how to: meditate (and why)


There's nothing I used to get sick of more than self-development blogs lecturing me on meditation. It wasn't that I didn't understand that it was good for you somehow. I did. There are so many websites talking about the benefits. And I understood the idea of being present. To be honest, I just didn't want to sit in a chair with my eyes shut. It sounded boring, and every time I thought about it I got fidgety. 

When I experienced a year of depression I was backed into a corner psychologically, and I started meditating out of desperation to escape feeling so awful all the time. At first, nothing much happened. After a while though, it was like a light switch had been flipped. I count it as one of the most important decisions I've ever made. So let's go through the benefits, and then the technique.

The Benefits

1) Focus & Presence. We get distracted so easily. When you meditate you practice bringing your focus back to the present again and again every time you notice you're lost in thought. This physically changes your brain. You'll be able to focus on work better. You'll also be way more grounded in the present experience. This is important for dating, where being lost in thoughts about what a girl thinks of you is kinda unhealthy. What if you could just sit with a girl and be calmly, fully engaged?

2) Reduced Anxiety. When you meditate, you put space between yourself and your thoughts and emotions. Just because something pops up into your head doesn't mean it's true. The more you watch your mind the more you see how much it just babbles continuously and throws up all kinds of stress and thoughts about the future. When you see this chatter for what it is, it becomes way less convincing. You'll be on a date and be like "ah, there's a little anxiety popping its head up" and continue as normal, instead of "oh my god I'm terrified she has winged eyeliner on and it's freaking me out." Meditation literally shrinks the parts of your brain associated with anxiety.

3) Okayness (Happiness). You might have noticed that your brain is constantly telling you it needs a), b) and c) to be happy. It seems really hard to just feel good about yourself and okay with the moment your in without daydreaming or worrying about the future, the past or even the present. I call it "okayness" because it's just being here with each breath and having that feeling of this moment being enough. Regardless, it's where you find yoursef right now. May as well enjoy it. I'll be honest: most of the time, the situation I'm in is a good one, and my life's going well. But I still spend a lot of time not noticing that, off having little rants in my head. Meditation helps you come back down to earth and just be content. Most things in life, if you're really present with them, you can enjoy.

Basically, we all live our lives in a kind of trance. In every moment, a dialogue is babbling on in our heads: thoughts about ourselves, the girl ordering coffee over there, what we're doing tomorrow, things that make us nervous, that thing that guy said to you last week that kind of hurt your feelings... and while this is going on, emotions are coming up as patterns of energy in your body. A feeling of tension in your gut, or an uplifting, excited tingling in your chest, or a hot frustration filling up your torso and hands.  And while all this is coming and going, there are also sensations from our senses, which we mostly block out unless we're paying focused attention or something is really bugging us like a throbbing toe you've just bashed against a corner. The problem is, we tend to be constantly caught up in this stream of thoughts and feelings, totally identified with them as they pop up. When you're thinking about how socially awkward you are, you're really just immersed in the thought that's SAYING that. So what happens is that a thought, which is a totally imaginary, invisible thing, gets mistaken for a solid and external reality. That's the moment an insecure thought convinces you its really a girls opinion of you.

The Technique

I'm going to be clear about this. MEDITATION IS THE SIMPLEST THING YOU'LL EVER DO.

First, have a curious mindset. Don't be a little bitch. Instead of dreading sitting with your eyes closed for five minutes, actually get curious about what's going on in your mind. Because your mind is actually fascinating. You exist, you're conscious, and all this weird shit is bubbling up in that skull of yours every second. Instead of thinking of it like a chore, think of it like an adventure. Most people's minds are just as mysterious to them as outer space. So dive in.

1) Focus on each breath. That is all. Seriously. Just let your body breathe, and focus on really feeling the sensation through the inhale... and through the exhale. You can count along if you like, to a count of ten before repeating.

2) At some point, you get distracted. No, not on purpose. But give it 10 seconds and your mind is going to start talking to itself about how bored it is, or whether boobs are better than butts, or what you're doing this afternoon, or how damn good it is at meditation, or whether you're doing the whole thing wrong.

3) When you notice that you're distracted, label the distraction and bring your attention back to the breath. Don't freak out or feel like you've failed. The noticing is actually the important part of the exercise, because you're training yourself to see thoughts as they're happening. When you notice, just label the phenomenon as "thinking" or "feeling". Then, gently return your attention to the breath. Repeat.

You're going to feel like an idiot sometimes because you get distracted so much. That's normal. Keep at it and you start to experience real clarity.

So give it a crack. I'd recommend downloading the Headspace app (no affiliation) and doing the 10 day introduction. It's only 10 minutes every day, and I bet you spend way more than that scrolling Facebook. You won't regret it.

- Conor