My parents had yet to figure out I needed glasses, so I sat cross-legged a few feet from the television.
My mom was talking on the cordless phone. A lawnmower blared outside the wall. I felt free, content, and safe. Our quiet, rural Maryland home oozed 1990s middle-class prosperity. Five types of cereal sat in the pantry, and 50 cable channels awaited my eyes.
My mom came over to talk to me. “They wanted to hold you back from first grade. But I told them no,” she said. “You can handle it.”
An alarm rang inside my body. My throat tensed and mind churned. Why did they want to hold me back? What did I do wrong? Is Mom upset?
As far as I can tell, this is the first time I felt the shame that I’ve been running from since.
I hadn’t known that my teacher had been evaluating me—which was her job, of course. From then on, I was going to at least appear as though I was on task and working hard. I didn’t want to feel that shame ever again.
I often feel like I need to hustle, like I’m behind and must catch up. Behind who or what? I don’t know.
I have trouble truly resting and struggle to be present with others. I’m almost always leaning toward the future to get to the next thing on my to-do list. During my last semester of college, I even had three jobs.
I didn’t begin to notice this tendency to hustle until my mid-20s. Before that, I didn’t see it. Striving all the time was just the water I swam in.
Reading Karl Marx and learning from organizers in the Occupy movement taught me about capitalism. I learned that our society is divided between people who own things and those who work for them. Those of us not lucky enough to be born wealthy spend more time working for a living than enjoying that living.
Odds are, you feel the pressure to hustle too—most of us have no choice.
But knowing about capitalism’s flaws hasn’t helped me all that much.
Yes, it’s given me a perspective on why I feel dissatisfied despite living in the richest country in the history of the world. Yes, it’s given me a sense of comradery. Yes, it’s taught me that the solutions to many of our problems, like climate change, are systemic, not individual.
But it wasn’t until I started practicing mindfulness meditation that I found a practice for whenever I feel overwhelmed by my tendency to hustle.
Meditation is a roadmap for working with almost any overwhelming emotion. When you notice that your mind is focused on the future in an unhealthy way—be it worrying or overplanning—let go of the thoughts. Then bring your attention to the feelings of your breath or the sensations in a neutral-feeling part of your body, like your feet.
Most importantly, mindfulness taught me acceptance. I’ve learned to accept that part of me wants to hustle all of time. It’s just how I am. It’s just how we are.
When that part—or any part of me—is barking orders in my mind, I can allow it to be there even if I don’t listen. What a relief. I don’t have to listen or drown it out. I can just let it be. I can just let myself be.
“If you allow that you’re not relaxing, then you’re relaxing,” says Tibetan Buddhist monk Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche.
Acceptance creates inner freedom, a little space to decide whether to hustle or not. Sometimes I need to kick ass and get shit done. But do I really need to strive when I’m making dinner or visiting a friend?
That might not sound like much, but it’s been huge for me. I finally can relax … like, actually relax. Not veg out with Netflix or a beer. Relax, as in, who I am is enough—I’m okay.
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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.
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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.