It's Easy Because I'm An Expert

A few months ago, an overweight, middle-aged woman approached me after a presentation I had just given on the topic of diet and disease. She said to me, with a hint of disdain, that she thinks the reason I can eat “this way” is because I am an expert. And as an expert, this way of eating must come easy for me.

Before I tell you how I responded, I want to make clear that although I have been following a Whole Foodie diet for over a decade now, I don’t think of myself as an expert. And even if someone convinced me that I was in fact an expert, I am not sure at what point that occurred or what I had done to make that leap from beginner to expert.

Which brings me to an interesting question. Is expert status attained simply after a certain period of time doing something the same way? Would that woman have considered herself an expert in the Standard American Diet simply because she had eaten that way for 40-plus years?

To answer that question, let’s quickly look at something I think has some remarkable parallels here: meditation. I have been meditating regularly for nearly half a decade, but I feel far from an expert. In fact, I still feel like a beginner. There are some days that I can go 24 hours without having a single present thought. On those days, even as I sleep my thoughts can be racing with things I forgot to do, things I don’t want to forget to do, or just dreaming of random things in the future!

So what do I have to do to become an expert? When will I be an expert in meditation? I am not quite sure. And then what does an expert meditator even feel like? Well, since I am not one, or at least I don’t think of myself as one, I don’t really know. What I do know is that I am committed to meditating everyday if at all possible even if I can only squeeze in a few minutes. And while I am meditating I am committed to trying to focus my attention on my breath and nowhere else. Of course, when (not if) my mind wanders, I am committed to gently (without judgment) bringing my attention back to my breath just as soon as I notice. That’s it, no more, no less. I have made that commitment to myself and plan to keep it forever. Why? Because it makes me feel better. The key for me is that I have committed not to having a mind that is always present but instead to making the effort everyday to try to have a mind that is present and do whatever it takes to try to support that, including a daily meditation practice.

Are you beginning to see the parallels to diet here? When I compare how I try to live/think (being present as much as possible) to how I try to eat (eating whole plant foods as much as possible), I realize that these areas are really two sides of the same coin. I am committed to eating whole plant foods everyday even if I can only squeeze in a few. Of course, when my diet wanders (which it definitely does despite my “expert” status), I am committed to gently (without judgment) bringing my diet back to whole plant foods just as soon as I notice. That’s it. No more, no less. I have made that commitment to myself and plan to keep it forever. Why? Because it makes me feel better.

When it comes to meditation, something seemingly so simple, I still feel like I am not “good” at it. But then I catch myself. I remember from the many books I have read and the many tapes I have heard that this thought process is exactly the type of thinking that gets us “beginners” into trouble. It’s not about being good or bad, it’s about your never-ending commitment to always keep trying. Once at peace with this lifelong commitment, I believe that is the point expert status is achieved.

I don’t think being an expert is as much about being able to do something special as it is about being able to continue on a path no matter what obstacles are in the way. And as soon as you notice yourself wandering off the path of your commitment you try to return as quickly as possible, without judgment. How frequently someone wanders off, how quickly someone identifies obstacles, how easily someone navigates around them, or how effortlessly someone returns to the path does not really determine expert status. The quicker you can right yourself here may help identify when you finally realize you are an expert but not when you actually became one.

Energized after completing my presentation for a few hundred people, I looked back at that woman and repeated a favorite quote from Pablo Picasso, “Action is the foundational key to all successes.” I went on to explain that she could be an expert in eating “this way” tonight if she wanted. It may take her a couple of years to realize she is an expert or “prove” her expertise to others, but she is an expert just as soon as she decides to get on this path. She would be an expert once she made the commitment that if she ever wandered off, she would always return to this path as quickly and gently as possible.

It was then that it also became clear that I will be an expert meditator, not when something changes in my daily meditation practice, but when I realize that as long as I continue to take action, coming back to my meditation practice day in and day out, I already am one. And the same is true with being a Whole Foodie “expert”: I have already made that commitment…the question is will you join me?

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