One of the assignments that was given to me in the first session of my coaching course is a daily meditation or “sitting” practice. The assignment, as it is written on the sheet of paper in my binder, is to sit for 30 minutes in a chair, eyes gently closed or looking down in front of you with slightly opened eyes. No repeating of a mantra. No guided anything. Not manipulating the breath, just observing the breath. If a thought comes in that captures your mind, recognizing it, observing it, and letting it go.
They have four or five steps that they outline as being what the assigned meditation practice is intended to be done daily for the year that we’re in this coaching program. We practiced it once when we were in session together in June. We only did ten minutes, and it was a long ten minutes.
I had played around with meditation here or there prior to that, but I never had any method for it. I kind of just sat there and then waited to see what happened and didn’t really know what it was. Oh, I guess I’m meditating. But this was very specific.
Well, when I had a check-in with the lead instructor of my coaching program, I was really nervous before chatting with her. I was almost dreading the conversation, even though a part of me was so excited about checking in and sharing my progress with her and asking for her input on some things that I was finding challenging. Particularly, I was dreading having to tell her that I haven’t been meditating every day.
There are some days I do it, but there have been no two days in a row that I’ve done it the same. In my mind, the movies that I’ve seen, “Eat, Pray, Love,” and what have you, about women finding their true selves because they’ve practiced meditation, is this notion that it’s exactly the same every day, at the same time. It’s very ritualistic. It’s very intense.
That has not been the experience I’ve had. I do it when I can take 30 minutes out of the day. Sometimes I can’t take a whole 30 minutes. Sometimes I’m at home. Sometimes I’m on the beach. Sometimes it’s just after a yoga class. It has varied.
I really didn’t want to share this with her because I felt like I was doing it wrong, and I felt like I was being graded because this is an educational program after all, and this was an assignment. So I wasn’t doing it right.
When I shared my progress with her, she said, “Okay. So it sounds like carving out 30 minutes a day, at the same time every day, in the same place, is really not realistic for you. So what if we did instead that wherever you are that you’re able to take some time to relax and check out, that you just take whatever time you can, in any context that you’re in, and even if it’s while you’re doing something else, even if it’s while you’re walking somewhere, you just take the principles of what we taught, and you integrate it.”
She was basically saying, Don’t sweat it. This isn’t supposed to be rigid. This isn’t supposed to be done exactly as it was described, as though that’s the only right way to do it. Integrate it into your life in a way that makes sense, in a way that works, in a way that you’re not going to feel guilty or shameful if you’re not doing it correctly but will open you up to the possibility of doing it a little bit.
At the time, I was so struck by what I considered to be her generosity, but I later realized was wisdom. I was reminded of how many times I have worked with clients who’ve said, “You know, the way that you taught us to do usability testing, the way that you’ve taught us to do user research, we love the concept of it, but it’s just not realistic for what resources we have right now, the time crunch that we’re on, our financial situation, the availability of our staff. Is there a smaller version of how we can do this? Is there a modification to this?”
That’s ultimately what I became known for, and I did a lot of work with start-ups, almost immediately, when I went independent because I was able to take what would otherwise be a three-month process and distill it down to one week or even one day, if that’s all the time that they had, because I believed that some data was better than no data. Some empathy was better than no empathy. Some intel from the outside world was better than none.
If you were going to be so rigid in how you were approaching doing it, that it had to be done to the letter, then it was never going to get done at all.
Like you say, either I’m a runner, or I’m not a runner. I’m a guitar player, or I’m not a guitar player. What that conjures up for me is this shamefulness that we feel when we haven’t fulfilled whatever expectations we believe makes us officially a “blank” to the point where it prevents us in the future from dabbling and eventually becoming that. We just shy away from it instead because we haven’t fulfilled it to the extent that we feel we’re supposed to.
An excerpt from my dialogue with Paul McAleer on our podcast Designing Yourself, Episode #4: Good Enough (originally aired July 30, 2013), with minimal editing for readability.