I’ve struggled in life to find my niche, to find what I’m good at. I struggle in my working life to find work I can be fully engaged and super productive in. I’ve never had direction other than to go skiing. Lost and scared I turned to reading as a way to improve my personal and professional life and to get a little guidance to help me navigate this crazy world. I’m always looking for simple techniques I can use that can improve my life.
Through reading I came to learn more about the importance of sleep. Making sure you get 8-9 hours of restful sleep a night is as important as brushing and flossing your teeth. You have to stick to a routine in order to have healthy sleep.
In looking for ways to improve my sleep I stumbled across meditation. At first I dismissed the idea. It sounded like hocus-pocus spiritual stuff to me. Whenever I’d hear the word meditate, I’d think of someone sitting cross-legged on a hard wood floor trying to reach enlightenment inside their heads. I always thought that meditation was for lonely weirdos so I never wanted anything to do with it.
I was looking for real world techniques to make my life better.
Meditation kept coming up in my research. I’d read about famous and successful artists, entrepreneurs, and comedians and many of them would credit great improvements in their life to the practice of meditation.
Tim Ferriss the author and entrepreneur said he tries to meditate twice a day. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld and Howard Stern both benefit from the practice of transcendental meditation. The hedge fund manager Ray Dalio has practiced transcendental meditation for 42 years.
I’m still not sure what transcendental meditation is. I’m not looking for a crazy spiritual experience. I’m looking for a simple technique that might make my sleep and life a little better. Through reading I think I have an idea of what general meditation is.
Meditation is defined in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary app that I have on my phone as: the act or process of spending time in quiet thought. The app defines meditating as: to engage in mental exercise (as concentration on one’s breathing or repetition of a mantra) for the purpose of reaching a heightened level of spiritual awareness. I don’t know if I like either of these definitions. The second one about concentrating on one’s breathing seems closer to what I use meditation for.
Complexity scares me. I like simple. My goal in meditating is to clear my mind, to have no thoughts at all, to simply let go and not think about the past or the future, to just be in the present. Scratch that. To “be in the present” sounds weird and I don’t even know what the means. The goal for me is simple. The goal is to not think.
This is my technique. I meditate first thing in the morning. I try to do this once a week. The alarm goes off, I roll out of bed. I bring my dining table chair into my bedroom where it is dark. I like the dining table chair because it is simple, wooden, and makes me sit upright, no slouching. I sit up straight on my chair in my bedroom with the lights off. I put my hands on my thighs, I look straight forward and I close my eyes. I stare at the darkness of my closed eyelids. Then I begin my yoga breathes.
The breathing technique I learned in yoga is to take a slow deep breath in through your nose. Fill your chest up with air, then exhale slowly through your mouth. When you exhale you want to slowly push the air out, the way you would if you were trying to fog up a mirror or window.
I set the alarm on my phone for 5 minutes. For those brief minutes I sit, breath slow and deep, and try not to think.
I’ve never succeeded in pulling this off!
At first I couldn’t even sit there in the dark for 5 minutes. At about three minutes in I’d give up and have to look at my alarm and check to see if it was broken. Why wasn’t the alarm going off yet?! It must’ve been at least 10 minutes! The time seemed to take sooooo long. My alarm was never broken. I just couldn’t bear sitting there in the dark with my thoughts.
At first I’d be waiting the entire time to hear the alarm bell. It was painful to sit in the dark trying not to think. I’d be thinking about how I wanted the alarm to go off right then so I could stop the meditating torture.
I’ve never been able to clear my mind and not think of anything. I’m always thinking of something. I’m always worrying about something. It wasn’t until I started meditating that I began to worry that I might actually be crazy. I can never sit still and have no thoughts. I’ve never been able to clear my mind, to turn my mind off. It sounds simple, but I’ve found it to be impossible. Or at least so difficult to achieve that I’ve never come close.
Instead of sitting in the dark not thinking of anything, I sit in the dark and think that I might be crazy because I can’t stop thinking. And focus on yoga breathing, wondering why my alarm isn’t sounding yet.
Focusing on breathing is what helps me the most. For brief moments I can clear my mind and think of nothing but the breathing. That is the best I can do. It took a lot of work to get to that point and I’m only able to get there for a moment.
Breathing is the trick that helped me the most meditating. Focusing on full deep breaths helps pass the time. At first all I could do was sit and eagerly await the alarm sounding, like a kid in high school waiting for the bell to ring so he can run out of there as fast as he can.
With much practice meditating has gotten easier. I focus on fogging up the entire mirror not just a small corner. Deep breathes. The time passes easier. Before I know it the alarm is sounding.
Has meditating made my sleep better? I don’t know. I think the answer is yes, but I could be full of it. It seems if I’m able to meditate once a week then my sleep that week is more restful and restorative. But it could be the placebo effect at work. I don’t know. If it is the placebo effect at work, then I’m all for it.
Any time there is a situation with little to no downside and a minimum to potentially great upside, then I go for it. This technique works in many situations in life. It works great in investing, relationships, and healthcare. If a placebo effect has no downside and potential upside, then I say give it a shot.
What’s the downside of meditating? Well, I found out that I might be crazy because I can’t stop thinking. Other than that the negative is that I waste 5-10 minutes in the morning sitting in a chair doing nothing. Even I can afford a mistake like that.
The potential benefit of a few minutes of focused breathing are: better sleep at night, a more relaxed lifestyle, and who knows maybe lower cholesterol and lower blood pressure (Warning: I am not a doctor, have no evidence to back up these claims, and could be full of it.).
Give meditation a shot! There’s nothing to lose, you might feel weird, you might feel nothing at all, you might sleep better at night and feel great, or you might reach enlightenment (if so, let me know what that’s like!).
You never know unless you try and since there is very little downside to trying… why not meditate for a few minutes tomorrow morning?
Be sure to set the alarm.