How to wake up before your one precious life comes to an end

My maternal grandfather died last week.

Donald lived in Southern Maryland—where I grew up—his whole life. He was a pipefitter and computer manager who played golf and watched Nationals baseball on TV.

He was also, in my experience, a very quiet man. We rarely spoke, so I never felt close to him.

So, when my mom told me that he’d passed, I first felt relief. She’d been managing his care for the past few years as he slipped into more and more health issues, silence, and pain.

But since, I’ve felt a mixture of sadness and gratitude. Sadness about how fast time can seem to pass and how short life can seem. Gratitude for having heard about mindfulness meditation and not being too close-minded to give it a try.

More than ever before, I see meditation as a practice for waking up.

I couldn’t care less about the focus, health benefits, and “increased productivity” people like to rave about. I sit because it helps me see all the things I do on autopilot, without intention. And there are many of those things. Like, when I blindly pick up my phone and look at Facebook, or when I hurt somebody even if I don’t mean to.  

Isn’t it tragic that we spend so much of our precious time asleep at the wheel?

Sure, we’re jarred awake whether we like it or not, but only occasionally. We get really lucky or hit rock bottom. Or someone—a lover or mentor—shows us a glimpse of our potential.

But most often we’re driven by parts of ourselves—parts we developed early in life because we weren’t ready to feel the intense emotions of being human. These parts take the wheel because they think they can protect us from pain and deliver us pleasure.

Part of me thinks that if I keep hustling, one day, with enough money and success, I’ll finally be satisfied.

Part of me thinks that cracking open a beer will make me feel less alone.

Part of me thinks that people will like me if I’m excessively nice to them.

Another part of me thinks that people will love me if I’m a great writer, guitar player, singer, thinker, etc.

The mindfulness that meditation produces allows me to choose whether to listen to these parts. It helps me identify less with their stories about how I should be. It helps me accept that they’re all part of me and so I’ve got to accept and work with them. It helps me stop trying to be someone else as this one fleeting life flashes by.

Because, if I sit back as the consciousness that is aware of my thoughts—who I am behind all my stories of how I should be—I know what I really want. I want to be all of myself and still feel accepted and loved no matter what.

Free ebook on mindfulness meditation

My ebook, How to Get Out of Your Head, will help you start or 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.