I started experimenting with a meditation practice about a year-and-a-half ago and began practicing daily a bit over a year ago. As of this post, I’ve meditated every day for the last 430 days. I meditate anywhere between five and 45 minutes - lately it’s been about 30 minutes, with a total average of ~21 minutes.
Earlier this week, I felt pure, red-hot, blood-boiling anger for the first time that I can remember since I started meditating and I credit my meditation practice for both the fact that I was able to get over my anger extremely quickly and for the fact that I can scarcely remember the last time I was actually really angry about something. My experience with meditation has been subtle, but still profound and there have been a few things in particular that I’ve noticed shifting over the last year.
Daily Non-Reactivity and Calm Mood
Within weeks of starting a consistent meditation practice I began noticing a general sense of calm throughout the day and a lack of reactivity to things that may otherwise have triggered me. A perfect example is driving - I no longer felt the urge to flip someone off who just cut me off in traffic. Totally crazy! I also began to notice that during challenging conversations I had space to take a mental pause to consider my words before responding to someone. For example, during a meeting at work a coworker said something that annoyed me for whatever reason - rather than responding shortly I was able to catch myself, pause, consider, and respond calmly.
When I’m contemplating a decision, brainstorming an idea, or otherwise trying to have some concentrated quiet thinking I go for a walk. Something that often happens to me during walks is distraction - perhaps I meant to be mentally outlining a blog post and instead I’m thinking about what I want to cook for dinner tonight. Certainly this is fine sometimes, sometimes a walk is perfect for letting the mind wander and relax. But oftentimes I have something specific I want to think about during a walk and distractions can take away from that.
Meditation has dramatically improved my ability to focus my attention on what I want to be thinking about and quickly realize when I’ve meandered off into other thoughts. It took me a long time to even notice this was happening over the last year, but it makes sense since my focus during meditation is maintaining attention on my breath and catching incoming thoughts before they take over. Noticing it happening in life outside of meditation is a strong indication that I’m making actual progress - something that I’ve found can be difficult to tell sometimes.
I try to pay close attention to my habits, both good and bad. Habits are an essential part of our daily lives - they help us automate tasks and free up brain power for more important things. But bad habits can be insidious, sometimes difficult to even detect, and even more difficult to break. Meditation helps by allowing us to hopefully notice some of our habits and become aware of the ones we may not even be aware that we’re doing.
One of the biggest things I try to be aware of is phone usage. How often am I picking up my phone impulsively? What apps do I automatically open? How often do I unlock my phone for a specific purpose, only to end up in some other app, perhaps browsing Instagram or reddit?
Meditation has helped me notice impulses like this and adjust my behavior - do I really want to open that social media app right now? What was the trigger that made me notice it? Was it completely impulsive or was it the little red dot that drew me in? After realizing what apps could cause impulsive behavior I overhauled my phone setup to minimize notifications and minimize visibility to attention-grabbing apps, which has drastically reduced my phone usage. Although breaking bad habits and creating good ones can certainly be achieved without a meditation practice, meditation helps cultivate the awareness necessary to identify what our habits are and catch our impulses and triggers before we can act on them in the case of bad habits or help us remember to take action in the case of good habits.
Meditation has been immensely rewarding for me, even though the changes I’ve experienced so far have been subtle. The benefits of meditation are numerous, but establishing a consistent practice can be difficult. I found that mornings work best for me, as I can usually structure my mornings exactly how I want to and fit what I want to in with modifications to my sleep or work schedule. I mentioned earlier the broad range of times I spend meditating - sometimes as little as five minutes. I’ve found that there is literally no excuse to not meditate for five minutes. Even days when I really didn’t want to meditate - like waking up for an early morning plane flight with an entire day of travel ahead of me - there is still time to find five minutes. If I really cannot practice in the morning for whatever reason I set an alarm for later in the day to remind me or I will definitely forget. One thing that works well for me when trying to establish and maintain habits and routines is to remove the choice in the mental chatter. Instead of “should I go to the gym today? I feel kind of tired”, the mental dialogue I try to create is “today is the day I go to the gym so I’m going”.
There are a lot of ways to get started meditating. The Calm and Headspace apps are both good starting points and offer a variety of guided meditations, background noise selections, and happy little meditation quotes to inspire you. I’ve preferred silent meditation and have taken lessons from the book The Mind Illuminated, which I’ve found to be an amazing resource. The author is both an accomplished meditator and a neuroscientist, so the book offers a path for meditation as well as a lot of insight into the mind in general.
I’d love to hear from you about your experience with meditation - please get in touch!