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Meditation Builds Grit
The Benefits of Meditation, Pt. 2
No, your calendar is not faulty. To keep our discussion on grit flowing, I’m striving to publish once a week until we finish our book discussion. (That will require a gritty performance or two of my own over the coming weeks.) Your insights are always welcome, both here and on Twitter at #ExpatGrit.
With my best wishes,
As we dive into our discussion on grit, I thought it helpful to look at it through the lens of other languages. Sometimes hearing ideas conveyed in another idiom lends insight into hidden layers of meaning. As you may know, I speak some Russian, yet realized I had never tried to convey grit in Tolstoy’s mother tongue. Flummoxed, I reached out to the team at REVORG Translations, Glen and Katya Grover. Glen is a professional translator of Russian, while Katya is a native of Russia, holding a doctorate in Chinese. Their terse response to me was two words: vyderzhka and samoobladanie. The first word, vyderzhka, translates as “holding out”. And if you think about someone holding out for a higher salary, you’ll understand that that takes grit. For me, the far more insightful suggestion was samoobladanie, which translates as “self-control”. Indeed, self-control is a necessary prerequisite for grit, as we will see. And there are few things better to build that self-control than meditation.
If you have tried meditation, you know what I mean. Sitting down in silence (as opposed to a guided meditation), it’s not long before the thought, “How much longer until the end?” arises. To succeed at sitting, you have to harness your mind, letting the thought pass. It’s not merely enough to just “grit one’s teeth”; perseverance requires redirecting the mind. It is much like the meditation “Leaves on a Stream”. In that meditation, when a thought arises, you imagine yourself placing the thought on a leaf and dropping it into a stream passing by. Having put the thought “How much longer until the end?” on a leaf and letting it go, we can finish our meditation with a more joyful state of mind.
However, our uncontrolled mind often tends to follow thoughts instead of letting them go. It is as if we BECOME the leaf in the stream. Instead of enjoying the view of the leaf from the stream bank, we are caught amidst the swirl, pulled incessantly further from our place of embarkment. When these thoughts are our Inner Critic, the part of us that’s keen to find our every fault, we’re in for a world of hurt. Instead of merely thinking the thought “I’m a f@$%-up” when we err, we can get lost in that thought, and it becomes our reality. It is just as the Buddha said so many years ago:
We are what we think.
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world.1
Rare is the individual who doesn’t have an Inner Critic. But we don’t have to believe it, nor follow its lead. With mindfulness, we can recognize our negative, self-limiting thoughts, and let them go, just like the leaf. All it takes is awareness. “Oh, there’s a thought!” We don’t buy into it. We see it, and drop it in the stream.
We do the same in a formal sitting meditation practice, over and over again. As we do, it is like taking a piece of Scotch tape, sticking it to a desk, then pulling it off, repeating this process again and again. Over time, with training, our thoughts begin to lose their stickiness, just like that piece of tape. We develop self-control. Unhindered by our Inner Critic, we are able to turn our attention back to our task at hand. Not assenting to the deprecating thoughts it tells us, we achieve more than our Critic ever imagined. In this way, our self-controlled mind leads us to grit.
The Dhammapada. Translation by Thomas Byrom.