A Meditation Story
Plus a surprising benefit I've not seen mentioned elsewhere
Meditation is an activity that has grown in popularity recently, despite being practiced for thousands of years. I would guess that this rise of meditation coincides with an increase in the pace of our world, along with a bevy of apps that make it easier to learn how to get started. These factors and more got me into a meditation habit nearly two years ago.
I’ve shared my experience with a few friends, and I figured this would be a great space to share with many more people. It’s never too late to start, and the sooner you start, the more moments you can enjoy for the rest of your life.
My Meditation Turning Point
For several years I had been curious about meditation. I knew a few people who raved about their experiences, and have read books about Eastern and Western approaches. But it always seemed difficult, “mystical”, and just another thing that was easy to push off.
However I hit a personal low point in the summer of 2019. I found myself exceedingly stressed at work a year into selling our company. It’s really hard to describe the feeling when a business you and your team have built from nothing, that is running on all cylinders, is gradually pulled apart. This also soured my family around me, who were victims of my negative attitude.
In early June I escaped to a Duke basketball camp in part to give myself a complete break. Two days in, I broke—well, tore—my Achilles tendon. That ended a daily running streak of 5 years that had help keep me sane, and left me with surgery and months of recovery to follow.
While laying on the couch with my foot propped up and nothing else to do, I decided to take this challenge as an opportunity to make some changes. Meditation was high on my to-do list. I installed the Headspace app and began a daily process of following its courses of 10-minute meditations, usually right before starting work. The Headspace exercises cut through the “mystical” barriers I had feared, and brought the right combination of support with nudges outside my comfort zone. I also downloaded another app, called Streaks, that helped me stay true to a daily habit. I used it to assign myself a few other new healthy habits, like lifting weights and cutting after-dinner snacks.
What Changed for Me
When learning anything new, it’s critical to get some sign that you’re making actual progress. My first proof of progress in meditation was when someone cut me off while driving. It was a classic jerk move that usually would get my blood boiling for the rest of my commute. But I just let it go. Better yet, I noticed that I just let it go. This change came from one of the recurring lessons in the Headspace catalog: We choose how to react emotionally. I had learned through the lessons to “watch” my emotions and consider why I felt the way I did. This led to do some deeper self-analysis going way back in time, and it has become something that I now regularly do.
As I continued my daily practice I experienced other benefits. The constant voice in my head became quieter. I have become more “present” with people than ever before—listening, emphasizing, and laughing out loud. Now when I get cut off while driving, I smile and say to myself: “Wow, that was a creative maneuver.”
A core element is to avoid distractions—while acknowledging that distractions are natural. This helps me realize that I shouldn’t beat myself up when I make a mistake or slip into bad habits. Meditation also reminds you to hold a “beginners mind” and look at yourself and the world in a fresh way each day. This practice has led me to be more flexible in my judgments and happy to find myself proven wrong.
I have more appreciation for a good meal and notice things in my daily life that I normally wouldn’t. I gained better clarity in looking at issues at work, made smarter strategic decisions about my long-term future, and was more pleasant to be around at home. I’m sleeping better. And with COVID hitting last year these changes have helped me adjust.
More recently I discovered my biggest “aha” in meditation, which I’ve not heard others share: The changes in your mind are permanent. Meditation is often lumped in with physical exercise or dieting, like it’s something that you have to keep doing to realize its benefits. If you stop exercising you lose muscle, and if you stop eating well you gain weight. But I have found that the mental changes from meditation have carved new, permanent paths in how my brain works.
How do I know this? Because I stopped my usual meditation habit a few months ago, and I’m feeling great. In fact, I believe that I’ve learned how to “bake in” the mindset of meditation into my daily moments. Now I’m in a positive mental state for most of the 1,440 minutes of my day.
What’s Next in my Meditation
I stopped my usual meditation because I wanted something more specific for my life now. The Headspace app is outstanding for learning how to settle your mind and visualize, and it offers some excellent courses on topics such as improving focus, cutting cravings, and transforming anger. However I’ve started building and silently reviewing my own list of areas where I want to focus my attention and improvement. It’s captured on a piece of paper that sits on my desk. Usually in the morning before starting work I close my eyes, take some deep breaths, then “meditatively” review these points.
In the spirit of transparency and social support I wrote about recently, here’s what I’m working to remember:
Count your blessings
Avoid negative attention traps
Trigger positives in other people
Live like this is your last day
Time spent is gone forever
All news is good news
Compound the interest of good choices
Practice relationship responsiveness
“I” don’t exist
These are probably pretty self-explanatory, but I’d be happy to elaborate if you leave a comment here.
Try Ten Minutes a Day. Please.
Another thing you learn in meditation is that you cannot change other people. However humans are social creatures, and most of what we learn and try comes from trusting the suggestions of others who have been there and done that. So, if you’re ever been tempted to meditate, or if you resonate with some of the challenges I faced, grab whatever tool is best for you and commit to ten minutes per day for one year. You can do it, and your better self is out there waiting to be released.