Around here at Preinclined, we talk a lot about how it’s important to take care of yourself today, even while doing your best for your future. One of the ways that I’ve found most effective to do so day-to-day is by meditating.
As you’ve probably experienced, meditation is one of those things that lots of people talk about and regard as important. When I first heard about it in my teens, it was already hyped up to be a panacea for our modern day ills. Predictably, I was skeptical since it was so hyped.
That said, I was curious enough to try, and remember looking at these Web 1.0 sites/blogs that described how to do it. Most of the literature talked about focusing on the breath and trying to keep the mind clear of thoughts. I couldn’t do it then, no matter what I tried. As such, it was unrewarding for me and I promptly dropped the practice (if I could even call it one!).
Years later, sometime in 2018, I came across the Super Mind book while browsing an online library. I became fascinated by the brain wave activity charts in the introduction. I was still unconvinced, but why not give it a shot, just to experience what it might be like?
Learning to meditate
The books don’t actually tell you how to meditate, so I ended up signing up for a course to learn from a certified instructor.
It sounded complicated when I started, but it turned out to be straightforward once I got the hang of it. What I liked about the Transcendental Meditation (TM) method is that it simplifies meditation to repeating a mantra (which the instructor gives to you). Having that going on over and over in your mind forms a focal point. It overpowers other thoughts in your mind, and makes it easy to come back to if your thoughts do drift.
It was definitely hard to do it at first though. They structure the lessons so they span the course of a week, and you gradually practice it until you get it, like working a muscle. The time of day also makes a difference, and there are some other conditions that make it harder to do, such as meditating on a full stomach or doing it lying down.
Hardest parts to learn
Ironically, one of the most distracting things for me was my breathing. Every other meditation app or site I’d previously experienced told me to “focus on the breath, in and out.” The TM instructor told me to ignore the breathing and focus on the mantra. It’s harder than I thought — you’re in a quiet place, and the sound you’re making in your head and the sound of your breathing echoing through your head are competing. Sometimes the speed of your reciting and your breathing are completely out of sync.
There are also times when you have sessions when you try your absolute best but end up having an endless stream of thoughts. Sometimes you recall some significant event from 10 years ago randomly, or think about the task you want to get to next. I often recall things I intended to do, but forgot to, during my meditation sessions — which is annoying, because you have to drop that thought and soldier on!
The good thing about having direct instruction is that you can ask questions about contingencies. “What happens if I get interrupted?” or “Can I do just 10 minutes if I’m in a rush?” and so forth. Having a structure to the learning process did help, as does paying for it — it creates a commitment device and makes you motivated to complete and practice it.
Benefits of meditating
My favorite benefit from meditating is that it helps my mind feel clear and focused. On days that I don’t meditate now, I almost feel like my brain is swimming around in a fog (although is that a placebo effect? I don’t know for sure!).
Starting the day meditating is also a great routine to set the tone for the day. It helps me feel calm and in control, so I can be sure what I need to focus on for the rest of the day to make it most worthwhile.
During other critical moments, my regular meditation practice has conditioned me to slow down and think. I don’t try to rush into any conclusions and just suspend (dis)belief for a moment and ponder it. This, of course, helps me to actively procrastinate for a better outcome — having the right frame of mind to pause and reflect is the key.
There are also countless times I’ve gotten divergent ideas while meditating, both life-changing and completely mundane. Equally, I’ve solved many problems subconsciously while meditating, and got around to executing the solution once I’m out of the session.
Another thing that meditation has done is help me appreciate my tea routine more (more on this in another post!). Making tea is also meditative and mindful in its own way, from concentrating on how your actions feel to how the tea smells and tastes.
Abstracting meditation lessons
When I abstract my learnings from meditation, I find that the most important tenet is: Focus on what you’re doing, not how you feel about what you’re doing. There are inevitably times that we let our feelings or self-doubt cloud what we’re doing, and remembering to focus on just doing it makes all the difference.
Meditation is time-consuming. The time adds up if you do it daily, especially if you do it twice a day as recommended. However, I think that the benefits that I’ve received from it far outweigh the time I’ve spent. It’s investing time in yourself for long-term gains.
Lastly, these returns compound over time. When I think about the state of my emotional stability and breadth of ideas before I started meditating, and compare it to where I am now, I can see that I’m leaps and bounds ahead.
Create the right conditions for yourself to meditate
If you want to try meditating too, my best advice is to commit to it. You must commit and do it, even on days that you don’t feel like it. You must make the time on days that you are busy. You must complete your session even if you feel like it’s not going well and you’re distracted.
One way that could help is to add it to your habit tracker. You’ll start a habit streak that hopefully you won’t want to break! Additionally, scheduling it into your calendar could help, especially as a recurring task that you can check off.
Find or create a comfortable spot you will enjoy going to every day to meditate. I place a big, comfy throw on my couch and drape it over myself when I start meditating. It conditions you to get into that frame of mind, and makes it rewarding for you, since it feels pleasant.
Lastly, observe how you feel throughout the day after you start meditating. Some of the people who started my meditation class with me back then reported better relationships with their partners because they were less anxious (and snappy) almost immediately. Notice how you change over time, and rejoice in the progress you’ve made!