What I’ve learned from a year of daily meditation
You’ve played Candy Crush, right? You’ve probably completed a few hundred levels, and worn that number like a badge of honour (read: shame) in front of your less accomplished friends. It’s probably got more competitive than you ever imagined rearranging confectionary could. Unlocking those next ten levels has been like the frickin holy grail. You’ve strategized; you’ve thought as many as six or seven moves ahead to try and get that five in a row. You’ve experienced the anxiety of waiting to see if your set piece plays out like you hope it will, when you have one move left on a level you’ve failed sixty-three times already. You’ve lusted for the old days, the simpler times of level twenty-eight, when you still knew that joyous satisfaction of watching glossy little candies pop and rain down. Because the truth is, it stopped being fun two hundred odd levels ago. Now you just have to get higher up that map.
Well, Candy Crush is everything mindfulness is not. Delete it, and send all records of your progress to the data graveyard.
Because when you’re constantly thinking about your next ten moves and looking ahead to those higher levels, you’re missing this moment, and you can’t enjoy what you’re not present for. Mindfulness is about matching to goings on in your mind with the goings on around you. It’s about bringing yourself into the present. It’s about sitting down and just eating the candy, because dammit, that’s what it’s there for.
Meditation is like deleting the Candy Crush in your brain – the unending stream of ‘what’s next’; the backlog of spent emotions over what’s already in the past – so that all you have left is the candy. Pretty sweet (I’ll see myself out).
Or, that’s the idea. If you read my March 29 post, you will know it was around this time last year that my depression came back. I was on the home stretch of editing my novel, and my self-imposed deadlines were chipping away at me as they flew by. Stress, anxiety and an unshakeable sense of failure had me feeling like I was falling apart. As well as prescribing medication, my doctor signed me off work with explicit instructions to frickin take it easy.
I had to learn how to stop. Stop doing everything I enforced upon myself to feel like I was achieving something, and be okay with it. I had to learn to be in the moment. So I started meditating.
We are told a lot how mindfulness practices like yoga and meditation are good ways to manage stress and improve our overall mood, and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) has been used to help sufferers of recurring depression understand and manage the ways their own thoughts and other stimuli impact their state of mind. Can’t hurt, right? I figured I’d give it a go. With the help of this no bullshit guide from life coach Leo Gura, I started meditating for twenty minutes every day (okay, I’ve missed somewhere between five and eight practices), and here are the findings of my brief, poorly executed, and not the least bit scientific dalliance with meditation.
I’m an assistant deputy in my own brain
I’d like to think the one place I’m in charge is inside my own head. Practically, I know that’s not true, or I wouldn’t have spent three hours playing geography quizzes on Sporcle before I got to writing this post. Nor would I still be mad about the tea bag left in the sink four days ago. But it’s not until I sit down to meditate, and ask nicely if I can take the wheel for twenty minutes, that I realise how little clout I hold up there. Sometimes my mind has been wandering for minutes before I even notice I’ve lost concentration. A lifetime of bad habits is ridiculously hard to break, and it makes me wonder how much more productive, engaged and centred I would be if I could shut off all that noise.
I could use my time more effectively
This revelation probably has little to do with the meditation itself, but is invaluable all the same. If I can find twenty minutes a day to do nothing but stare at the inside of my eyelids, what else could I find time for? Learning French? Running daily? When I think about how little of my day I put to any use whatsoever it makes me cringe. I’ve never missed those twenty minutes. I probably wouldn’t miss another dozen such chunks of time. Have I used them? LOL OF COURSE I HAVEN’T (see previous point).
It’s its own reward
MRI scans have shown changes in brain function after as little as eleven hours of meditation. Well, by this point I’m up to one hundred and twentyish hours, and I don’t feel any different. Or maybe I do. If I was better at being mindful I could tell you for sure.
Either way, I can’t complain about an activity the only objective of which is – essentially – to quit worrying. When I shake out my limbs after a good practice I feel contented and calm, even if it only lasts the five minutes before I get back to work.
I guess I think we should maybe all be doing it?
After twenty-five years of not practising meditation, a year isn’t much to go by. I can’t say I’m underwhelmed by the effects, because I had no expectations. But if I’ve not yet seen the myriad benefits advocates like Gura rave about, at least I’ve learned I have a definite need for what it’s trying to accomplish, and you probably do too. I like it, and I will keep doing it. So, yes, I suppose, to meditation.