If I can, so can you, and it is worth it.
In a previous post I talked about attaining a level of inner peace that provides for the room in our lives to reflect and respond to life, as it comes at us, in a calm, calculated and forgiving way. A significant pillar that provided the foundation for making slow and positive change towards this way of being, for me, was meditation. I would like to write about how I began to explore this as a possibility and some of the nascent steps I took and how they grew into a strong practice that will serve me the rest of my days.
If you would have asked me three years ago about meditation I likely would have responded with “that sounds great but its not for me.” After the turbulent times I was experiencing then I needed to consider alternative ways of thinking about what I was up to. After reading many articles, posts, positive thinking texts, etc. I decided that giving mediation a try was worth the investment. “What the hell?” I thought. Can I give up a few minutes a day to test out whether or not this age-old practice might help me be a better person? Might it help me interact with my world in a new way? Might it help me relate to friends, family and loved ones around me in ways that I aspire to? These were all unanswered questions for me and ones that I wanted to pursue and knew that it was important for me to answer in the affirmative. So now that I decided, I would try building a meditation practice. Where do I start?
Did I have any experience with meditation? No. I have played with visualization from a sports perspective before, but nothing that really felt like or looked like a legitimate practice or commitment. As I contemplated next steps to get started my inner geek decided to see if there was an app for that. Low and behold I stumbled on to Headspace. A simple app that provided for guided meditation. Guided sounded like it was the right approach for me. I knew nothing so a guided approach seemed like the right fit. I was all set. I had a personal decision made. I had personal commitment. I had a tool that would help me get started. Off I went. Just a few minutes a day was where I started.
An important idea to note was where my expectations were at this point. Did I believe that after a week I was going to see results? No, I did not. From what I read, understood and believed about the process and the fact this was a practice, results would come over time. I knew that putting pressure on my self to see specific results would be counterproductive. I rolled the dice and believed that by simply building the habit muscle, the diligence and the process, results would manifest in ways that would be beneficial. I just had no idea what that would look like and I was excited to see what was around the corner.
The app was a key ingredient for building the practice. I have Andy Puddicombe to thank for where I am in my life. Andy created Headspace and I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to thank him personally after seeing him speak at SXSW in 2016 in Austin, TX. Having the app as a partner I was able to build up from just a few minutes a day to anywhere between 15–20 minutes daily depending on my morning schedule. With the app keeping track of my daily meditation sessions and having the ability to invite friends along for the journey, it was easy to build support and share in the experience and the journey. As I reached milestones of 30 days straight and then 60 days straight I put my sights on six months and then a year. Interestingly it never became a chore. I began to recognize benefits from the effort and realized that I was able to quietly (in my mind) just “be” in many areas of my life. Achieving the milestone of one year of mediation, every day was significant for me. It was a proof point for me that I could deliver on a commitment to myself and myself only and also that a deeply engrained habit was built. A habit that will endure the test of time, the realities of life and it’s attendant ups and downs.
If I were to reflect back on a key input or moment where I realized that something had changed, I believe I can point to one thing. As part of the Headspace meditation journey there are occasional video shorts that help to illustrate key concepts. There is one that I believe provided for a watershed moment in terms of how I interacted with my own mind. In this animated video short the idea of thoughts is explored.
Thoughts are ubiquitous. They are always there. Even in meditation the goal is to quiet the mind, but thoughts are always there and interrupting. Making it ok is the key, recognizing it and refocusing attention is a key step in the process. Thoughts are the ultimate renewable resource. When one is gone another is there to take its place. Some thoughts are good, some are great and some are fucking horrible. What to do? Keep in mind that I mentioned that thoughts are a renewable resource. This is key.
Back to the animated video. The concept discussed in the short is that we become an observer of thoughts and not a participant with thoughts. A radical concept. Some of the internal dialogue when considering this idea might be: The thoughts I am having are mine. I own them, right? I can interact with them as I please. Don’t tell me what to do with my thoughts! Yeah, well how is that working out for you? To date it was not working for shit for me.
As it turns out, we humans have options when it comes to our thoughts. We can observe them or interact with them. The analogy is that of a crowded five lane high-speed highway. Cars and Trucks are your thoughts on this super-highway of the mind. They are coming down the road in all shapes and sizes at all rates of speed. They are different makes, different models and different amounts of horsepower. To interact with them is to be on the road trying to direct traffic and tell them what direction to go and when to stop, start or whatever. Sounds horrible, right? It sounds stressful and subject to all kinds of craziness.
To observe them is to sit on the side of the road peacefully in the grass and watch them. As they enter view from the left, you simply recognize that a thought is there. Watch it for a while, and identify it, note its speed, its color, its style, etc and then watch leave it leave your view to the right. Voila! It’s gone. It came and it went. Remember above where I mentioned that thoughts are a renewable resource? Guess what? Look to the left and another thought is there. A different make and model is on the way and it might be supercharged. How exciting! Not only that, there are several lanes on this highway of yours and there are many thoughts coming in from the left and leaving to the right. Trying to manage them all sounds exhausting right? Observing them was the way to go for me.
I knew this was the better way and I adopted this alternate approach to relating to my mind and my thoughts. This was the golden moment and the take away that made the biggest impact. This new approach to interacting with my own mind was an epiphany and provided the space for me to change my relationship with many parts of my world that have helped to eliminate stress, open up ways of thinking, allow for new opportunities to be recognized, etc.
Surprise! Seeing what was around the corner was here. New ways of being were manifesting themselves in my life in ways that I had not planned for nor expected. I have always believed in a certain notion from my early twenties. The idea that if you walk in to a dark room (an unknown situation) not knowing what to expect but believing and trusting that there is always something to learn from any new experience that you will exit that dark room, in due time, having learned something new and becoming a better or improved person in some way, shape or form. Keeping this in mind, effectively is a way to manage fear around new situations.
If you asked me today about meditation, I would tell you that it is a part of my life forever more and has profound positive impacts for me and those around me. The keys to arriving at a place where I knew this, for me, are (1) trusting that the process delivers results over time, (2) committing your mind to the process, (3) not putting undue pressure on yourself to see immediate results, (4) being open to new ways of relating to your mind and (5) recognizing the small changes in how you relate to your world and celebrating them.
My hope is that you can take a nugget away from your time reading this and apply it in a way that helps to improve the way you relate to the world today and every day!
What’s around the corner for you?