So I’ve been meditating with the Stop, Breathe, & Think app as of today for 65 days uninterrupted. So that’s pretty cool. I thought I’d share some thoughts on my adventures into meditation for those of you who may be skeptical or curious. Maybe a little of both? I’ll explain mental training as best I can by comparing it to physical training, something which my readers will probably have a reference point.
The keystone habit was the Five Minute Journal. Out of that I started developing a morning routine. Kudos to The Barbell Business boys for essentially giving me permission to be selfish for thirty to sixty minutes a day in order to be less selfish for the rest of the day. Meditation can have a bad rap as only for those suffering from anxiety or unmotivated hippies. What piqued my interest was Tim Ferriss saying over 80% of the top performers he’s interviewed have some sort of daily meditation practice, along with Dan Harris’s “10% Happier“, in which he describes himself as a fidgety sceptic when it comes to meditative practices. I like the Stop, Breathe, and Think app as they’re short meditations, so time can’t be an excuse, they offer a check in and then give you recommend meditations, the meditations are guided, and they’ve gamified it by winning badges so it keeps you coming back to the app.
My daily routine now consists of romwod, meditation, journaling, fish oil, and reading.
Overall I feel a lot better as a result of this routine. It sets up my day and gives me structure. As an entrepreneur you have to create your own structure and you can find yourself wasteful/inefficient with your time. Important to note as well that this is the first year in as long as I can remember when I didn’t feel down around my birthday. Which while I don’t feel ecstatic about it, is actually monumental in that small, secretly smiling to yourself sort of way.
As an aside, hay fever is a right motherfucker. There’s two major effects it has: extreme drowsiness and extreme fuzziness. The tiredness has me questioning “Why am I so tired?” all the time, and feeling energyless (which isn’t great as you start to wonder all sorts of things). The fuzzy headedness, that feeling of swimming in a thick fog of confusion, doesn’t exactly lend itself to Buddha like mental clarity. BUT, and here’s the cool thing, knowing this means I can accept this temporary shortcoming and not get overwhelmed, bogged down, or depressed about it!
I think people think meditation is meant to make you instantly happy, or just by sitting down you’re mind is going to go blank.
Firstly, meditation is mental brain training. Training yourself to take time out so you can reassess from a calmer place. Most of us can relate to having a problem and then get through it, and then we often find ourselves wondering why we were so worked up in the first place. Or, once the solution is found, it seems so obvious. Meditation doesn’t guarantee this, but taking a step back from the coal face really gives you some perspective.
We’ve all experienced this perspective. Bogged down with a problem in our professional and personal life. Frustrated, we leave it alone and during another activity and the answer comes to us. Meditation can give us that space where we can step back from our issues and gain some clarity.
Mental training isn’t exactly like physical training. By that I mean you don’t get a sweat on, or an endorphin hit straight away. You don’t have the tell tale muscle soreness from lifting weights or taking on a long run. Meditation is more like clearing up that messy room. Slowly. While everyone in the house is still adding crap to it.
Getting distracted during your practice doesn’t mean you’ve failed. In fact, it’s exactly what should be happening. If you’ve gone 30, 40, 50 years without ever stopping to look at your mind and listen to the voice in your head at first it’s going to be impossible and overwhelming. You are not a failure if this happens. You are no more a failure that if on your first day of running you can’t run a marathon in 2:02:57 (current world record). If you’re asked to count to 10 all you can do is count to 2 and a half before you get distracted, that’s a start. This is the challenge much like straining under a squat is the challenge. It’s not “meant” to be easy, nor is the weight meant to feel light, nor are you meant to do burpees without getting out of breath!
Mental training doesn’t guarantee bliss, much like those 8 week rapid fat loss plans won’t leave you like the photoshopped model. Mental training slowly allows you to see through the clutter of your thoughts and feelings. Much like clearing the garage, you’re going to put stuff aside so you can make a path only to come back to it, get distracted and sit down and have a look at it. You might need to put it away, throw it out, or leave it for another day.
Yes, it might actually get messier before things get calmer or more focused. Meditation can reveal what’s going on behind the surface, much like a movement assessment can reveal areas of tightness or old injuries. It then requires conscious work on that. You’ve identified the brick walls and stumbling blocks and baggage. Becoming aware of it all is the first part. You’ve taken yourself off autopilot. Now you’ve got to learn to fly!
