There is a lot of talk these days about meditation.  While it is often associated with Buddhism, it really needs no attachment, and this post will hopefully enlighten you on the practice of meditation and why it’s useful.

Mindfulness is essentially being aware of ones conscious state at the present moment. In modern day, the age of attention means there is always someone or something attempting to capture our attention.  As a result, it is ever more rare to have moments where you’re doing nothing.

Why is doing nothing important? People say we spend our entire lives lost in thought.  As crazy as that sounds, it’s true.  Thoughts are constantly arising out of consciousness.  Meditation is the practice of simply observing those thoughts as they arise.  The more you meditate, the more you realize that we are, most of the time, lost in thought.  Having extended downtime to simply sit and think is important to our creative minds, but having time to sit and *not think* is important to our lives just as much.

Studies show meditation makes you more relaxed, improves focus, makes you happier, and helps brings clarity to your thoughts – all things that most humans strive for, especially in modern western culture.  In the Tim Ferriss Podcast where over 100 of the worlds top performers are interviewed, 80% of them meditate daily.  Today, there is no doubt it is a beneficial tool to help us live better, more relaxed lives.  You can find a few links below for further reading:

“Human beings have this unique ability to focus on things that aren’t happening right now. That allows them to reflect on the past and learn from it; it allows them to anticipate and plan for the future; and it allows them to imagine things that might never occur,” said Matthew Killingsworth, a doctoral student in psychology and lead author of the study.

“At the same time, it seems that human beings often use this ability in ways that are not productive and furthermore can be destructive to our happiness,” he added.

The team conclude that reminiscing, thinking ahead or daydreaming tends to make people more miserable, even when they are thinking about something pleasant.

The authors write in the journal Science: “A human mind is a wandering mind and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind. The ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost.”

So what is meditation and how do you do it?

New and not sure what it is? Mindfulness is simply a state of open, nonjudgmental, and non-distracted attention to the contents of consciousness, whether pleasant or unpleasant.  Meditation is incredibly useful and beneficial – it has nothing to do with beliefs, and everything to do with being relaxed, focused, clear-minded, and happy. It is a practice, and the more you do it, the better it becomes.

There are many different kinds and techniques to practice. The simplest one and one that works well is a simple breathing technique.

Set a timer for 10 minutes, get into a comfortable position away from distraction, close your eyes, and focus simply on breathing in and eye of your nose. Try to focus entirely on the sensation of the air going through your nose.

Within a minute, your mind will likely be wandering and thinking of unrelated things – that’s normal and okay. As soon as you notice this, just go back to breathing and focusing as much as you can on sensation of the air going in and out of your nose (this is a form of meditation called Vipassana, generally referred to as mindfulness). The more you do it, the better you get. The goal is to simply observe your thoughts as they arise out of consciousness, and simply observe, but not react to them. It’s a practice which means the more you do it, the better you get.

After you do this a few times, you’ll begin to notice that when you’re solely focused on the sensations in your nose, thoughts may try to come in or go, and you begin to realize quite clearly what they are – simply thoughts. The goal here is two fold:

  1. Realize thoughts are just thoughts.  Happy thoughts are just thoughts, and sad thoughts are just thoughts.  The more you observe them, the more you can control how you react to them, and ideally, don’t react to them at all.
  2. With practice, you’re able to focus more on the present-moment sensations without your mind wandering.  This is a practice, and the benefit of this means that you’re truly in the present, not distracted by thoughts taking you away from it.

Skeptical about all of this? Try it.  30 day challenges are awesome ways to explore new habits, ideas, and ways of living in your life.  More often than not the results will surprise you.  Set a goal, for example, to meditate 20 minutes each day for 30 days straight. I’d recommend using the mobile app Calm, which allows you to document your daily active streaks, time your sessions, and hold you accountable for continual practice.

You can check it out here (it’s free):
Apple (iPhone): https://itunes.apple.com/…/calm-meditation-tec…/id571800810…
Android (Samsung, Nexus, etc.): https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.calm.android

Quantifying Meditation

Humans like direct feedback and having results that are noticeable. For example, going to the gym consistently will show results over the long run, but it may take a month or more straight to begin noticing results.  As a result, most people don’t regularly go to the gym.  You have to trust that the actions you’re taking are leading to positive results.

On the other hand, if you read a book, you see the results right away – you see the book becoming closer to completion and you notice the knowledge or ideas in your head beginning to make you think in new ways.  As a result, you keep reading because the results are instantly noticeable.

With mediation, it’s similar to exercise – it’s a practice that takes time to notice the results, and therefore you have to trust that your actions are leading to improvements in your life.  After the first session or even after the 10th, you may think that what you’re doing isn’t useful.  But again, it’s a practice, and like going to the gym consistently, if you meditate consistently you’ll notice results over the longer run (in 30 days you’ll notice results in your focus and clarity).

With this said, there are some cool new technologies that enable us to get more direct feedback from our meditation practice.  In the Quantified Body podcast on meditation, they discuss a new device that tracks your brain waves and shows how with meditation, you calm your mind.

…we talk about improving your focus and meditation practice with the Muse Calm app. There are many benefits to meditation. Some find that it helps increase their calm. Other benefits include reducing stress, and changing the structure of the brain.

In spite of these benefits, many find it hard to either start or continue meditating. People wonder if they are doing it right, if they are making progress, or if they are getting results.

Muse is a meditation tech device that tracks your brain waves. Using the Muse Calm app, you get feedback on how focused your mind is. Users can see if they are getting the results they want. It also helps you refine your technique in the moment. This feedback and reward system makes it easier to practice long-term.

With devices like these, you can get instant feedback and know that what you’re doing is beneficial, which then would help you continue practicing.

In the future as more studies are done, I think meditation will become more and more common.  Many people are skeptical of the idea as it is associated with monks, religion, or hippies, but really, it is a useful tool for all humans.

There is a lot more reading that can be done on the subject, so it is worth exploring more if you’re interested.  The more you read on the subject, the more you’ll be interested in adding it to your daily routine.

If you have any questions or want to have further discussion on the topic, please leave a comment below – I’m always interested in hearing feedback.