My Meditation Practice
Dan Harris sold me on mediation with his book 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works–A True Story. I summarized Dan’s book here. On February 16, 2017, after a few weeks of reading about meditation, I started meditating regularly. As of this post, I have meditated daily for over 50 days straight. I currently meditate with guided meditations. I started with an iPhone app called Headspace and then I switched to the 10% Happier app. Both are great, but I found the discussion videos and variety of meditations in the 10% Happier app more appealing and useful for my practice. I meditate for 20 minutes in the morning and periodikcally throughout the day as I recognize that I’m lost in my thoughts. Even a focus on a few breaths can bring me back into the moment. I have also been listening to the 10% Happier podcast for about an hour per day during my work commute.
I still do stupid stuff and let emotions get the better of me. However, I’m really starting to see a difference in how I perceive my thoughts and the world around me. So far, I have personally noticed four benefits of meditation. Meditation has:
- Increased the space after stimulus so that I can respond more often than react;
- Decreased the time it takes me to realize that I have thought, done, or said something stupid;
- Decreased my stress level;
- Increased moments of random joy.
I don’t yet (or maybe I do now) actively evangelize meditation. However, if asked, I would certainly recommend it to loved ones, acquaintances, and strangers alike.
Ten Meditation Myths
In the past couple of months I have learned a lot about meditation. There are many myths. Here are ten that I know to be myths through my personal experience. I also think that the corresponding ten truths are ten great reasons to start meditating today.
Myth #1: Meditation has to be Religious or Spiritual
Meditation does not need to be part of a religious or spiritual practice. Meditation started over 2,500 years ago with the teachings of Gautama Buddha who did not intend for his teachings to become a religion. The Buddha taught meditation as a way to decrease the inherent suffering in life and told his followers to not take anything on faith, but to find out for themselves. The practice of meditation in Western cultures has been secularized as it has migrated from Eastern cultures, largely over the past century.
In 1979, Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D, an MIT molecular biologist, secularized a form of Buddhist mindfulness teachings into a scientific based program called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). Over the past 37 years the secular meditation movement has hit a tipping point. According to Google Trends the interest in the search term “meditation” has nearly doubled since 2008.
Nearly 18 million [U.S.] adults and 927,000 [U.S.] children practiced meditation. – National Institutes of Health, 2012 survey
Meditation is now very mainstream and scientifically proven to be beneficial for all people regardless of religion or spiritual beliefs. The foundation of mindfulness meditation is just a focus on the breath and does not involve any religious practices. The MBSR Program still lives on at the University of Massachusetts Medical School Center for Mindfulness as well as many other medical institutions, public companies, and private organizations. Millions of people across many religions meditate. The below video is a short (3 minutes) introduction to some of the scientific research behind meditation.
Myth #2: Meditation is Weird
Meditation is not weird at all. It is just exercise for the mind. Humor me and turn your attention to your breath. Maybe you notice it at your nose, or in your belly or chest. With your inner voice say “in” as you inhale and “out” as you exhale. Do this a few times. You can close your eyes or keep them open. Try that now.
You just meditated. It is as simple as that. No weirdness. You just focused on your breath, something you have done since birth. There are no requirements for chants, candles, incense, or images of deities. No specific religious or spiritual beliefs are necessary.
You may not have even noticed, but all of your other thoughts probably stopped for those few seconds you were focused on “in…out…in…out…in…out.” That is the practice of meditation. It is just a focus that brings our awareness into the current moment and temporarily quiets the mind. Every time we notice that our mind has drifted and we bring our attention to our breath we have exercised the mind.
Myth #3: Meditation is for People with Problems
Meditation is not just for people with “problems” such as overwhelming stress or depression. Meditation is beneficial for all people. We all have some amount of stress. Stress is inherent in life. In addition to reducing stress, meditation trains us to be more mindful. There is a space between the stimulus of the external world, or even our thoughts, and our choice to react or respond. Meditation trains us to make better choices during that space. If we react we are allowing the stimulus, internal or external, to control us. If we respond, we maintain a higher level of control and ultimately make better, more mindful choices. Meditation is beneficial for everyone, even kids.
Myth #4: Meditation isn’t for Restless People
Meditation can be particularly helpful for a restless person. The practice of meditation helps us reduce the restlessness. Meditation helps me when I’m having trouble sleeping or even when I’m extra wound up about something during the day. It calms my mind, relaxes me, and helps me make better choices.
Myth #5: Meditation Takes Too Much Time
Meditation does not take too much time. As demonstrated in Myth #2, we can meditate in as little as 10 to 15 seconds. A meditation session of a few minutes may be more productive than 10 to 15 seconds. However, more meditation is not always more productive. Each person needs to find the right amount of meditation for their current life circumstances. Right now, I find that 20 minutes each morning is working well for me. I would like to increase my meditation practice. However, finding more than 20 minutes each morning would be challenging for me. I plan to eventually increase my total duration of meditation through an additional sitting in the evening.
Myth #6: Meditation is Too Difficult
Meditation is actually very simple. As demonstrated above, meditation can be as simple as focusing on inhaling and exhaling. There are other meditation techniques, not focused on the breath, that are just as simple. We can also focus on the sensations of sitting, walking, or just about any other activity. We can focus on the transient nature of our thoughts, or the passing sensations of our senses such as feeling, hearing, smelling, tasting, or seeing. Many different, but simple, experiences can concentrate our focus into the current moment.
Myth #7: Meditation Requires a Quiet Mind
Meditation does not require a quiet mind. Actually, the very process of recognizing that our mind has drifted to the past or future and then re-focusing into the current moment is meditation. We all have an inner voice that often distracts us with negative self-talk or negative thoughts about others. Training the mind to recognize those mental patterns and allowing them to pass without causing us to react to them is meditation. In essence, we use the mental chatter to exercise our ability to re-focus. Each time we do that our mind control increases.
Myth #8: Meditation Requires Special Training
Meditation does not require any special training. If you followed the instructions I gave you in Myth #2, you meditated. I’m not a meditation teacher, but it is simple enough that it doesn’t require any special training to begin. If you want to learn more advanced meditation or have a better understanding of your meditation experiences, then some guidance from an experienced meditation teacher is helpful. However, meditation is now so mainstream that you can find reputable and free meditation resources online.
Myth #9: Meditation Requires Special Poses
Meditation does not require that we sit in any special way or do yoga. Meditation can be done while walking, sitting in a chair, lying down. It doesn’t really matter. The process of mediation is really all mental. I normally meditate while sitting in a chair. However, I have also started meditating while doing all sorts of other activities during the day. When I notice that my mind chatter has started up I often take a few moments to focus on my breath or the sensations of walking for example. If I’m having trouble getting to sleep, I’ll meditate while lying down. Once my inner voice becomes quiet then I fall asleep.
Myth #10: Meditation Won’t Help Me During My Day
Actually, the purpose of meditation is to help us navigate our days more gracefully. Think of meditation like going to the gym. Most people who exercise only do so for a small portion of their day. However, they reap the benefits of exercise during the rest of their daily life. They are physically more healthy. Meditation is exercise for your mind. While you may only meditate for a small portion of your day, it benefits your life more generally as well. Meditation makes your mind more healthy.
Bonus Reason to Meditate
We experience life through our brain.We experience all of life through our brain. Our brain is how we process emotions, sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and tactile sensations. Our brain is the control center for all of the processes and systems within our body. Our entire life is driven by how our brain experiences the world around us and the world within us. Given how important our mind is, why wouldn’t we choose to exercise the brain in a more intentional way?
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