When I was younger I always thought of meditation as a woo-woo thing that men with long pony-tails and women who believe in fairies do. It wasn’t something I saw myself ever doing. I didn’t really get it at all.
But not long before my 21st birthday, due to some unusual circumstances, I found myself in a four week course at a meditation centre. Once a week I would go to this hour-long class taken by a man with, you guessed it, a pony-tail.
I wouldn’t say that I particularly enjoyed these classes. I found the chanting uncomfortable and weird. But by the end of each class I had a sense of calm and peace that I had never experienced before and it felt wonderful.
Despite the positive effects, I wasn’t a very good student. I didn’t do my home practice once. And I didn’t meditate again for over a decade.
And while part of the reason is because I didn’t make it a priority in my life, I also believe that a big part of it was the way meditation was being sold to me.
Don’t get me wrong, the people at the centre and in the class were lovely people who believed in making the world a better place with love and peace. I liked it, but I didn’t identify with it. I was an achiever, an extrovert, I loved shopping – I didn’t see myself fitting into that world.
The main thing I remember taking away from the course was “It’s nice but I’ll never be able to do this in my real life”. There were so many rules – You must do 40 minutes twice a day! You must chant strange words! You must have a dedicated meditation space with incense and crystals!
I couldn’t see how on earth I could do all of that and still live my life.
But luckily, during the next 10 years that I avoided meditating, it became mainstream. And I became curious about it again and started to read and learn more about it. I also went to classes that had different approaches.
I have since learnt six important things about meditation that changed my perspective completely.
1. There are plenty of real-world kick-ass successful people who meditate
From Katy Perry to Oprah to Sir Richard Branson to Ray Dalio to Russell Simmons to the late Steve Jobs to many top CEOs and executives of major corporations as well as business women that I admire like Marie Forleo and Megan Dalla-Camina.
There was no denying it, meditation was no longer in the realm of woo-woo. It had become accepted as a legitimate, evidence-based strategy in living a successful life.
2. You can make your own rules
If you want to have a space or an alter set up with crystals and incense or offerings to a deity go for it, but you don’t have to.
You can do it in the middle of the city or by a lake or at work or in your bedroom.
You don’t have to do it 40 minutes, twice a day. Sometimes 5 minutes is all you’ve got, and you know what – that’s awesome!
You don’t have to chant. If you want to you can. If you want to do it in your head you can (that’s actually what Deepak Chopra recommends – and he knows a thing or two about meditation).
If you want to focus on your breath you can. If you want to focus on sending out love you can. If you want to focus on sending love to yourself you can. If you want to listen to music you can. If you want to focus on a blue light you can.
If you want it to have a spiritual element it can. If you want it to be about gaining mental clarity and improving your cognitive performance it can be.
So for me, the point of meditation is to make the space (where ever I want) and time (however long I want) to sit in stillness and to continually bring my thoughts back to my point of focus (whatever I choose).
3. I give myself permission to be sucky
It’s almost impossible to clear your mind of thoughts completely. That’s what our minds do. They are thinking machines.
So I no longer see meditation as an impossible mission of emptying my mind but rather an opportunity to practice returning to a point of focused attention.
I expect to suck at it most of the time. And I allow that to be okay. Actually it’s kind of liberating to give myself permission to completely suck at something.
I go in to each practice knowing that I will have all sorts of weird and wonderful thoughts come up. And to be honest, it’s only the days where I give myself a hard time about it that it feels sucky.
4. It doesn’t matter how sucky I am – I always feel better for doing it. Always.
In the early days there were times that I would get up after my timer went off and think “well that was a total waste of time”. For whatever reason my mind was even more active than usual and I felt as if I spent the entire time thinking about whatever random thoughts entered my mind.
But then I started to realize that the benefits were exactly the same throughout the day whatever my suckiness level had been during the practice.
So now I can relax if it feels harder than normal, because I know without a doubt that I will still feel better for doing it. It’s not about performance or perfection, it’s about the practice.
5. It is so worth it
After I meditate I feel happier, more clear and focused, less reactive, more centered, and less stressed. When stuff goes wrong, I can re-group and move forward faster and it feels easier to empathize and connect with others without my own stuff getting in the way.
These are the things that motivate me the most to sit down and do it but there are a heap of other physical and psychological benefits to meditation like managing blood pressure, for example.
It just makes my day work so much better.
6. I’m still learning
Meditation has been a really important part of my life now for the past 18 months. I wish I could say that I meditate every single day, but I don’t. I hope one day I can say that. Not because then I can demonstrate impressive levels of self-discipline and direction, but because of point number 5 – I feel so much damn better when I meditate.
I’m still exploring different approaches and I like to change my point of focus to experiment. Sometimes I set an intention for the practice, other times I just let it happen. I always start by spending some time focusing on my breath. Then I usually give some attention to my own death – which sounds morbid but is actually surprisingly empowering. Very occasionally I use music. Sometimes I only do 5 minutes in the morning, other times it’s 20 minutes twice a day and sometimes it’s not at all!
So if you want to start trying meditation here’s some tips:
- Get to the real reason of why you want to meditate – how specifically is it going to add value to your life? The more specific and important the reason the more committed you’ll be.
- Also get real on what has been stopping you. Try not to use excuses here like “not having enough time” but go deeper. Why are you resisting it? Accept that you feel that way and then meditate anyway. (Funnily enough, the meditation will probably help you to feel less like that anyway).
- Start off small – maybe 5 minutes a day and build up. Focused attention is like a muscle.
- Schedule it into your diary, especially in the beginning. Decide how many times a week you want to do it and make the time and space for it. Not only will this serve as a reminder but scheduling it will also increase your commitment.
- Find classes or groups in your local area – there’s heaps of different styles and approaches so find one that you like. There’s also apps and online courses.
- Be patient with yourself – remember the goal is not to clear your mind of thoughts – it’s to focus your attention, and return your focus however many times you need to.
I hope you go for it! Good luck! And if you would like to share your experiences with meditation below, I’d love to hear about it.