It took me way too long to learn to like meditation.
If you are anything like me, you are also probably put off by the people giving off religious vibes around the whole subject.
Well, despite attracting more spiritual people around it, I’ve got some good news: The benefits of meditation aren’t bullshit.
I have to say though that it isn’t a cure-it-all magic pill either.
Still, it’s easily worth doing every single day.
You’ll just have to understand why it has real world applications and why it enhances your quality of life.
Why do you even want to meditate?
This is one question you should have an answer to before you start out.
There are lots of short-term benefits, but there’s one long-term benefit that you should seriously consider: Re-wiring your brain.
The ultimate problem is that our thoughts can become habitual. For example, if we have too much negative experiences, it’s possible that the brain gets wired towards negativity.
Chances are, you are a victim of compulsive thinking and distractions. You get lost in your thoughts and your emotional state can vary greatly depending on what kind of thoughts you are having.
When you keep meditating as well as staying present, your mind gets trained and your brain will literally starts to change.
The effects from meditating daily will carry to every part of your life.
It’s like getting more strength by going to the gym: you train for the strength in gym, but you can use that attained strength anywhere you want.
Benefits of meditation backed by science
Here’s the original article, 20 benefits of meditation backed up by science.
My favorite benefits:
- Increases positive emotions
- Decreses depression, anxiety and stress
- Increases your social abilities, emotional intelligence
- Makes you more compassionate and makes you feel less lonely
- Increases focus, attention and creativity
You might also be interested in what happens to the brain when you meditate.
What I consider the most valuable in my own practice is clarity of mind that is usually the strongest after a meditating session.
Different styles of meditation
There are different kinds of types of meditating.
Don’t worry about those, because it can get easily confusing.
For the starters, “mindfulness” (or “vipassana”) is all you need to know. It’s the most popular in the western world and for a good reason.
This article is mostly about mindfulness, but I like to refer to it as just “meditation”.
I don’t like to put label on it because I prefer to experiment with different things and just go “freestyle”.
First of all, I want to clear one misconception: the goal isn’t necessarily to not to think. If you want to, you can imagine a beautiful, calm place that you love and focus on that. It’s a lot different than letting your thoughts run wild.
Anyways, here’s a basic framework for you to start:
- Turn down distractions – you can also try keeping them on, I’m all for experimenting
- Sit down, get comfortable. Don’t lie down because there’s a chance of falling asleep. You don’t need to sit in lotus position (it’s kind of a cliche anyways).
- You can keep your eyes open or shut or switch between the two. Whatever works for you
- Relax, don’t try to force it, though you can try to concentrate intensely
- Shift your focus to a) breathing b) your body c) sounds d) silence e) pretty much anywhere. Experiment with it.
- Don’t worry about “thinking”, you will notice that your awareness will shift back to thoughts, but just bring yourself back to what you were focusing on or shift your focus somewhere else.
- One of my favorite ways to do it is to try to notice the moment when you “slip” back into your imagination or thoughts. Like watching a mousehole, waiting for something to come out of it.
- Experiment – I believe it puts some people ‘off’ that there isn’t excatly one right way to do it and in the end everyone has their own subjective experience about it. That’s why it’s important not to do what someone else says, but experiment and discover what works for you.
It’s helpful to view meditation as a journey, or a path, rather than a technique.
The best analogy perhaps is found from going to the gym: train your muscles regularly, and their form and strength changes. Stop training and over time they will atrophy.
If you go to the gym a few times, you may feel a bit better, but you definitely won’t see any changes until you’ve been training for at least a few weeks.
This is also the case with meditation.
The first few times
It’s entirely possible that the first few times of meditation will suck. It depends on so many things what kind of experience you’ll get out of it.
You’ll struggle because you want to avoid thinking, you want to stay more present, you’ll get sucked into your own imagination etc.
The idea is to be present, but you should be aware that you can’t shut down your thoughts. I’m fairly sure that no one can meditate for longer periods of time without having a single thought.
Instead of trying to force yourself present, take a more peaceful approach towards thoughts: just let them go.
If you get sucked into one, it’s not a big deal. When you notice it, you’ll be present once again.
One of the most undervalued things of meditation is introspection.
Pay attention by watching how you own mind acts and most of all you learn how to deal with yourself.
I’ve found that it’s common to come up with insights (+creativity) related to your daily life while meditating.
Meditate every day and don’t give up.
You want to make this into a habit, because you will see most of the benefits after doing it for longer than few days.
It will also get considerably easier (and better), as you get more used to it.
How long should you meditate?
As long as you want.
You can start from 10 minutes and build it from there. I personally need about 10 minutes to get in to a good state, so I “have to” meditate longer than that.
If you have the same kind of experience, extend the time to at least 15 minutes.
If you are adventurous, you can start with like 30 minutes and try how it goes.
This is only my opinion, but I believe it’s best to forget about the concept of enlightenment altogether.
After all, it’s just a concept – a romanticized idea of someone achieving some “superhuman state”.
There (most likely) is no such thing.
After the beginning
When you read other peoples experiences about it, you’ll come to see that there are as many descriptions of the “good parts” as there are people.
What I’ve personally experienced and seen other people describe is the “deep meditation” or the perfect calmness of your mind that comes after meditating for a while.
That’s one of the best feelings I’m experiencing on regular basis, but it’s kinda hard to get to: the more you try, the further away it seems to be.
It’s a lot of like getting in the flow state.
The good thing is, the longer you practice, the easier it is to slip to that blissful state.
Random tips and techniques
- It’s an ongoing practice – you will never be “finished” with meditation, because once you stop, it’s possible that the old patterns will start to creep in
- Some people prefer counting during meditation, like counting breaths or some variation of that
- Try guided meditation
- Listen to Marconi Union – Weightless, which is considered the most relaxing song created. A study concluded that it reduced anxiety by 65% and is 11% more relaxing than any other song.
- There will be both good and bad sessions – don’t worry if you can’t focus in every session
- Don’t try to stop your thoughts – aim for ease, relaxed focus. Calm down.
What if you fail?
The only way you can fail in meditation is that you don’t do it daily.
The important thing is that you sit down every day, regardless how you “do” in the session.
Thích Quảng Đức
This is only slightly related to meditation, but I wanted to bring this out here:
Thích Quảng Đức was a monk who committed suicide by self-immolation. That’s nothing new in this crazy world of ours, but how he did it was mind boggling.
It’s said that during the time he was burning, he didn’t let a sound nor did he move from the lotus position he was in. The next time that he moved was due to collapsing as a corpse.
I think it’s obvious that he died in agony, but it’s still simply amazing how much self-control a person must have to override all the urges that are present in that situation. It’s a proof of mind over body.
Considering the research done on meditation, I don’t think it’s too far-fetched to say that meditation played a huge part in the feat.
Here’s a youtube video about the whole situation – it obviously contains graphic imagery so be adviced.