated process of observing your thoughts, seeing them without judgment, then gently bringing the mind back to the body.” For many of us in the class, her comments helped shift our perspective from striving to non-striving. Could it be we don’t need to try so hard to be a “good” meditator? Instead, we learned to accept our wandering mind as a natural phenomenon, so that we can refocus our attention over, and over, and over again.

Coincidentally, I’ve been caught up in a whirlwind of self-imposed pressure to make my coaching business a success. When I first launched my practice, my dream was to have numerous private clients, and to spend about three days a week, on the phone, coaching steadily and effectively.

While working to build that client base, a corporate job appeared, and I now spend a few hours each week visiting businesses around town coaching their employees. Then I added an online workshop, then the Kitchen Consultation, and sought more public speaking opportunities. Okay, now I’ve got lots of plates spinning in the air, and few areas are getting the full attention they deserve (including my blog). The original conception for my business was now clouded and definitely over crowded.

The reaction to this scatter brained feeling was to flee. I took a break. I pursued other interests and put coaching on the back burner. It was simply too much. I was overwhelmed.

At some point before I had the perspective shift about non-striving in meditation, I somewhat accidentally began to apply the same idea to my coaching business. I stopped trying so hard.

Instead of setting goals for each day, feeling I should offer my online workshop again, should have more clients, and should post more consistently to my blog, I’m trying to let each day unfold more naturally. Connections are made, or not. I’m inspired to write, or not. New ideas bubble to the surface, or not. But I’m seeing that what is now happening as my business evolves is never forced and never premature. I can see that my intuition and creativity are strongest when my mind is free from the pressure of “should.” And, by the way, meditation is pretty cool, too!

Listen to the Jon Kabat-Zinn talk about Non-Striving, Acceptance, Letting Go.


Poetry and Coaching


An Autobiography in Five Chapters
by Portia Nelson

Chapter 1
I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in. I am lost….I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

Chapter 2
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it. I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in the same place.
But it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

Chapter 3
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I fall in….it’s a habit…but my eyes are open.
I know where I am. It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

Chapter 4
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

Chapter 5
I walk down a different street.