Raw, adjective: 8. brutally harsh or unfair: a raw deal

Love this new post from Susan Piver.

Do you ever feel like your meditation or yoga practice is an escape? Like, hey, there are six thousand things you should be doing instead, and there's that grossly-overdue Inbox, and there's the mountain of laundry, and there's the filthy shower, and there's that uncomfortable conversation with so-and-so that you've been putting off and you really should just take care of it right now in spite of how tough it will be, but instead, oh gosh, if I leave now, I can just barely make the 6:15 class!, so you run, because once you get to the studio and silence your phone and unroll your mat it's all about turning off the mind and everything being ok just as it is, and so maybe for those few minutes of the day you can just escape from all the stuff that needs to be dealt with and finished up and grappled with and the like?

I can sure relate to that. Especially the part of the post that references the reader's Midwestern Protestant work ethic, which makes sitting down and doing nothing seem selfish, silly, lazy, wrong.

Oh, hell yeah.

Q: I often find that when I am getting ready to meditate or meditating, I feel like it is an “escape” and that I am avoiding “real work.” I suspect this comes from my Midwestern protestant work ethic upbringing. How common is that and what are good ways to let it go?

A: Thank you for this question. I’m sure others can relate to it, myself included. We are all so busy and engaged with important and/or necessary work. It can be tempting to think of meditation as self-indulgent, a waste of time, or escapist.

I could come up with a whole line of reasoning backed up by scientific research to prove that meditation is good for you, good for those around you, and could be more accurately described as the “practice of no-escape” rather than the opposite. But this isn’t really the point. Once we get in a debate with our practice, there will always be a good opposing argument, no matter what side you start out representing. So, rather than trying to establish a fool-proof rationale, you could simply label all of this “thinking” and come back to your breath.

As you know (or will soon discover), meditation is about resting attention on breath and when it strays, bringing it back. Whether it strays into thoughts that are vicious, brilliant, or dull is irrelevant. When you notice that you are caught up in thought while meditating, you simply (and gently) let that thought go and simply (and gently) come back to your breath.

So when you sit down to practice and the thought arises, “I am avoiding my real work right now,” let that thought go and come back to the breath. When the thought arises, “this practice runs counter to my work ethic and is an escape from my real responsibilities” you could let that go too, and come back to breath. Similarly, when the thought arises, “this is great, I am meditating anyway and I really, really see how meditation can support my work ethic” or, “work ethic, shmwork ethic, meditation is good for me and I’m going to do it!” please let those thoughts go as well and come back to breath.

When in doubt, let go. And come back.
Thanks, Susan.

There've definitely been moments in my life — usually times of great change and uncertainty, like when my father was dying, or I was writing (meaning: not writing) my masters thesis, or confronting a cancer scare, or dealing with difficult decisions that seemed to have no good possible eventual resolution — when I've run to the studio as a balm, as an escape, because it was the only place that I knew would offer even momentary relief, that quiet dark refuge that wouldn't ask me to grapple, or work, or deal. And in talking with friends over the years, I know that I'm not alone in doing so.

And, honestly, you know what? That's ok. That's really ok.

Sometimes I find we take refuge in the mat or the meditation cushion and we're even aware that in so doing we're avoiding dealing with all the difficult stuff of life that begs our attention. The first step is really even just becoming aware of that tendency, and approaching that realization with gentleness and compassion, instead of flogging ourselves for being escapist and lazy. Once you can face your escape hatch with a certain amount of love and grace, even gratitude and a sense of self-deprecating humor, it's a lot easier to tiptoe back toward those sources of confusion and uncertainty, armed with the reason, the patience and the peace that comes from the very practice to which we escape — Protestant work ethic be damned.

And, ironically, what I've come to realize, anyway, is that this granting ourselves even just a few minutes of stillness can oftentimes allow us to become even more productive in the end, because we're rested, we're grounded, we're fed, we're balanced. So everybody wins. Even John Calvin and that never-ending drive to achieve.

Achieve stillness. There's a start.


Rebecca said…
I love this post, and the question in particular because for me, sitting down to meditate or getting to a class always seems so much harder than tackling something that counts as "work.". But I have a great teacher who says, "once you start down the spiritual path, you realize it's the only game in town." This reminds me that no matter what "work" I think I'm doing in the rest of my life, the mat, or the cushion, or the breath wherever I find it, is the real work.
Rach said…
Love that, Rebecca. So true. It reminds me of that wise truth from Sri Aurobindo: "All life is yoga." And once you can see the opportunities for practicing in the little, unexpected places, suddenly it matters less whether you're on your mat or off.

Thanks for reading. :)

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