This morning, I reached the milestone of 500 consecutive days of meditation. Yes, ok I am showing off a little bit – I’m proud of that achievement.
In the last 500 days I have spent more than 280 hours meditating. This was not my first rodeo though; I had previously meditated every day for a year, and then purposefully stopped meditating every day because I found that keeping count of how many days I had meditated meant that sometimes I was meditating only to keep that streak going.
Last September, I decided to give it another go. I figured that whatever my motivation for sitting in meditation, it would still bring me benefits I would be foolish to forgo. So I started again at day 1.
Here’s what I learned from meditating for 500 days:
You think you don’t have time for meditation, but really you do.
I set my meditation timer at 30 minutes, but I found that this just seemed too daunting. I would look at my watch and think, I don’t have time for 30 minutes of meditation right now and so I would leave it until later. Two things got me out of this habit. First, I set the timer for just ten minutes. Second, I removed the bell at the end of the meditation. This meant the timer would count down to zero, and then just sit and wait until I finished meditating. Something about this worked for me, and I found that I would meditate for longer than ten minutes more often than not – but if I only did ten minutes, that was fine too. I think BJ Fogg talks about this sort of thing in his book about habits – the idea that you set yourself up to do the absolute bare minimum of something, and if you do more then great – but if not, you still did what you set out to do.
There’s a big difference between meditating and ruminating
So many people say they “can’t meditate” because their brain just keeps on thinking about stuff. And here’s the thing – so does mine! On a bad day my mind can sit and ruminate over a particular problem, a conversation I had (or expect to have) or any number of other things. It’s really easy to sit there for half an hour allowing your mind to do this, and then to get up and think: Great, tick meditation off today’s to-do list! After all, anyone who wandered into the room while you were sitting there probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. And you were sitting there for that amount of time, right? The problem is that when you do this, as school teachers are so fond of saying: You’re only cheating yourself. It could be that you really needed that tiem to sit and think through a particular problem – but often it’s just the mind telling us stories, and ruminating on it only makes things worse. It’s worth making the effort to return to the actual meditation – as many times as needed.
Everyone’s mind wanders when they meditate
A while back I heard an interview with Jay Shetty where he said that he meditates for what seemed to me to be a ridiculously long time. He said that it usually takes his mind 30 minutes to an hour to quieten down – before that, he has a lot of mental chatter going on. For those that don’t kow, Jay Shetty used to be an actual monk. He’s spent years meditating, and his mind still chatters while he’s meditating. Realising that everyone’s mind does this made me feel a lot better about my own incessant, internal chit-chat.
Meditating is not the absence of a wandering mind
If everyone’s mind wanders when they meditate, doest hat mean nobody is any good at meditation? Do you need to be one of those Indian babas who spend all day, every day meditating in order to get it right? Well, I mean, you could try that if you wanted. One thing I heard though is that meditation is not the absence of this chatter – rather, your meditation is a practice and what you are practicing is noticing that your mind has wandered off again, and gently bringing it back to whatever you were focusing on (the breath, a mantra, whatever).
There’s nothing wrong with using a trick to get yourself to meditate
As I mentioned above, I previously stopped meditating every day because I felt I was doing it for the wrong reasons – I just liked hitting milestones on the Insight Timer app. But here’s the thing: whatever my reason for meditating, I still did it. If getting that little dopamine hit when I see my numbers is waht keeps me going, really who cares. Better that than getting my dopamine fix from Instagram likes or whatever else, right? Use whatever gets you to meditate. As long as you’re meditating, the benefits will still be the same in the long run.
The effects of meditation are cumulative
You might finish your first ever meditation session and feel more calm and chilled out – but the real benefits of meditation come when you do it on a regular basis. Just as your physical muscles grow when you lift weights regularly, your brain changes with regular meditation. I find that it helps me to focus on things, but also to be a more calm person through the day. It helps with all sorts of things – but it helps the most if you do it regularly.
You can choose the style of meditation that works for you
When I first learned to meditate several years ago, I learned primordial sound meditation. Then I experimented with different mantras. I watched my breath. Some mornings I return to primordial sound; others I use the Ram Dass mantra, I am loving awareness. Just lately I’ve been experimenting with Lovingkindness meditation, having heard about the benefits on a podcast. There are numerous different styles of meditation out there, and probably just as many apps. There are guided meditations to cover all sorts of requirements too. You can pick and choose and chop and change as much as you like.
No matter how noisy life gets, there is still peace to be found.
Years ago I heard someone say that when it’s cloudy you can’t see the blue sky, so you think it’s not there – but if you get into a plane you can fly above the clouds, and you see that the blue sky was there all along. Meditation is like this. Your thoughts are the clouds that float across the clear blue sky of your mind. Perhaps there are lots of them; perhaps they hang around and make it feel dark and foreboding. But the blue sky is still there, up above. If you can get past all the thoughts, there is peace to be found. You can learn then to notice the gaps between thoughts. And even to make that gap a bit bigger. It is possible, and it does help.
If you’re new to meditation and you’d like to give it a go, here are some links that may help:
- Andy Puddicombe’s Ted Talk – he explains how meditation can help, and how esay it can be.
- Insight Timer app – a free app with tons of free guided meditations as well as a timer you can use to time your practice. This is the app I use.
- Headspace – as far as I know this app is mostly paid, but does have a free trial which is an excellent starting point.