At the first silent meditation retreat I attended in January 2020, Chris Cullen introduced this teaching he learned from Christina Feldman. It was during a mettā practice, which is a practice meant to cultivate a sense of friendliness or lovingkindness. At the time, mettā was a difficult practice for me, so I was eager to learn there was something that might make it more accessible.
The idea is this—that we rarely are in a perfect place because we are human beings living in modern times, trying to navigate all.of.the.things. However, it can be easy to forget this as we go about our daily living because there’s also this conditioning to be the best, do our best, best, best, best! As a recovering perfectionist, this lands right in the middle of my guts because somewhere along the way, I picked up this expectation for myself that if I wasn’t always doing my best, which equals perfect, then I was falling short.
But really, there’s only ONE time in my whole life that I will do/be the absolute best because the definition of best itself is #1/very top/pinnacle. So I’m really setting myself up for failure almost all of the time.
That’s where in the midst of this… comes in. In the mettā practice, phrases like “May I be peaceful” are repeated as well-wishes. Sometimes, my practice gets totally derailed by all of the thoughts that arise after I repeat “May I be peaceful” to myself. It goes like this:
How can I be peaceful? I’m exhausted, the world is a mess! I have way too much on this to do list!!! I’m irritated, I’m frustrated, I’m bloated… Peaceful, what the f*ck world is the person leading this practice living in?! The world is BANANAS!!! THERE WILL NEVER BE PEACE!
Sometimes there are tears involved, too.
But when I practice with “May I be peaceful, in the midst of this…”, I can suddenly find a path to practice because my heart and mind recognizes that I’m swimming in the hard-to-swim water of real life. It’s as if in the midst of this... snaps me out of my perfectionist script and into the reality of the conditions in which I am living.
Back when I was Chief Counsel at the Indiana House of Representatives, a majority of our team's work (two session attorneys, a session legal assistant, and me) was completed under very tight deadlines, in an office that had big glass windows on two sides, a door on the third side, and was literally called “the bubble.” It was like a 7-Eleven for dispensing advice and offering help. The door was almost always open, we had basic first aid supplies, and there was a big bag of breath mints in the bottom drawer of the lateral filing cabinet that held the printer. We also usually had snacks and drinks, but those weren't for sale or sharing, unless one of us really liked you.
Especially on days when there was a large Second Reading calendar, we had to turn around A LOT of work as quickly as possible, but in no more than 90 minutes. It was really hard, especially when we were getting back in the groove of reviewing proposed second reading amendments at the beginning of the legislative session or when the amendments that were coming in were on a very technical/niche kind of bill.
I eventually figured out (before I had any of the mindfulness-based supports) that I had to get VERY COMFORTABLE with saying, “We have to do the best work we can, with the resources and time available to us. If we find a huge mistake later, we’ll fix it and print again.” When we were in caucus and members were criticizing an amendment summary, I’d have to be brave enough to say, “Thanks for your feedback. We were doing the best work we could, with the resources and time available to us.”
Our team could’ve produced a beautifully-written and edited summary of proposed amendments if we were given more than 90 minutes to read them and research all the background on the bills. But, we had to have them turned around so that senior staff and leadership could review them before session convened. We did the best work we could, in the midst of this….
Do you think people are doing the best they can?
This is an inquiry that Dr. Brené Brown introduced to me, and Loretta and I ask from time to time, most notably during a session with a room full of lawyers at the June 2023 Indiana State Bar Association Solo & Small Firm Conference.
That particular conversation was super fascinating because I saw reflected back to me the same conditioning I mentioned earlier-- that idea that doing my/your best equals being perfect. As one of the facilitators of the conversation, I offered in the midst of this... because that's actually what Brené means with this inquiry-- Do you think people are doing the best they can, in the midst of this...? Or put another way, Do you think people are doing the best they can, in the moment, given how they're resourced and in relationship with everything that's going on in and around them?
Then, as I followed the conversation, I'd notice something interesting-- the next two or three comments would be something along the lines of, "yes, I do," and then somebody would say, "NO, they're not! They can ALWAYS do better!". And then I'd gently remind them about in the midst of this... to see if that changed their answer... and EACH time, the response would be, "Oh yeah, it does. I forgot about that part."
Why do I mention this? Because over the course of a 45 minute conversation, we had to interrupt our collective conditioning of best equals perfect every 10 minutes or so. This is one of the reasons that in the midst of this... is so supportive to me.
In the Midst of This... as Present Moment Awareness Practice
In the midst of this... is also one of my most supportive present moment awareness practices because it helps me remember to check in with what's going on in the moment. At last week's Weekly Sangha Sit, I offered a teaching I've picked up from Mark and Pat Carnell, retired soldier and active duty soldier in the U.S. Army, respectively. It's called SITREP, which means situation report.
I'm not suggesting we use it like the military does, but it is a practice that our family has picked up as short-hand for, "What's going on with you in this moment?". It's been very helpful for us staying in touch with each other across time zones and numerous responsibilities when we don't always have much time to speak with or write to each other.
In my present moment awareness practice, SITREP has helped me more easily check-in with how my heart and mind are feeling in this very moment. What's my energy level? What feelings/emotions are present? What's going on around me in the physical space I'm in? What's on my To Do List? What's currently happening in the lives of my Thought Kitchen teammates? What's going on with my loved ones?
The SITREP helps me stay connected and remember in the midst of this... I am doing the best I can, with the resources and time available to me.
This is one of the ways I bring my life to my practice and my practice to my life. I'd love to hear how you bring your life to your practice and your practice to your life OR any questions that are one your heart and mind. Just leave them in the comments!
I see you, and I believe that YOU (yes, YOU!) are doing the best you can, in the midst of this....