When starting you may find that meditation has no impact on your day to day life and thoughts. Again to make the comparison to physical training, if you spend 60 minutes in the gym stretching but 9 hours sitting, your hips are going to only slowly loosen up, and you may not notice the impact. At first, you’re only really stemming the tide of years of poor patterns (be they physical, mental, or emotional) and it take a while to slow down the destructive/negative inputs. That’s okay. It’s like going from 2 litres of coke a day to 1.5 litres a day. Sure, it’d be great if there was no Coke, but you’ve made a positive first step.
Slowing down to stop and look at the mess can be scary. It can be overwhelming. It certainly is “easier” to stay on the gerbil wheel. It’s far easier to seek entertainment than enlightenment. It’s easier to go home after work and turn on Netflix. It takes no effort. And it delivers no reward. It’s (without being overly dramatic) the slow death. Much like joining a gym the first time can put you face to face with the realisation that you’ve gotten out of shape, finally sitting down with your mind can show you all the nagging, almost imperceptible thoughts you’ve been having and how they’ve been clouding you.
But it’s not too late. Nothing is fixed or irreparable and can’t be improved. And the benefits far outweigh the initial overwhelm. We all know the importance of looking after our body with daily nutrition and exercise. Mental training is the daily nutrition and exercise for your thoughts and emotions and definitely worth the investment.
The clarity alluded to above isn’t guaranteed, nor is it instantly going to happen. That’s thinking like you’ll take up running and instantly beat Usain Bolt.
Meditation doesn’t mean quiet time either. Your mind might race. You might feel sad or annoyed at times. I like to think of this as things bubbling to the surface as deep issues arise. Perhaps they were trapped, perhaps they were ignored. It’s best to treat them as things that are surfacing so you can consciously face them and resolve them. Sometimes, they’re just old hurts saying farewell as they leave you. You can wish them goodbye or latch onto them. One is far more tempting than the other but ultimately counter productive to your happiness and peace of mind. This is one of the more challenging aspects of meditation I’ve found for me personally. It can be, and it was/is for me, extremely difficult to come face to face with the story you’ve been telling yourself.
Of the two types of meditation I’ve been practicing on the app, one is mindfulness and the other is Loving-Kindness. Mindfulness is simply observing, or learning how to observe, without judgement. It’s training yourself to be fully present and conscious of what you’re doing. So if you’re sitting and breathing, you’re just focused on sitting and breathing. Not thinking of the million and one things that you can think of. That phone call you’re dreading, that conversation that should have gone better, when’s George R.R. Martin going to release the next book in the series, why pineapple’s are called pineapples, the list goes on.
There’s huge benefits to this. I can concentrate for longer periods now without getting distracted for one. It’s also SLOWLY allowing me to respond rather than react to events in my life.
Loving-Kindness meditation can be tough! For any number of reasons. In Loving Kindness you wish well for yourself, then someone you like/are close to, then to someone who annoys you/has wronged you, and finally, everyone. It can feel very weird to wish well upon yourself for a start, as you’ve probably never thought to be self compassionate let alone self loving. And wishing well on your enemies? How can you do that? The fuck do they deserve my well wishes for? It helps to really think about doing it for you. As rewarding as it is to hold onto the story, and resentment, and anger, that can be holding you back. Here’s some more evidence for the selfish reasons to try Loving-Kindess Meditation.
Now, I’m really not claiming to be enlightened in any sense. And fuck me does it take continuous work not to get emotional over all the perceived wrongs I’ve been subjected to, and the wrongs I’ve done through my actions and inactions.
Overall I’m calmer, and less reactive. When I find myself bogged down in a problem instead of berating myself I now know that a few minutes pause will generally reveal the next course of action. Now I believe I “should” be just focusing on my breath during those pauses but instead of hammering my head against my Macbook and counting my breaths the clarity of what action I need to take presents itself and for this it’s worthwhile. And because I’m taking more action, I feel happier as I feel more in control of my time, my actions, and my life. And when I find myself too busy or stressed to meditate, I know it’s literally the best thing I can do.
It’s always harder to do at these times (what, you didn’t think I’d write a blog without a PHRASING! did you?) quietening that incredibly insistent voice in my head has never proven to be a fruitless exercise.
I really should develop a solid night time routine now…