When I was 13 years old, I learned to play blues riffs on the guitar. I practiced for hours until the patterns were ingrained into my fingers and I could play them effortlessly.
But now, after decades of playing those same riffs, I’m unconsciously competent. I can play them in my sleep. And that’s the problem.
When I sit down, forty years later, to learn new riffs—it’s really tough. My fingers don’t easily cooperate. They automatically return those well-grooved patterns of notes.
That’s the problem with success.
I succeeded in establishing super-fast neural pathways that operate without conscious involvement. They produce blues riffs – which is wonderful, as long as the band keeps playing the blues.
But when the music changes, it’s really, really hard for me to shift. My fingers keep “wanting” to return to those ingrained patterns. My well-grooved guitar habits get in the way of playing beautiful music.
It’s the same with any repeated pattern of thought, speech, or action.
Maybe you don’t play the guitar, but you’re playing an even more amazing instrument: your body/mind. And you’ve mastered a pattern of mental, emotional, and physical riffs that are characteristic of . . . you.
You play the riffs-of-you effortlessly. After all, you starting practicing these patterns from your first breath.
They’re your karmic success habits. Because they worked . . . in the past. And now they run on auto-pilot, which works well—until it doesn’t.
Typically, the wake-up call comes as a shock.
It jars you. Shakes you up. Whether it’s a:
- Conversation with a loved one turns sour.
- Project you poured your heart into that falls flat.
- Way of being in your life that starts to feel empty.
You don’t plan on the wake-up call.
The music of life around you changes and your tried and true riffs no longer work. Your whole system reacts . . . and emotions surge through your body, thoughts race through your mind.
I’ve asked thousands of people what kind of emotions they experience when their well-developed patterns of success no longer serve them.
Here are a few:
These emotions trigger thoughts like:
- “This isn’t fair.”
- “She/he shouldn’t expect me to change.”
- “Why are they doing this to me?”
- “What’s wrong with him/her?”
- “What’s wrong with me?”
- “I can’t believe this is happening.”
When these kinds of thoughts and emotions are swirling around, it’s hard to learn. It’s hard to focus when you’re in shock and your sense of self, your certainty about the world, are unsteady.
Yet, this unsteadiness is a spiritual opportunity.
The shock of the wake-up call creates a gap.
Right before the emotions arise and the thoughts kick in . . . there’s a pause in the patterns. For a second, the patterns are released and your consciousness is free.
In this second of freedom—your life can transform. If —and it’s a profound if—you can rest in that gap. If you can remain present when the patterns-of-you let go. This is what meditation practice develops.
Meditation practice develops the capacity to remain present as patterns of thought, speech, and action . . . release.
Through meditation practice, you cultivate intimacy with the gap; that state of being where all the patterns of the past dissolve away.
You realize a fundamentally new self—one that is not composed of patterns.
Resting in this non-patterned self—allows patterns to re-organize. More quickly, elegantly, and intelligently than could ever occur through efforts at self-improvement.
It’s a paradox: the best way to develop new patterns is to learn how to reside in the place of no-patterns. Meditation practice embodies this paradox.
Meditation is something you do—that undoes you.
It’s a practice that liberates you from patterns and thus – here comes the paradox – you embody the patterns that are best suited to the changing music of your life.
Where are wake-up calls ringing in your life?
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Bryonie Wise