About ten years ago, I used to go to a tai-chi class. We normally had a break between two classes, and I sat in the lobby of the local Buddhist centre where the class took place. Our break coincided with the tea break of a meditation group. One day, a woman sat next to me. Normally, I’m pretty shy around other people, but I felt reasonably comfortable with her. She told me about meditation classes, something I’d wanted to try out for a while.
‘Are you free on Thursday?’ She asked.
‘There’s an introductory meditation class on that day. I normally don’t come to that one, but I’m free this Thursday and could come to hold your hand.’
Now, back then, no one was holding my hand. Partly, I didn’t know how to allow others to help me, and partly I was very lonely working on my PhD away from my home country. I felt deeply touched by the willingness of this stranger to park her plans for Thursday and come along to support me. (These days, I get that it was her choice, but back then it felt incredibly generous of her).
So, I said yes.
On Thursday, I showed up to my first meditation class. It felt like a big deal, somehow. I’ve seen pictures of peaceful people sitting with backs so straight, it was as if they swallowed a broomstick. With trepidation, I entered a semi-dark room and sat on the floor. The woman was there already.
‘Would you like some cushions to support your back? You could use a chair…,’ she offered.
‘No,’ I said, ‘I’ll sit on a floor.’
Within the first 3 minutes I realised how uncomfortable I was. My back, which was exposed to a lot of slouching in front of a computer, had no idea how to stay straight. Frozen in a rigid posture, I tried my best to follow the instructions of an uninspiring old man who was leading the class.
I sat like that for an hour because I didn’t want to let this woman down.
The ‘good girl’ in me wanted to show that her time-investment wasn’t wasted, that I could actually be good at this meditation thing, that not only can I be good, I can do it perfectly from the first go.
Needless to say it was a complete disaster.
When everyone left to enjoy a cuppa during a break, I rolled on a floor in a vain attempt to release the pressure from my back and somehow to soothe the discomfort which grew into stabbing pain under my right shoulder blade. To date, I still get that type of pain when I try to sit straight and force a ‘good’ posture on my back. I was reminded of this incident as I was reflecting on how I can twist myself into something that I’m not in order to please others.
Whether your intention is to impress, show gratitude, or to defy others, when you shape-shift into something that’s not your natural state, it’s going to hurt.
I’m pretty sure that woman would rather I’d sat on a chair and came to every meditation class for years to come, rather than tolerated that much pain and then refused to have anything to do with meditation for the next seven years. Even now, most of the time when I meditate I lie down….
Another point of this story is that what you think others expect from you may be very different to what they actually want.
There’s often no knowing for sure, and so the best thing to do is to follow your own internal radar rather than second-guessing what others want. I know, it’s easier said than done, and I’m in the process of learning this myself. What’s different now is that I know there’s an easier way. Way easier….
Join my community here, and let me show you how to stay true to yourself.
P.S. No post from me next week. I’m teaching a live workshop on overcoming fear of failure instead. Details are here.