A couple of years into Aikido training I was sitting in silent meditation with Sensei and several dojomates before class, lights dimmed, eyes closed. This was a regular practice at the dojo then, and frankly I initially joined in as a way to make sure I got to class on time. Worst case, if I got out of work late, or ran into traffic, I’d miss meditation, but still get to class. I was a bit of a cushion in my schedule.
But I quickly learned to really value that brief period of stillness. The rest of my life was intense — busy and harried. But I’m nothing if not tough, so I persisted, dashing from one responsibility to another — community organizations, political activism, my high-pressure, high-hours job, not to mention caring for and working with my horse and donkeys, plus time with family and friends, dealing with health, chores, yardwork, … I was overwhelmed and exhausted. I was also in a lot of pain from neuropathy that was worsened by sitting at a desk for hours at a time in uncomfortable “business attire,” and further multiplied by stress.
“Everything is just fine. Really.” (Not.)
Out of necessity I had gotten very good at ignoring what I was feeling. Just shut it out and keep moving forward.
But this particular evening, as I settled into our usual 15 minutes of meditation, and started to let the thoughts from my chattering mind drift away, I noticed tears welling up. A small voice inside of me was speaking up: “You can’t keep doing this. You just can’t.” The tears spilled over and ran freely down my cheeks. It was true. Something had to give, and if I didn’t make some deliberate changes that something was going to be me.
Some things you can’t unhear.
Simply stopping and getting quiet for a few minutes let me hear that small voice. That was so important!
Having gotten the message I couldn’t go back to pretending things were OK. Within days I met with my employer and renegotiated how I was working, reducing the constant pressure and unmanageable distractions. I ultimately changed careers completely. Even though I loved the work I’d spent years mastering, I could not continue in that environment. I dropped as many other commitments as I could, too.
I realized that while there are many important things in the world that need to be done, I was not responsible for doing all of them. That way of living had been making me miserable and sick, and not achieving much, really. Seeing that clearly and deliberately forging a new way of living created a huge shift for me. I reclaimed my life. It hasn’t been easy, as the saying goes, but it has been worth it. All from taking a few minutes to check in with myself.
What might you hear, if you got quiet for a few minutes?
Meditation has many benefits, both for our Aikido practice at the dojo, and off the mat, too. Getting in touch with what’s going on in our bodies and in our hearts is one of the most important, and has powerful implications for all aspects of our lives.
This memory came to me as I was writing what will be my next post, How to Meditate — A Practical Guide to Finding Your Own Way. I will link to it here as soon as it’s published.