I did a three-day meditation retreat last month, meaning nearly no talking, reading, writing, internet, phone, etc for three days.
The basic unit of meditation there is one hour sitting still, which we do 6 or 7 times a day while there. Barely moving for one hour, focusing my mind is hard, though I’m more skilled at it than ever, which is why I go to the retreat sometimes. It’s quiet. Others are doing it too.
Sometimes the hour is frustrating—it hurts, your mind wanders constantly, and you can’t stop wondering when it will end.
Sometimes you progress—your mind stays sharply focused, you learn something new and valuable, you don’t feel pain and don’t have to adjust your body all the time.
Sometimes you work hard and overcome a barrier you didn’t think you could. I’m not sure how to explain how hard the work can be since you aren’t physically moving. The mental work to stay focused and let pass distraction after distraction can drain you.
Several times during the three days I found myself 45 minutes into a 1-hour session physically and mentally exhausted—the Lombardi type—and accomplished. When you feel that way after that long, knowing you’ll be back at it an hour or so later, you feel a strong urge to go back to your room from the meditation space and rest. You feel you worked hard, beyond what most others do, and you earned your rest.
Why I didn’t rest
Not long before, I had posted Why inspire yourself if not to act? with this video of LeBron James training and Michael Jordan dunking. I wasn’t thinking of meditation when I posted. Why would I?
Why I have role models
Your role models are yours and I hope they work for you. These two guys are a couple of mine.
I don’t just like celebrating their achievements, showing what humans can do. I use them to explore what I can do.
What I did
As exhausted and accomplished as I felt, I thought of what these guys did and compared what I did.
45 minutes sitting still and focusing felt like nothing compared with their training. The difference between domains didn’t matter. Both leave you drained. As much as I did, I could do more. They helped reveal that I wasn’t close to my potential.
Finishing the hour focused would hardly come close to my limits. So I went back and finished.
In the moment
When you’re in the moment, it’s easier to give in—to skip the last 15 minutes of meditating, to eat the chocolate cake, to postpone the deadline, to indulge in yelling at someone, to interrupt, etc.
Yet out of the moment—now, for instance—it feels less than trivial to sit still for a mere 15 minutes compared to James’s or Jordan’s training. Why couldn’t I feel that drive every such moment when it’s easier to give in?
Each time I went back and focused the remaining time. Sometimes those last 15 minutes led to nothing and just drained me more.
But a couple of those times, I progressed beyond what I had in the 45 minutes before, sometimes beyond any expectation. I haven’t been able to describe the progress in conversation so I won’t try it here. But people who develop their minds and bodies know the leaps forward that I’m talking about.
That’s the value of role models and why I learn about people like LeBron and Michael—not just to learn and watch passively but to follow actively.
I still have a long way to my potential.
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