First things first, I’m not an expert on meditation. I know very little of the science behind it, though I am trying to learn. I also don’t know if there are “trusted” experts in the field whose advice I should be reading and/or heeding.
What I do know is that, about a year and a half ago, my therapist/career counselor person recommended that I try meditation. She said it could help with my focus and time management concerns.
It took me a year and a half to seriously consider following this advice. As the title of this article implies, I thought meditation was something hippies did so they could claim to be more in touch with the universe.
But then some writers I admire mentioned it on their podcasts, and I figured they had to know at least as much as a licensed therapist.
For the past three weeks — give or take a couple days — I’ve started my mornings with a guided meditation, courtesy of the “Mindfulness” app on my iPhone. Is that the best meditation app? I don’t have a clue. There are definitely others out there. But, this one has worked for me so far.
After a short three weeks I can tell you this much: Mediation works.
What is Mindfulness?
Those who evangelize for meditation will tell you that the primary purpose is increase their “mindfulness.” But, what does that mean?
If you’re anything like me before three weeks ago, it may sound to you like something someone made up to justify some overpriced class they took.
I don’t think that way any more.
Merriam-Webster defines “mindfulness” as:
The practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis
Mindfulness is the psychological process of purposely bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment without judgment which one can develop through the practice of meditation and through other training.
Personally, I can only speak to the practical nature of mindfulness and what I get out of meditation.
Meditation draws my attention and focus to the present moment. It helps me place different plans, thoughts, and anxieties in the proper drawers or silos so that I can think about and address them in a workable order.
For me, that is mindfulness.
I’m a board certified procrastinator. Over the years, I have tried roughly one zillion task and project management methods and applications. Taskbars. Reminder lists. On my phone, computer, and/or a dry-erase board.
None of them seem to work for very long.
For some, the prospect of crossing something off a taskbar or checklist can be extremely motivating. I am not one of those people, and it’s a serious drag on my efficiency.
But, when I take meditation seriously — like actually go through the process and follow the instructions — I can breeze through my checklists and calendars at much greater speed. I lose much less time to idle thoughts and bad habits, which means I don’t feel guilty or anxious about the time I’ve lost to idle thoughts and bad habits.
Trust me, people. Mindfulness is a real thing.
If you’re at all curious about this stuff, I’ll guess you’re next question is: How does meditation work? What do I have to do?
I’ll discuss the basics. But, once again, please keep in mind that I’m no expert.
You start by finding a quiet, comfortable place to sit. Then, you sit. Upright. Shoulders back.
The posture is important for a couple practical reasons. First, meditation isn’t sleeping, it’s about focus and presence. If you lay down or sprawl out on the sofa, you’re more likely to fall asleep, even if you don’t feel tired. Such is the nature of a relaxation exercise.
Second, good posture is actually more comfortable than slouching. It took me 40 years to figure that out.
If you’re sitting up — no slouching or contorting your body into a position that you claim is comfortable — you won’t be distracted when it inevitably starts to hurt.
Once you’re correctly positioned, you need to try to relax. That can be hard. If, like me, you’re a neurotic, jumpy person with ADHD, it’ll take some practice.
Next, if you’re doing a guided meditation — and there are plenty of places to find some examples — the guide/narrator person will tell you to close your eyes and focus on your breathing. If you’re a skeptic or just uninitiated, this is where meditation starts to sound like the hippy-dippy crap you’ve been trying to avoid.
Just try it. Seriously, try it right now.
Before you read any further, close your eyes and listen to your breathing. Take a couple deep breaths if you feel so inclined.
If I do this for about 30 seconds, I start wondering how it’s even possible that I breath all day without thinking about it.
The cold sensation in my nose when I inhale. The sound of the air entering my lungs. Chest and abdomen moving up and then back down as I exhale.
All this is hypnotic. It’s a huge confluence of bodily events, and we do it involuntarily.
The other things meditations guides and instructors will tell you is that, as you’re breathing, its okay for your mind to wander. You’re not going to be able to stop it anyway.
Almost every guided meditation I’ve used includes a version of this sentence:
“If you’re mind wanders, take note of where it has gone. Then, gently bring it back to focus on the breath.”
I know, right? Sounds like nonsense. If you imagine it being spoken softly over the sounds of crashing waves or a nighttime forest, it probably seems even weirder.
But, it works. Trust me.
If you do this for five minutes — just sit and focus all your attention on your breathing — you’ll open your eyes with a clearer head and greater focus on the present moment.
Do it for ten minutes and it will have a positive impact on your entire day.
Do it for fifteen minutes and…I don’t know. Something good will happen. I’ve only gotten that far once or twice. It was amazing, but I need to collect more data before I can write about it.
Like I said, I’m still a beginner. But, I’m also now a believer.
I didn’t expect to be converted so quickly, but a little bit of calm and focus can go a long, long way.