Learning to love your inner toddler
I’ve had several questions this week about a phenomenon that is pretty common for people who are learning to meditate: wanting to get up.
The situation is that you’re sitting, and the meditation is going however it’s going, and time goes by, and at some point you start to feel like you just can’t sit any longer. Not in a theoretical, intellectual way. More like you are starting to twitch, and you just know that if you don’t move RIGHT NOW you’re going to explode.
Good news: this is a sign of progress. It’s also a threshold you have to cross to go farther. What’s going on here is that you’re discovering a truth about the mind: it isn’t one thing. The way you’re discovering it is that when you sat down to meditate, you really thought that “you” were sitting down to meditate. But really, some part of you was sitting down to meditate, and other parts of you either didn’t notice, or didn’t care.
But now they do. They’re DONE with this bloody sitting down. They want to get up and DO something. So, should you give up? Was this whole meditation thing a bad idea? It’s an interesting time to ponder that question. Probably you will conclude that it isn’t a bad idea. So why is there a part of you that’s not on board with it?
There’s a tendency to imagine that behind my eyes somewhere there is a little person operating the controls. That person decides what “me” is going to do. That person sort of is me: the part of me that’s mental and not physical.
This model of how the mind works is great until you realize that inside of that little person is… what? Another little person? No. Really the mind is more like a little society, with lots of little people running around with different ideas, and what you experience as “what I think” is the consensus that arises out of that.
So the feeling of wanting to get up is that truth coming out. Yes, there was agreement to sit down when you sat down. But now that things are quiet, the other parts of the mind are starting to wonder if sitting down is really great, and so now there’s an argument going on inside of you between the parts that still want to sit and the parts that want to do something else.
Having explained it this way, the advice that I give people when they get to this stage is simply to recognize the parts that are impatient as your inner toddler. The toddler wants what it wants, but it also responds well to love and a sense of humor (sometimes). So instead of getting up, maybe just notice the inner toddler and smile, and send it some love.
Of course, it will keep squirming. It’s a toddler. But toddlers grow up, and the way they grow up is through this process: allowing the toddler to be a toddler, loving it, but still doing what has to be done. What worked for me during this period was to set a timer for about five minutes longer than the inner toddler could stand, and then just sit there loving it to pieces for those five minutes.
The reward of having managed to stay sitting through the resistance is really something. And what’s great about it it is that after a while the inner toddler gets on board, and it’s just no longer a problem to sit. But you have to sit through this—if you give in to the inner toddler, you’ll keep dealing with this potentially forever.