There it was, staring me in the face.
In black ink, right between “laundry” and “pack lunches” on the daily to-do list.
It had been there every day for the past month; the one item that wasn’t getting checked off.
“Meditate” was starting to feel disregarded. It pointed it’s “i” at me accusingly – “You talk about meditating all the time! You know it’s good for you. Why aren’t you doing it?!”
And I had a million reasons – early morning wasn’t working. Even though I get up at 5am, it’s still a hustle to get out the door on time. Doing it at work wasn’t happening because there was too much going on. And in the evenings after the “dinner, playtime, laundry, bath, book, and bed” routine, all I wanted to do was either watch a movie or go to sleep.
The guilt and shame of not meditating was eclipsing any of the good it would have done.
“You can complete a project by dropping it.” ~ Arianna Huffington
So I quit.
Shame gets a bad rap in our society. I think part of that is because it’s a really uncomfortable emotion, but more importantly I think it’s because we aren’t great at distinguishing unhealthy shame (the kind put on us by parents, friends, teachers, and media) from healthy shame (an internal compass letting us know when we are acting out of integrity).
When I was in my 20’s I partied…..a lot. And after a night of booze, drugs, dancing and general debauchery I would feel a deep shame. The kind that sits on your chest - guilt about what I had done, how I felt, and ashamed of who I had been.
In an attempt to be kind to myself I’d say things like, “It’s okay. It was just a mistake. You’re young. It’s alright to do these things now and learn from them. Don’t beat yourself up. You’ll do better next time.”
But I didn’t. I didn’t pay attention to my shame, which is probably why it took me so long to finally stop.
If I had listened to that emotion rather than disregarding it, I would have acknowledged right away that doing those things was deeply out of alignment with how I wanted to show up in the world. I would have made changes in my behavior, I would have apologized for any wrong I had done, and then I would have felt the deep joy and pride of self-correcting and getting back onto my moral path.
“We all use shame to raise children, to train each other, and to get our way – it’s how we do things in our boundary-impaired culture. That’s not going to change any time soon. Your task is not to change the culture from the outside in, but to change yourself from the inside out – to strengthen yourself so that you can individuate and create your own true boundary once again.”
~ Karla McLaren, “The Language of Emotions”
It had been 4 months of no meditating when the thought started coming back into my mind, but this time it sounded different. Because I had given enough space to clear out all the extra, put-upon shame that didn’t belong to me (the shoulds, the “what would they think’s”, etc) I was able to hear my own healthy shame.
Meditating is important to me. It feels great. I know how good it is for my body and my ability to be a conscious human. The feeling I was getting was an invitation to start.
But I knew that I had to find a new way or else it could quickly turn back into an unhealthy practice.
So I did a quick check-in: Put “meditate” on the daily to-do list? Too much. Not meditating at all? Too little. What’s the “just right”?
“Just sit” means do it. Find the spare moment, sit down, and do whatever I can. Sometimes that will mean a full 20-minute guided meditation and sometimes it will be 4 deep breaths.
Just Sit. There it is, at the top of my to-do list. Except now seeing it feels very different because it’s not tangled up with imposed shame. It feels light and free; in total integrity with what I value.
So, thank you Shame. Thanks for keeping me on track.