Guest post from Nick Barbieri of Not a Monk (who convinced me I needed to meditate!)
From Tibetan monasteries to teenage bedrooms, meditation is no longer reserved for the Zen masters of the world. Over the last decade, the practice has swiftly emerged into the fast-paced domain of Western culture, CEOs and hipsters alike. So long as you can sit and breathe, the meditation community will accept you.
Yet despite meditation’s rapid growth, its attractiveness remains quite low to the vast majority. In fact, I still get laughs and odd looks when I tell my friends how often I practice. But that’s okay – when they are not looking, I channel my monk-like energies to send evil spirits after them.
*Disclaimer: your inner monk may vary.
Everyone knows that meditation is healthy, but the real value of it is hidden in the secret sauce. Here are the three reasons why I meditate everyday, and why you should consider trying it.
The age-old meditative question: how does one sit still and actually enjoy it? That sounds rather frightening. Yet this is the underlying secret of meditation – it’s not supposed to be fun.
Not only does stillness require a great deal of willpower, you have to be a little crazy to even try. The truth is: the process of learning how to meditate is more important than meditation itself. The goal is to execute, not to be perfect.
Personally it took me 23 days, practicing 20 minutes every day, to finally “feel” the effects of meditation. But this process taught me more than just how to be calm – I learned how to cultivate focus, discipline and willpower, and my productivity rose when I was not even trying to raise it. These benefits made meditation worthwhile in itself.
“The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war.” - Norman Schwarzkopf
In a society where speed and action dictate success, non-action is becoming evermore important. When was the last time you (intentionally) took time out of your day to reflect on your state of affairs?
One of the greatest misconceptions of meditation is that you must “think of nothing”. Truthfully I would not even put the Dalai Lama to such a constraint – thinking of nothing still requires you to think… of not thinking. You will have an easier time teaching your dog German. Therefore, the purpose of meditation is not to cease thought, but rather to direct it.
This is actually quite easy. By merely sitting in yoga pants and crossing your legs for 10 minutes a day, all you must do is surrender to the passing of thought. Let your mind wander in whichever wayward direction it chooses. Naturally you will focus on the notions you deem important, and you may come to understand new ideas about yourself that you never had the time to consider before.
Self-awareness is not a trait – it’s a behaviour. Just like going to the gym, by meditating everyday you will strengthen your self-awareness muscle. No protein shake required.
Anxiety is deeply rooted in the breath. When we are anxious we breathe fast, we talk fast, and we think fast. Meditation is the idea of slowing down. Slowing the breath decreases both your heart rate and brainwaves, and as a result you feel calmer, happier, and more alert. Your neurotransmitters will even reward you with free serotonin and dopamine, the feel-good chemicals. Yay!
In reality, meditation’s stress relieving properties are very well known. The problem is that few believe they are worth the trouble of learning. The 3 main arguments are:
Meditation is no match for my chaos,
I don’t need meditation to feel good, or (my favourite)
I don’t have time
Meditation should not be held as the end-all epitome for self-improvement. It’s only a stepping-stone in the right direction, and it reinforces the notion that the little things in life can make a difference. The best way to describe mental health is the balance between order and chaos – you can always improve it.
“If you cannot meditate for 10 minutes, meditate for an hour” – Chinese proverb
The barrier of meditation is in the stress of learning it. Daily practice is imperative to success, and can be difficult to follow through at times. Isn’t it ironic that you have to go through stress in order to get rid of it? I know – worst deal ever.
Think of meditation like the chili flakes to your pizza, or the Parmesan to your penne. You will never know how good it is until you try it.