Meditation: my journey
Late in 2019 I stumbled upon meditation. I’d heard Naval Ravikant talk about it on The Joe Rogan Experience, he said: just sit in silence, that’s all you need to do (paraphrased). What Naval said throughout the interview resonated with me, so I thought: why not? It also felt like the next logical step for me having discovered Yoga the previous year.
Taking Naval’s statement literally, that evening I lay down on my bedroom floor, lights off and headphones in (with a rainforest soundscape playing). When I woke up, I thought: great job and you cleared your mind too. Unfortunately, sleeping was not meditation. The laughable part was, I’d fallen asleep on the floor when most nights I’d struggle to get to sleep in a comfy bed.
Still, I persevered with what I thought meditation was, basically power naps. Then, a former colleague and Yoga teacher asked if I was interested in doing the Deepak Chopra 21-day meditation challenge. This opened up my understanding as Deepak talked beforehand and gave you a mantra to repeat (the 21-day meditation challenge is on YouTube if you’re interested). After completing that I discovered the Insight Timer app and embarked on my meditation journey. As I write this, I’ve been meditating daily for 305 days for a total of 14k minutes, to start with those numbers were important, now it’s more a motivating factor to keep me pushing forward. It would be fair to say that in those 305 sessions, there have been a few standout meditations that have challenged my own beliefs, but that’s another story. By the end of 2020, I’d completed a further 2 more 21-day meditation challenges on top of the daily meditation.
Meditation, among other things, kept me on an even keel last year. Particularly with furlough and the inescapable introspection it created. There was the uncertainty with the restructure as well. In all it gave me stability while everything else was in a state of flux.
I wanted to share this because it’s a vast topic that can seem like a bit of an enigma — for a long time I wasn’t sure I was even doing it right. If I wasn’t so determined to find out what it was all about I probably would have jacked it in sooner — starting something new can be challenging at the best of times. So if it’s something you’re interested in trying then perhaps you can at least bypass a rainforest snooze.
To my way of thinking, meditation is a catch-all word that has many meanings and methods of practise. You take as much or as little as you like from it. It can either be something that gives you some time out of your day for some peace and quiet, or it can be a spiritual odyssey. In fact, last night I did a guided meditation (on Insight Timer) with a teacher called Mooji and he said: we won’t call this meditation just sitting in silence. Although the scientist in me would like to add: that he did talk intermittently, so it wasn’t all silence.
In today’s society, we’re almost constantly looking at an LCD screen of some description throughout the day and disconnecting with reality and ourselves. Mediation opposes that and helps you find balance, it help you build resilience to obstacles that life throws your way that out of your control — I’m not totally sure the an LCD offers that. It’s likely the benefits are going to be different for everyone and looking at the research out there the type of meditation is going dictate the benefit.
Types of meditation
This is probably an article in itself, but here’s a few examples:
- The aforementioned emptying of the mind — waiting for silence. In my experience, this one is tougher than you’d think (pun intended). Naval described it as clearing your inbox and getting all your unread emails to zero.
- Focusing solely on your breath; the movement of the stomach, or air at the tip of nose.
- Thought watching — you call out what happens, usually twice, so if a thought arises you mentally repeat: thinking, thinking. There are variations on this theme.
- Mantra-based meditation — repeating of a word or phrase, usually in Sanskrit. For example: Sat Chit Ananda (Existence consciousness bliss)
- Guided body scans for example that you find in Yoga Nidra.
All of these methods are designed to create space between the thoughts, the silence. The goal is to increase the length of those silences. The above and others are just different methods of arriving at the same goal.
If you wanted a place to start, then I would suggest looking at an app like Insight Timer or Headspace. I can’t speak to Headspace, but Insight Timer has a vast number of teachers able to provide anything from 5-minute guided meditations to 50-minute-deep dive sessions. Dip your toe in the water and find a place where you can shut out all of life’s distractions. Try as many different types and teachers as you can to find what works for you.
If meditation isn’t for you, but you want to chill out
Last year, again while listening to The Joe Rogan Experience, James Nestor was being interviewed to promote his book: Breath. James is an investigative journalist and went on a journey rediscovering the various forms of breathing that have mostly been lost in today’s society.
One example of a breathing technique is ‘box breathing’ this is used by Navy Seals to stay calm and focused in tense situations. For us mere mortals that’s probably before a presentation or waiting in a queue at the supermarket.
Inhale to a count of 4; hold 4; exhale 4; hold 4. Repeat
I’ve even done it while walking and used steps instead of seconds.