In my professional journey, I've always been candid about the challenges and the paths I've taken to overcome them. There was a pivotal moment in my life when I sought to enhance the quality of my mind. It struck me that I would hit the gym or tweak my diet if I wanted to improve at a physically demanding job. This led to a question: how could I similarly strengthen my mind for the emotionally and mentally taxing roles I usually undertake?
The answer I kept encountering was meditation. Initially, it seemed distant and abstract to me. From an outsider's perspective, meditation appeared to be merely sitting silently and humming, preferably somewhere in nature or on a frozen mountaintop. However, this perception was a mistake, and thankfully, my curiosity and immediate need to get my mind in order spurred my openness to take the time to establish a deeper understanding of what meditating was actually about.
I began my meditation journey with a well-known application and service, Headspace. I want to clarify that Headspace isn't sponsoring me; I recommend it purely based on personal experience - by the way, here is a guest pass for a free 30 days.
I'm not here to push meditation onto anyone. Instead, I want to share my story and let you decide if it resonates. Meditation has been transformational for my professional and personal lives. Meditation has helped me develop skills like listening, emotional intelligence, and mental fortitude that I never imagined possible.
My early days of meditation focused on object-focused techniques, mainly concentrating on my breath. The key realization was that meditation is about noticing when your mind wanders and gently guiding it back to a point of focus. I found staying motivated challenging in the early days when I forgot about my focus object for nearly the entire session. I realized, however, that that is the work - my job was to mindfully notice when the mind has drifted off without a deliberate intention to do so and gently guide the attention back to a place of our choosing. I learned to congratulate myself each time I noticed and forgot why I was sitting down and getting my mind back on track. Adjusting my goal from:
Thoughts are not allowed here!
Thoughts are allowed here, but they are not allowed to steal my attention.
was the first big realization for me. Instead of trying to force the mind to be quiet, I was leaving the condition of the mind alone.
Logical vs Spiritual Paths
Later, I learned of a less meditation-oriented term, "The Mental Pushup," from the book "Peak Mind" by Amishi P. Jha. PhD which was a logical approach to finding the motivation to take up meditation, contrasting the spiritual approach, while initially can be confusing and distant - however, after practicing for six months or longer, I have found that the spiritual path was deep with wisdom that continues to help me improve much further but without context is not always possible to put into simple terms. I appreciated the term "Mental Pushup" because I was looking for a means to exercise my mind to improve my quality of life at any moment.
Attention Under Attack
For our minds in 2024, establishing an initial footing with meditation will likely not be easy. We are hardly ever silent, let alone by ourselves. A screen is always handy no matter where we go; most of us will have a screen on us or around us for most of the day.
Let me just have a look and see if...
What was that notification? If it was an email it could have been work I should probably just check in...
I wonder if anyone liked my post from thirty minutes ago... ten minutes ago... three minutes ago
A Slack notification just toasted me, I wonder who it was, I wonder if it is important?
I wonder if there was a new post from my favorite creator?
The most popular platforms out there are designed to pull our attention. Our attention is a commodity, and the more often we can be pulled into the screen to peek at something, it is another opportunity for us to be influenced in a way that benefits the platform's partners. While we find this pattern largely pleasing and somewhat annoying, it is destroying our ability to be present, which is a fundamental benefit of a long-term investment in the mediation practice.
A Life Living in the Present
I've gained invaluable insights from resources like "The Mind Illuminated." Books like these provide the story and a map of the progression of a meditator. When embarking on any adventure, having a map of the destination and a language to describe it is powerful when charting an unknown subject for the first time. It has offered milestones and pointed out specific challenges that one will face as they continue their practice; for example, when sitting for more extended periods, I am talking about hours at a time; it takes work not simply to nod off and fall asleep. These moments clearly outline why the mind may favor a particular state while offering strategies to help overcome them.
Initially, meditation can be challenging. Your mind might wander to work, the past, or the future. You might feel a whirlwind of emotions. But the true essence of meditation lies in recognizing these distractions and realigning your focus.
The impact of meditation on my daily life has been profound. It has enhanced my ability to recognize thoughts and emotions and understand how they influence my mental and physical well-being - and I began to realize these benefits within the first three weeks of daily practice. This understanding has allowed me to embrace positive and negative experiences, fostering emotional resilience and presence.
If you're considering meditation or struggling with it, I encourage you to start with just five minutes daily. This practice isn't about emptying your mind of thoughts; it's about becoming aware of them and learning to refocus your attention intentionally. Even a brief daily practice can lead to noticeable changes. Extending your meditation time can deepen your understanding of presence and mindfulness as you progress.
So, if you haven't yet given meditation a thought, or if you're finding it challenging, consider embarking on this journey of self-development. It's not just about sitting in silence but cultivating a robust, focused, and resilient mind.