Stress Hack : Meditation — You’re Likely Doing It Wrong.
My 6 year battle with meditation and why I’m giving up.
I am pretty certain everyone today “meditates”, or wants to, because they think they should. No one really knows what the hell they’re supposed to be doing.
I’m writing this with the hope that I may save you the 20 minutes you spend every morning stumbling your way through what you think may be meditating. As you may find, like I did, that it is just not worth your time.
Now, naturally, it is hard to ignore. You can hear it everywhere, in conversations, in every article, in social discussions, wherever you look. Meditation. There is a new “expert” preaching his heart out around every corner (whatever the qualifications for that role are).
It is new thing — and the bandwagon is bursting at the seams.
But for me it isn’t some new thing, I have meditated regularly for the past 6 years. Which has meant a formal practice of sitting down in a quiet space and primarily focusing on my breath. I would have sat down 1,000+ times for 300+ hours over these years.
Even recording an unbroken streak of nearly 200 days (6+ months) late last year.
Today I strongly question my decision in doing this.
I ventured down the path of meditation to train myself to become calmer, elevate focus, awareness, and most importantly, become better at responding to stressful situations in life and work.
But with no guidance, and with little knowledge of what the practice should really look like, I did what I thought was right and steered as I kept driving.
It is not as if I didn’t reach out to learn how to effectively meditate from those preaching about its numerous benefits. I did what the books said, what the experienced meditators told me, what the zen guy in my headphones guided me to do, and what well-known “experts” imparted upon me. Everything short of going on a secluded retreat.
Focus on your breath.
Listen to the world around you.
Bring yourself to the present moment.
And at minimum, do so in a quiet place for 20 minutes every morning.
This way you train that ability when faced with the real world, in those situations when…
- You are being grilled in a tough meeting
- Your relationship is in the shits.
- You get a gnawing urge towards submitting to your vice.
- You are about to take the last kick of a grand final in a season decider.
- You face reoccurring negatively spiralling thoughts.
In all of those moments, this skill is supposed to be your kryptonite. And I thought that the practice within itself was the answer.
But over these 6 years can I say I am better at tackling all of the above?
Yes, definitely. But a few months ago I would have, without hesitation, pointed towards meditation as being the main driver.
Which it is not.
Is A Gateway
It is not the solution.
As a gateway towards this road of self development, towards living more aware — the formal practice of meditation is undoubtably a wonderful step.
Anyone that gets reeled in by the hype and starts the daily practice must be congratulated on taking a step in a highly positive direction. In this increasingly fast-paced world, training this aspect of mind is gradually rising towards claiming one of the highest rungs on our priority ladder.
But really that is where I feel it should stop. As a gateway. Because going too much further is likely a waste of time.
Let me explain.
As experts like to talk about meditation in metaphors, “blue skies”, “being an observer on a high-way” and various other analogies. I’ll unpack my point of view using the metaphor that is most commonly used…
Which is — comparing meditation with the gym.
Some of the largest businesses in this space promote meditation as analogous to working out and strength training. “Meditation is a gym membership for your mind” or some variation of that.
Yet, we all know,
The majority of those that go to the gym daily are not much stronger, physically or aesthetically better, or fitter than when they first walked in. It is only those that create a lifestyle around their health and fitness, where gym plays an important role — are the ones that see a difference.
Gymming everyday doesn’t equal fitter, healthier, leaner, and/or stronger.
So meditation, by which I mean the sitting down for 20 minutes-type practice as its analogue, may be our journey on a fools errand? Thinking we’re doing something profound when we are most likely just sitting there. Made more difficult by the fact the outcome is surrounded by so much haze, mystique, and little clarity on where you’re heading.
Just like the 5 reps on the bench press. Gym is a gateway for a healthier and fitter existence.
So is your “take 10” meditation.
If you thoroughly clean your clothes every morning then go out and play in the mud all day. It really defeats the purpose of doing that cleaning in the first place.
I have started to feel that my meditation is this. I train the ideal state of mind in the morning, then throw caution to the wind thereafter.
Even though the time I spend in the morning tapers the chaos somewhat — it is a matter of time where I am back on the rollercoaster, and the practice itself has lead to little everlasting change.
I realised this while sitting infuriated and unable to control my impulsive reactions when a tough situation took place, precisely what I had trained for many years. And hence it set me on this introspective journey.
So, let me just say it straight up...
Meditating, is a waste of time. Unless it is a commitment. A lifestyle. Not just a practice. And only if it is clear. Only if the outcome is palpable.
The practice means little on its own, it is what you do outside of the practice that leads to change.
So this means I have started to take time-outs every hour.
At these moments I’ll “be inside me” — I’ll be in my body.
In clear, simple, terms, I bring my attention to sensations in a part of my body (typically my hands or back of my shoulders) that I can feel, even for a period of 5 seconds. Because, in the real world when shit goes down, having my attention inside my body, feeling sensations within, instead of connecting with those spiralling negative thoughts in my head is my solace.
So does it not make sense to train precisely that?
The more times in a day I become aware sensations within my body. The more momentum it will build, and the more likely it will become my automatic state.
And to allow no room for misinterpretation — there are no esoteric metaphors and mystical explanations required. Because, well, I know what being in my body feels like, I know when I’m more in my body and when I’m not. And hence I’m my own umpire.
Nothing revolutionary, nothing new. But it has made my training dead simple.
The practice couldn’t be any clearer. Nor could it be more aligned towards what I am looking to get out of it.
Training the “muscle” that needs training.
Then to really make it a commitment, like healthy eating must accompany our counterpart — gym, I must then also feed my mind right. Which means I judge people less. Make it a point to complain less. Say negative things less often.
Because if you clean yourself every so often after you spend a little time in the mud. You will generally be clean.
I don’t know if this will be the answer, but I suspect it will. Because for months my attention automatically goes within when pressure mounts.
And of course, when I do engage in the formal practice in the mornings (which isn’t as necessary), it is that much more powerful. It becomes a supercharge for that state that I am already regularly tapping into throughout the day.
Maybe it was the 6 years of training that lead to this.
However I do wish someone had written this letter for me 6 years earlier, so I could have understood this better.
If I was starting out, I would have trained being more in my body before ever engaging in the formal practice. Which, ideally, would have been the more effective plan of attack.
But hindsight is a wonderful thing. And who knows if meditation didn’t open the gates, if I would have ever made my way here at all.
So let me end this here by saying these are simply the ramblings of one poor meditator. Any conclusions I’ve arrived upon could likely be the result of me being a “bad meditator”. Where I just don’t get “IT”.
Maybe I am just unable to figure out exactly what I am supposed to be striving towards in this formal practice. Others may likely have.
Maybe one day I’ll get that tap on my shoulder.
But, what I do know for sure is that the wisest thing one can do is take his own advice. So even if no one else does, now that I have put this out there, I have no choice but to stand by it.
P.S. For part 2 and other simplification-hacks, I request you to click here and join to receive my letters with 3,000+ others. If you rather miss out. As second best, join me on Facebook below.
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