Stop beating yourself up for not being closer to meeting your goals

The last few months have skyrocketed my anxiety above normal levels. I’ve been applying to therapy graduate programs, and the combination of not knowing the outcome and likely having three years of school ahead of me (albeit, part-time) is testing my patience.

Thank God for meditation. The mindfulness it produces loosens me up enough to notice what’s going on inside of me. To stop distracting myself and running from thoughts and emotions, which only intensifies the anxiety. To pause instead of move. To feel instead of think, think, think, do, do, do.

Within the stress and tension, gratitude has been rearing its beautiful head. At times, limitless appreciation has washed over me—for meditation and everyone who’s inspired me to practice. For those who come to my classes. For you for reading this.

But this having patience thing might be my biggest test yet. Part of me wants to fall asleep and wake up three years from now a licensed therapist—to just get it over with. Another part of me knows the journey is the point, and the whole point of life.

I once heard about a boot camp training for Navy SEALs called “the box drill.” The former SEAL Eric Davis describes it like this:

They put you in the corner of the room and say you have as much time as you need to get to a doorway across the room. There are six people guarding the door. You try to fight your way through, but you get your ass kicked over and over again. Every few minutes, one of the people leaves the room. You keep trying to fight because you want to prove you’re tough. Finally, the last person leaves, and you walk through the door and they say you passed. You’re like, ‘What? I didn’t beat anybody.’ They’re like, ‘That wasn’t what this drill was about.’ What they’re doing is producing an experience where you realize you have all the time in the world.

Meditation is like the box drill. Out of habit, the mind keeps narrowing its attention to follow thoughts into the past or future. It spins stories that stir up emotions in the body, which it tries to escape by telling even more stories.

It’s when you let go and rest as awareness—as a neutral observe witnessing what’s going on inside of you—that a little bit of spaciousness appears.

Like being a Navy SEAL, this requires courage. Into that spaciousness you create—that mindfulness—anything can appear. Anything. That childhood memory you thought was locked away forever. That gut feeling that you’ve outgrown your job. That age-old fear of love.

Whatever appears—for me recently it’s been impatience—is just the next step in the journey. It’s your edge. And the hardest thing in life is sitting still at your edge and feeling its raw sensations—the tightness, the burning, the pain, the pleasure, the whatever.

It’s much, much easier to fantasize about the future or worry about the past. To beat yourself for not being further along in your journey. To try to fight to prove your tough or however you want to be perceived by other people.

As the Tibetan Buddhist teacher Chögyam Trungpa said, “Meet your edge and soften.”

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