What do the Dalai Lama, Weezer's Rivers Cuomo, and I have in common? We all love the album Pinkerton. And, as it turns out, we all meditate every single day!
But meditation hasn't always been part of my daily routine. In fact, before writing this, I was your typical smartphone- and MacBook-obsessed guy who thought meditating was something other people did. You know, like Buddhist monks. After trying it, though, I haven't stopped. Here's how I've changed along the way.
Meditation isn't just for Buddhists
"Algebra was initially [derived through Islam], but it also described some universal phenomena," meditation devotee/ABC News anchor Dan Harris told me. "Yes, meditation is derived from an Eastern 'religion,' but it's for everybody, and it doesn't mean you have to change your beliefs or adopt new beliefs."
And I didn't! I'm still Jewish, as far as I know.
It can make you physically healthier
It all started when I read Harris' book 10% Happier. My mom told me I'd like it, and because I do things my mom recommends (remember, I'm a Jewish man in his 30s), I read it. Harris, a Good Morning America weekend anchor, recounts how he indulged in cocaine and ecstasy, loved the thrill of being a war correspondent, and had a panic attack on live TV. Despite never being cool enough to do any of those things, I found the book hilarious and relatable.
But it was inspiring nonetheless! He got sober, learned meditation, and became 10% happier. Sounds like a reasonable goal. He's also a skeptic, and meditation clearly had a deep and profound effect on him. But what effects?
Harris says the scientific community has discovered measurable benefits to meditating. Even though he feels the science can be hyped sometimes, and that the research is "in its early stages," so far the benefits include "lowering your blood pressure, boosting your immune system, and rewiring your brain to make you more focused, calmer, and less yanked around by your emotions."
Another benefit is that you're generally "easier to be around, for yourself and others." I know for a fact that my "urges, impulses, desires, and emotions" don't control me as much as they used to.
Your distracting phone can help you meditate
Meditation was always that thing I was going to do, or that I knew was good for me but never did. But Headspace is an app that only asks for 10 minutes a day, so I figured my phone was primarily a time-sucking tool, and it was time to use it for the power of good.
The app only asked that I find a quiet place, sit down, and follow along with what a calmingly voiced British man (he's a real monk, too!) tells me to do for 10 minutes. It's less creepy than it sounds. I spend at least 10 minutes a day waiting for my phone or computer to load in order for it to do the thing I want it to do, so it's not like I had to clear extra time in my schedule. Now I usually sit in silence for 20 minutes a day, soon after I wake up in the morning.
I've done it 365 days in a row now. Could this be your future? Maybe I'm your less cool Dan Harris (who has his own meditation app)?
I don't have to care about every single thought I have
The major difference between my 365th day of meditating and my first is that I am much better about seeing my minute-to-minute thoughts for what they are: temporary and mostly useless. This doesn't mean it's bad to think critically or creatively. That kind of thinking is productive and fun and enables me to convince celebrities to be my friend. The difference is that I'm 1,000x better at not going down the rabbit hole of negative thoughts. Like constantly thinking, "I'm a moron!" after screwing up at work, or thinking about that time I embarrassed myself at the bar.
It's simple, but definitely not easy
How do I escape those negative thoughts? I acknowledge that I'm having the thought, then I let it go. This takes practice. I know it might sound overly simplified, but it's not. It's absolutely that simple. The skills I've developed from meditating didn't happen overnight.
Understanding that "I am not my thoughts or feelings" was a game-changer. What are you if you're not your thoughts or feelings, you may ask? "I don't know the answer," Harris tells me. "A Buddhist argument is that just asking that question has salutary effects. Just probing that mystery of consciousness. This is deep-end-of-the-pool stuff."
I'm still not a Buddhist, but I guess I just did a cannonball into the deep end. Am I going to become a monk by the end of this story?!
No one needs to worry so much about the past or future
I remember watching a 60 Minutes episode with meditation guru Jon Kabat-Zinn before I started meditating. Anderson Cooper asked him how he could be more mindful on a daily basis.
Kabat-Zinn: When you're in the shower next time, check and see if you're in the shower.
Cooper: What do you mean, check and see if you're in the shower?
Kabat-Zinn: Well, you may not be. You may be in your first meeting at work. You may have 50 people in the shower with you.
That stuck with me. And now when I take a shower, I take a shower. Why does that sound like a punchline to a Borscht Belt joke? But it's true! I'm not bathing with 50 people, even though that does sound like a fun time with the right company.
"When you spend all your time ruminating about the past or freaking out about the future, you miss your actual life," Harris said. "That's a good reason [to be present]."
It feels as good as drinking a beer, but healthier
Frankly, relaxation is the meditation icing on the meditation cake, and not a major benefit of doing it every day for me. Having a beer has basically the same effect on me, after all.
Every single time I've meditated, I've stood up feeling refreshed and relaxed, even if I was super distracted by my thoughts during the meditation session, instead of focused on my breath or a visualization technique.
I'm basically a better version of myself
I asked my girlfriend, who knew me before I started doing this every day, if she's seen a change in me over the year. I was nervous to ask, because I didn't think there would be a difference. "Your edges are shaved down," she said. I knew what she meant. I'm still me, but a better version of me to be around. "I was (and am) a type-A striver who worried about his career to the point that it made him miserable and unpleasant to be around," Harris told me. "And meditation has shaved the edges off of that significantly." Indeed.
Day 366 is going to be no problem
After talking with Dan for a half-hour for this story, he said something that bothered me. After congratulating me for sticking with meditation for a year, he said, "I think one thing to keep in mind is that you probably will fall off the wagon." Crap. But I knew he was probably right. He continued, "And that can be a useful thing, because after a year of mindfulness, you'll probably notice when you've fallen off the wagon that the toxicity of your inner dialogue goes way up. And in some ways -- if or when it happens -- that'll be a useful reminder that this isn't something that you should quit."
And I don't want to. It's day 366, and after I write this sentence, I'm going to sit on my meditation pillow with my eyes closed and breathe for 20 minutes. I can't wait.
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