I got a WhatsApp message from Femi asking to meet to speak with me about something he said had been bothering him for a while. I immediately replied, setting up dinner the next day at one of our favourite haunts. That the double tick indicating the message had been delivered turned blue as soon as I hit send, showed me Femi was anxiously awaiting my reply. What could it be so pressing on homeboy’s mind I thought to myself?
The next day I meet Femi for dinner, the first thing he says to me is Marcus I’m experiencing an existential crisis. Don’t worry I know the Heimlich manoeuvre, I can help you dislodge the dictionary you have stuck in your throat I joked. I’m constantly worried about my future, worried about not fulfilling my potential he said, ignoring my attempt to calm him down with humour.
Now a bit of background. Femi is a very successful thirty-something year old, married for ten years to an amazing woman with whom he has four beautiful kids. Femi is a highly driven type A personality who’s only as good as his last achievement, in short, he’s a perfectionist. However, always being in service to your need to be perfect can have its dark side. For Femi, and unbeknownst to a lot of his social circle, this has expressed itself as years of continuous therapy and medication.
How is any of this news Femi? I asked. You’ve been talking to your therapist about these issues for quite a while now. This time I’m taking a different approach he replied. I want to swap medication for meditation and I know that’s your thing he said. I was quite surprised. I’d been trying unsuccessfully to get Femi to join me on the meditation cushion for years. Meditation simply means paying focused attention to a particular object in a specific way.
The object could be your breath, body sensations, particularities of your prayer ritual, etc. It trains mental attention so you can by choice disengage from negative habits of thinking and decide where to focus your attention. The technique I recommended to Femi is based on Meta-awareness which literally means awareness of awareness. Here the goal is to observe the movements of your mind as a neutral third party and not a participant caught up in the maelstrom of whatever emotion you might be experiencing in the moment.
Meta-awareness is something we’ve all experienced at one time or another. Think of it this way, do you remember a time when you were extremely upset about something your significant other said to you and wanted to react instantly? But then your rational mind made the judgement he/she didn’t really mean what he/she said and was just caught up in the moment? That judgement call is possible because of Meta-awareness. The more you practise the better you become at it.
This technique is perfectly summed up in a quote I came across a while back. “That which is aware of fear is not in itself fearful and that which is aware of anger is not in itself angry”. It has been several months now since Femi began meditating, whilst it’s not a panacea, he has made significant progress in curtailing his rumination about the future.
We can all learn from Femi’s meditation journey. I purposely use the word journey because meditation is not a quick fix. It’s a marathon rather than a sprint. So put your running shoes on and let’s hit the road.