Curious about meditation but haven’t yet committed? I’ve committed to a daily meditation practice for the past 2 years and have noticed everything around me change, for the better. Although I continue to build my own practice, I have learned a lot along the way through much hard work and experience.
Learning to watch the stream flow
A common myth is that meditation is about making your mind blank and stopping all thoughts. Our mind is always flowing with thought, after thought, after thought. And at times with thoughts about thoughts! It feels like there is no end, which can make the thought (ha!) of not having any thoughts feel like an insurmountable mountain not worth even trying to climb.
The good news is that meditation is not about “not thinking”.
Think of the thoughts in our mind like the flow of water in a river. Forcefully trying to stop the flow of water (i.e. to “stop thinking”) would be like placing a really big rock in the river. And then another rock, and another until you have a barricade of rocks to slow down the flow of water. That barricade will only be temporary though, as the built up pressure from the flow of water being blocked will push over the rocks placed in its way, and the water will flow again.
Our thoughts are the same way, they are always flowing. Learning to meditate is not about trying to block the stream of water, instead it is about learning to lift yourself out of the stream, sit on the river bank and watch the stream go by without getting caught up with it.
A positive and priceless ROI
The endless benefits of a consistent meditation practice keep my commitment and passion strong for this in my life, which I feel grateful for. A bit of what I’ve experienced…
Just like my body needs exercise, so does my mind. And meditation is exercise for my mind. It feels challenging at times, but I still do it with the understanding that I am getting stronger and sharper thanks to the exercise. This is why I refer to meditation as a “practice”, just like you may practice a sport, a dance, an instrument or any other skill.
During meditation (i.e. exercise for my mind), there are various techniques I practice. In all of them, I learn to hold my attention on something specific over extended periods of time (e.g. 10 minutes). It may be my breath, a visual object (real or imaginary), a verbal saying (inside or outside voice) or anything else. It does not actually matter to me what is being used as the object of concentration during practice, as I know I’m getting fit every moment thanks to it.
The ability to concentrate on a singular activity for a long stretch of time is quickly becoming a valued skill in our super distracted culture. The endless notifications, emails, social media updates and messages are like mini pickpockets continually stealing our attention from us.
My meditation practice has been the foundational source of strength and conviction to combat these mini pickpockets. That’s why I’ve taken email off my phone (post), disconnect while away (post) and use Slack versus being used by Slack (post). All of this keeps me focused.
Let’s say someone says something to me that upsets me, and I react, with feelings of anger and anxiety that arise inside. Previously, I’d hold on to and be distracted by carrying these emotions for say 8 hours before calming down. Now I’ll hold onto them for maybe 6 hours thanks to my practice. Those are 2 extra hours I’ve gotten back for my peace of mind!
And with continued practice, those 8 hours will become 4 hours and then 2 hours, and then 20 minutes and then 2 minutes and maybe even 2 seconds. Thanks to a consistent practice, I have experienced a greater sense of calm and more patience at times when it matters most.
Taking the first steps
When I first took an interest in meditation two and half years ago, it was not through practice. I started by watching a few documentaries and reading books. At an intellectual level, I found it stimulating and my curiosity was peaked. However it was not until I started to practice (a few months later) that I really understood at an experiential level what this is all about.
If you’re reading this part of my post, congratulations, this means you’re able to stay focused and are now a candidate for meditation.