Meditation teacher and therapist Tara Brach often refers to Biosphere 2, a huge glass dome built in the 1980s in Arizona for scientists to study the earth’s living systems in a closed environment.
She writes in Psychology Today, “As it turned out, when designing the [Biosphere 2,] the scientists didn’t account for the absence of wind. What they learned was, without enough wind to develop their [stress wood,] trees cannot grow.”
The takeaway: without some level of difficulty, we can’t grow into our full potential.
Or, put another way: as the ancient Roman emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius wrote, “What stands in the way becomes the way.”
This might be the hardest thing to remember when you’re meditating, to be grateful when your mind wanders from the present moment because it’s an opportunity to practice.
Gratitude is the last thing I want to feel when I notice my mind flitting away to worry about my loaded email inbox or what to make for dinner.
Instead of guiding my attention back to the sensations of my breath and body—which is the practice—I tend to judge myself for not being present, for not meditating the “right” way, for thinking “too much.”
That’s understandable. In our dog eat dog, individualistic, capitalist society, there’s so much pressure to get everything right, to be perfect. Especially since the economy—how we fulfill our basic needs in capitalism—has shifted towards using the mind more than the body.
We’re supposed to be on all the time, paying attention, making the right decisions, managing a perfect life. We’ve got decisions to make—healthcare plans to choose, cable packages to pick, Instagram profiles to curate, resumes to build, side hustles to manage.
If we’re not paying close enough attention, we might fall behind and miss out. Fall behind on what? Everything.
Here’s some good news: mindfulness is not about staying present 100 percent of the time, always, 24/7, 365. It’s simply noticing when your mind leaves and bringing it back—over and over again. It’s a practice.
This noticing is what develops your stress wood, your ability to stay present a little more often, especially when the shit hits the fan.
Your constantly wandering mind is the wind, which strengthens your mind’s muscle for showing up fully in your life.
More and more practice will allow you to handle stronger and stronger winds without getting swept away into your habitual patterns of escape (drinking, social media, etc.).
Your wandering mind is the way that stands in the way. Try having some gratitude for it.
Want to be more mindful?
I’ve come up with a cheat sheet to help you start and stick with a regular meditation practice. Get it for free here.
Listen to my podcast Meditation for the 99%
On Meditation for the 99%, I take meditation out of faraway monasteries,expensive retreat centers, and Corporate America, and bring it to work, relationships, and, especially, politics. Listen everywhere podcasts are available.