I’d like to offer you a meditation (if you read and visualize) or an actual exercise that you can do if it’s sunny outside. Imagine that you’re walking down the sidewalk (or a trail) with the sun right behind you. As you walk, you’ll be able to see your shadow right in front of you. In a manner of speaking, you are following it—it beats you to every step. This is a curious phenomenon. Try it when you have a chance. And as you do this, meditate on the following: this shadow is a metaphor of your programming, a representation of your past. You are constantly projecting your vision of what should be onto what is. Your software, like your shadow when the sun’s at your back, is leading rather than following you. All of us have the experience of not wanting to say something and then saying it, not wanting to react a certain way but then reacting that way. Our reflexes, our programming, our past gets ahead of our present. As our past becomes our future, we keep repeating the same old patterns, eventually feeling out of control, by-passed by our rituals, witnessing our reactivity represent the worst in us.
Now imagine (or do, if possible) walking with the sun not right behind you but to your side. Now the shadow is shorter: while your programming reflexes still get ahead of you, the actual you reaches the moment of your destination just soon enough to perhaps do some damage control. With the sun to your side and the shadow only slightly ahead of you, perhaps you can apologize soon enough after you snap so that people around you sense that you’re almost self-aware enough to coexist with. With the stride of your consciousness almost as long as the short shadow of your past ahead of you, you are stepping on fewer toes and kicking fewer brown bags with bricks inside.
Now imagine walking towards the sun. The sun is right ahead of you. It’s blinding in its clarity. You can barely see ahead of you. There is no shadow ahead of you—there is no programming of the past to lead you forward. So you slow down. You stop. You emerge from sleepwalking. And every step you make from that point on is by conscious choice, illuminated by the light of self-awareness within you, by the luminosity of mindfulness, by the inner clarity of presence. Try this walking meditation in your mind or outdoors some time (when the sun cooperates) to get ahead of the shadow of your programming.
Excerpt from Pavel Somov's “Present Perfect: a Mindfulness Approach to Letting Go of Perfectionism and the Need to Control" (New Harbinger, July 2010)