Why Joe and Sam Should Not Meditate
Let me tell you about Joe and Sam, two of my students in an Introduction to Mindfulness class I teach at an Air Force academy.
Joe’s a good kid from a rural community with hard working farming parents. He joined the Air Force at 18 because university wasn’t for him and there weren’t many mechanic apprenticeships where he lived. A recruiter showed up at his school one day and he thought the idea of fixing planes sounded cool. Joe marched out from his basic recruit course and is now neck-deep in classes for his primary technician training, learning all about hydraulics, metal fatigue theory, and he’s just managing to keep his head above all of his trade exams, week after relentless week.
Sam wasn’t ever in the top of her class at school but she was always one of the most opinionated. While everyone else was studying for exams she coasted and got by fine. Then she figured that getting trained up in something practical and transferable, like supply chain management, while getting paid to train, made a lot of sense. So she joined the Air Force as a Logistician. Sam plays a lot of sport with her friends, crams a little bit before her tests, but is generally unfazed and looking forward to getting out of the training environment and getting stuck into the real world.
Joe and Sam are both getting told by some psychologist they need to start practicing a thing called mindfulness. And frankly, it doesn’t make any sense.
Today, I asked one of my mindfulness classes what was putting them off from practicing in their spare time, and here’s some of what came back:
I don’t need this.
I don’t have time.
It’s not my thing.
I’d rather read a book if I have a spare ten minutes.
I clear my mind when I’m riding my motorbike (or running or lifting weights).
And from where they’re coming from they’re right. It is a non-productive use of their time right now. Especially when there are far more important and urgent things they need to be doing. Sense of urgency is the motto you have pounded into you from the moment you step off the bus and into your life in the military. Go go go.
Joe is right to not practice mindfulness because he’s busy making grades and getting by. Add another thing to his to-do list? I don’t think so. His whole world has told him to swing spanners and keep it practical. And that’s exactly what Joe’s doing. Sam doesn’t need mindfulness. She’s cruising, always has. Why sit down to watch her thoughts when it’s hard and boring when she can be out kicking a ball with her buddies?
The practice of mindfulness is a long term project. It’s a slow release drug. My students don’t want “an investment approach” and all the other rhetoric I’ve been throwing at them. The fact is, I’ve been Joe toiling away and too maxed out to take my eye off the next exam to even consider there might be an alternative. And I’ve been Sam, cruising and wondering what the hell everyone else is so worked up over.
Maybe they’re right to completely ignore what I’m telling them.
Metta for My Teachers
For my own mindfulness practice, I have a long list of teachers and encouragers to thank; Dan Millman for introducing me to meditation via his book Way of the Peaceful Warrior, my first meditation teacher Adam at the School of Life, my Vipassana retreat teachers, Da Dennis in the highlands of Bolivia, Grant Rix my current mindfulness supervisor, and my contemporary heroes Noah Levine, Sam Harriss…. an ever growing list.
What this all serves to remind me, is that maybe for Joe and Sam, I’m one of those early teachers. The one who delivers the message you consciously forget, but plants a seed for someone else to help sprout.
Mindfulness Wherever You’re At
The point of mindfulness isn’t to get good at sitting on the cushion with your eyes closed. It’s what happens after you get up from the cushion or the chair that matters. So if while you’re running, you’re paying attention to the body and the breathing, focusing, bringing your attention back to the stride when your mind wanders, you are practicing mindfulness. Straight up.
So what I want to say to my students is this. If mindful running or mindful lifting weights is your thing, then do your thing! And if you find yourself only having 1 minute in your day to practice getting grounded and being present, then do your 1-minute practice.
And if after hearing my teaching, mindfulness is still not for you. Don’t sweat it.
One day it just might be.