For a while, I’ve been hesitant to meditate. Reasons have ranged from “I’m not Buddhist” to “it’s weird.”
But meditation doesn’t have to be religious and I’M weird, so I tried out non-religious meditation.
I sat in my chair, closed my eyes, and without moving or fidgeting, I focused my mind on my breathing. Simple. Inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale.
In seconds, rogue thoughts dove in to take my mind away from thinking about breathing. I had to keep refocusing on the breathing as I caught myself repeatedly straying. Sometimes it would take me several seconds to realize I had been thinking about something else. It’s was as if my mind decided that focusing on my breathing was too simple, a waste of thought, and that it needed to GO GO GO, THINK OF SOMETHING, WHAT’S NEXT?!?
I get it now. Meditation is important.
I am going to add a one minute meditation mini habit to my day. It strengthens some of the most important things, discussed below.
Unfocused, we are useless. Focused, we command great power over our day. That’s why I say repeatedly that focusing is the crux of personal growth.
Meditation is perhaps the single best way to “practice” focusing. Yeah, but what about just practicing focusing in real life?
The first reason meditation is a little bit better is because it starts you out with fewer inputs. If you close your eyes as I did, you receive no visual information. If you do it in silence as I did, you hear nothing to respond to. It’s just you and your mind.
The second reason meditation is better is that it enhances your awareness of distractions. When I aim to focus on writing an article, I may stop and put on some background music. I may notice my cat walking around. There are a number of little things that are likely to distract me without me noticing. Or perhaps I’ll be researching something for an article and go on a bit of a tangent. The simplicity of meditation’s “focus on your breathing” makes every little deviant thought a clear distraction that you can address.
The third reason meditation is a bit better for practicing is the frequency at which you’ll practice. During my day, it’s a drawn-out battle of focusing and distraction, but it’s all pretty muddled. I don’t feel as if I’m improving my long term focus skill, and I’m not. That’s because when I try to focus in my day, it’s not structured in a way to train my brain to improve (much). Meditation is a rapid-fire experience of recognizing mental distraction and calmly going back to your chosen focus (breathing). It’s training.
I’m reading “The Willpower Instinct” right now. It’s good so far. In the book, she mentions meditation as a willpower strengthening tool. This is what led me to try it out. She’s absolutely correct!
Willpower is a measure of strength, but it’s also a measure of awareness. You can’t stop yourself from doing something if you’re not aware that you’re doing it. Given that nearly half of our behavior is below our consciousness (Duke Journal Study), it’s hard to be fully aware of everything we do.
To stop any bad habit activity requires two things:
- You must be aware of the behavior as it is about to happen. You must know your triggers.
- You must have the willpower strength to resist it (don’t do it directly, but that’s another long topic of discussion).
Meditation, I’ve found, helps you to practice both. As my five minutes went on, I got quicker at recognizing distracting thoughts as they popped up. Many of these thoughts were of interest as well, meaning I had to exercise a small amount of willpower to shut them down.
So like focusing, meditation is one of the best ways to exercise your willpower (Mini Habits being another, which is why having a meditation mini habit is a GREAT idea).
Relaxation And Stress Reduction
I have a very low stress lifestyle, and yet, I still get stressed out. I can only imagine what others have to deal with. Most of the time for me, it’s my own thoughts and habitual stressful thinking that is the cause, not my circumstances.
Much of stress appears to be up to us anyway. You can have two people experience something identical, and one will come out relaxed while the other stressed. Stress is determined by how we perceive the world, and I think it’s very easy to develop a stress habit, where your subconscious mind stresses you out for no reason, and your muscles are tense when there is every reason to relax instead.
Meditating for five minutes relaxed me considerably. It wasn’t a physically relaxing activity, but a mental one. It forced me to think simply, which I could tell operated on a few of my “stress habits” that were telling me to be tense. Focusing on something as simple as my breaths forced me to understand how simple life can be, or that part of being alive is very simple.
I breathe to live. Since I just ate breakfast, I don’t need to do anything else but breathe for the next few hours and I’ll be fine. That’s a weird, but oddly comforting thought. All I have to do is breathe; in, out.
We have burdens from others and burdens that we place on ourselves. By focusing on something neutral-positive like the way your body brings in and exhales air, these burdens are forced out of your consciousness. Even if it’s a temporary respite, it’s important to establish that this level of simplicity and relaxation is possible so that you don’t forget completely how to relax!
Some of us don’t give ourselves permission to relax. Not even for five minutes! I believe meditation can help undo that harmful mindset.
It Centers You
I don’t subscribe to “new age” thought and spirituality. All I mean by this is that after meditating, you have a clearer sense of what you’d like to do with your day, and your life. It’s like pressing pause on the constant stream of thoughts that race into your mind. When you press pause and give your mind a rest, I think it allows the important things to rise above the rest.
It’s almost like you’re setting a standard. Before meditation, any thought is acceptable. They all come and go as they please, and in any number. This is so overwhelming!
By dedicating to focus on the simplest thing for five minutes, or even one minute, you establish your authority over your own mind and thoughts. It’s this that brings clarity, as you won’t feel as if you have to honor every thought (which is likely one of those invisible bad habits many of us have). You can say no to any thought.
This is helpful in all of life, and personally, it jives well with what I believe.
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” ~ Phillippians 4:8
I don’t believe it needs to take up a lot of time. Some people meditate for hours every day. For me, just 5 minutes in each of the last two days has been perfect.
The expanded content will discuss two meditation studies, how meditation might be be a vital tool for your health, more about my experience meditating, and a suggestion for how to incorporate meditation into your life.
The subscriber-only message on 4/8/14 expands upon this post! Join Deep Existence to read the rest.