I Forgot I Was Gifted. You Probably Have, Too
For the longest time I have tried to meditate. My monkey mind is an entire menagerie!
I watched my breathing. I sat still and sensed my body. I mantra'd. I laid still and sensed my body.
If I lasted 2 minutes without a thought, I was lucky. Usually it was much less. I kept trying for months, without success. I grew disheartened.
Today I remembered how - for me.
How could I have missed what was hiding in plain sight?
It's 1981. Boston, Massachusetts. A student at M.I.T. faces 6-10 hours of homework a day. How do you maintain focus for those stretches?
For me, it was two things. When I started to work I popped Cheap Trick's 'At Budokan' into the cassette player. After the first bar I was in the zone. Yes, the place Mihály Csíkszentmihályi called flow. And the world outside my desk disappeared. After two plays of the cassette I'd break and gather my roommates and go to the Pizza Pad to play Frogger. Then back to the desk for another double play of Budokan. Sometimes it took 3 or 4 cycles to get the homework done, but the routine didn't vary. The music allowed me to use 100% of my mind to solve the problem at hand without fatigue.
Okay, maybe the effectiveness decayed a bit after 2 a.m...
Sometimes we rotated music, but the cycle was the same. By the most conservative estimate, I listened to that tape over a thousand times in my time at M.I.T.
Recently I mentioned on Liz's blog that Umphrey's McGee's podcast #39 had the same flow-inducing effect. My creative writing ablity soared when I listened to it. I'm guessing that I've listened to that recording nearly 200 times.
Are you seeing a pattern here?
Let me add one more illustration. In high school I was a pole vaulter. It's as much a mental challenge as a physical one. There you stand at the end of the runway, staring at a bar floating above the clouds behind it. Your job is to run as hard as you can at the bar, stick a fiberglass stick in the ground and wait for the stick to flick you over the bar. Assuming you jammed the stick into the ground at the proper angle and rate of speed. If you don't, bad things happen - I have two concussions and innumerable ankle sprains to show for it.
I know what you're thinking. Mike - after all those ankle sprains and two concussions, didn't you LEARN anything?
Yes. I did. I learned to fly.
And that's why I kept vaulting. It's hard to describe that moment you go over the bar. You see it below you. Time stands still. Then, after that blissful moment in which you are aware of the bar, the crowd, and the air beneath you, gravity returns and pulls you to the ground in a great rush of wind!
That may sound zen-ish, but that's not my revelation.
As I said, standing at the end of the runway can be very intimidating. But I learned a way to beat it. It started with the opening chords of Grand Funk Railroad's Shinin' On (the live version, not the studio version). Then I saw myself hurtling down the runway and vaulting over the bar. Then I hit the pit shouting "YES".
Neurolinguistic programming (NLP) afficianados would recognize this sequence immediately, but Bandler and Grinder were still grad students in those days. I had no idea what I was doing; I just knew it worked.
Fast forward to this afternoon. It's a hundred and farkin' fifteen degrees outside! And it doesn't feel like a dry heat. Did I mention the A/C on my van is acting up? I'm reflecting on Eckhart Tolle's 'The Power of Now' and thinking "how can I be present if my face is melting?" I flipped on ol' podcast 39 and started trying to concentrate on the now. And it worked! I drove home in presence. I walked down the driveway and gazed at the evening sky with total amazement and no mental chatter. And then I turned off the music and used my mind to continue the soundtrack, with no mental chatter.
And then it hit me like a freight train running over my foot. If I'd looked within for my ability to meditate instead of looking for external guidance, I'd have saved myself a great deal of frustration.
What have you been looking for externally that you already know internally?
Please consider that question carefully if you're not totally satisfied with your life. You already have the answer. You just need to be willing to acknowledge it. Don't be a dumbass and turn a blind eye to it for 30 years like I did! Ask yourself: was there ever a time when you succeeded in anything closely resembling what you want to do? If yes, what went through your head? If you can't remember such a time, is there another frame of reference that gets you to yes? Because you have surprised yourself at least once. I know it.
And you know it too.
More on this subject when the experience design site explodes on the scene next week!
posted by Mike at 5:51 PM 14 comments links to this post