I started meditation practice in late 2017, and it came from a feeling that I was losing my mind, my cognition, my ability to stay focused on one thing at a time. Fear, anxiety, and worry overwhelmed me. My productivity was impacted, and so was my confidence in myself, my joy, my work, my relationships, and my emotional states, but a 10 minutes daily routine is chnaging all that.
I started meditation practice in late 2017, and it came from a feeling that I was losing my mind, my cognition, my ability to stay focused on one thing at a time. Fear, anxiety, and worry overwhelmed me. My productivity was impacted, and so was my confidence in myself, my joy, my work, my relationships, and my emotional states. It was a spinning wheel of misery. At that time, I never knew what that feeling was, but I knew that something wasn’t right with me. My thoughts and emotions were in constant flux. I could not hold conversations without my mind taking me off the present, I could not grasp the story of a movie unless I rewatched it. I would say mean words to people without minding how they felt. I would shy away from doing what I knew I was supposed to be doing at a particular time, and just cling to my pillow, thinking; am I going insane? My phone was my only companion during these moments, but looking back, it only compounded the problem.
We live in a world where almost all of us are unintentionally working all day, feeding and teaching algorithms as we scroll, click and tap; enabling technology and social media in rapidly hacking our brains and harvesting our experiences to the advantage of monopolies, and to the detriment of experiencing our world, and spending time with ourselves, and our loved ones. We are constantly distracted, from one tweet totally disconnected from the ones preceding it, and the next one, then to Facebook, to Instagram, to Snapchat, and all over again. It’s an era of information overload, most of which are gibberish, negative, and irrelevant in helping us in any way. But we are hooked, so we scroll anyway; taking in anything that shows up on our screens. Our attention span has been disrupted, we are in a constant flow of jumping from one context to another without depth hence, we wire our brains to be chaotic by default, and our minds all over the place.
Also, aside from the impact of technology, as humans, it’s in our nature for our brain to think non-stop — a stream of involuntary and incessant thoughts, even when we are asleep; thinking about the uncomfortable conversation we had with a friend or colleague, about what people think about the last photo we posted on Instagram, the work we have to do at the office tomorrow, losing our job, or a random thought about what tomorrow might bring.
We can’t control our thoughts as our mind jumps from one thought to the other at random, a dreadful condition that appears normal because almost everyone is suffering from it. This incessant mental noise creates a false mind-made self that casts a shadow of fear and suffering; impacting our emotions, our productivity, our work, our relationships, how we show up, and how we view and experience the world.
Being determined to get back myself, I researched how I could get out of my predicament. I found a lot of ideas like therapy, journaling, healthy eating, routines, physical activities, meditation, etc. I could not afford most of these things, but meditation was cheaper, even free, doable, and easily accessible. So I decided to give it a try. I read a book and articles on meditation, but they only made it seem like it was rocket science. I decided to just start. I had already heard about Headspace, and so I downloaded it - and from the first session, my misconceptions and lack of clarity about meditation went away. To me, it was simple. If this is it, then why can’t I do this and see where it leads?
I decided I was going to try to do it every day, and so I turned notifications on for Headspace (I had turned off all notifications for all other apps). Every morning, I’d do a 10 minutes free session. I could not afford the premium subscription, and for that reason, I just did the free sessions over and over again. But one day, I decided to email the CEO of Headspace. In my email, I told him I was somewhere in Nigeria, and that there’s an income gap between people in the part where I lived and people in developed countries. I asked if they could review their pricing model to cater to low-income people. And guess what? He replied and sent me a discount code. I was happy, and I subscribed.
To be honest, I never saw the impact in the first year I did it, but I tried to do it every day. There were days when I didn’t do it, but I kept going anyway (my longest streak is only 29 days). Gradually, the little practice of focusing on one thing for roughly 10 mins, and coming back to it whenever my thoughts shifted became magical. It wasn’t a one day epiphany, it just gradually unfolded.
I could sense when my emotions drifted off course, or when those stream of thoughts set in, and I would catch myself and bring myself back to what I was doing — the present moment, and not being drawn in by those thoughts. My productivity levels have continued to increase because I now realize when I’m distracted and come back to my work. I can catch my impulses like never before. I can hold a conversation or listen without being caught up in my meandering thoughts. Negativity and overthinking have no control over me like they used to. Meditation has completely changed my relationship with my thoughts and emotions. A slave before, I’m now taking my position as the master of my mind.
Before I go into all that meditation is helping with, I’ll like to break down the simple practice I do every morning.
I want to state clearly that I’m not associated with Headspace in any way, it just happened to be the tool I used, and still use.
Headspace is an audio-guided meditation. When using Headspace, you have the option to choose a male or female voice depending on what you’re comfortable with. I find Andy’s accent very soothing. Andy starts with an introduction to the course or a session, and sometimes an animation to go with it. Then you are asked to take some deep breaths in through the nose, and out through the mouth while sitting down in a comfortable position. Next, you’re asked to close your eyes and try to sense how you feel emotionally and physically. Then you are asked to focus on what your physical senses could perceive — your ears on what you can hear at that moment, what your skin can feel, then you are asked to scan down your body; more like building up a picture from head to toe. You can sometimes sense tingles, or discomfort you wouldn’t have noticed without this practice. All the above is preliminary.
Then finally, the main exercise — you are asked to focus your attention on your breath — inhaling and exhaling, no effort needed; it’s just being aware of your breath as your body naturally does its work. And in-between focusing on your breath, you are told to come back to your breath because naturally our thoughts creep in and we lose focus on the breath.
In a nutshell, the exercise is:
That’s it, folks. It’s that simple. There are other sessions where you are told to imagine something or feel something. But the idea is to give your mind something to focus on with intention, and when you are distracted by thoughts, you come back to that object of focus. This simple technique and practice have changed my life in tremendous ways. Here’s how:
Have you found yourself checking your email or scrolling through Twitter when you are supposed to be working on a project or something you’ve scheduled for that time? You’re sitting at your desk to get something done, but before you know it, you’ve opened multiple tabs, you are on Twitter, Facebook, etc. This was my default setting. Thanks to meditation, I’m beginning to unlearn that behavior. I now can catch myself when I’m not doing what I intended to do at that time. For me, scheduling is the key. If I have x work to do from 10 AM - 12 PM, anything else that pops up is a distraction. And because I have practiced knowing when I drift off focus, I can catch myself almost at an instant and come back to what I’ve scheduled for that time. I get more work done than ever before, and my time is saved. It’s a superpower that I think everyone deserves to have.
Our thoughts and emotions are the holy grail of everything we do. As humans, fear, self-doubt, anxiety, uncertainty, hate, and all whatnots are hard-wired into our minds through the experiences we have at every moment, and often we spend a lot of time on negative thoughts and emotions. The result is suffering and depression. I’m not religious, but personally, the bible is a tool for my mind. It’s where I go to understand my capabilities and purpose. When these thoughts and emotions creep in, instead of getting carried away with thinking and creating new negative neurons in my brain, I can now catch my thoughts and observe them. Sometimes I evaluate them and then discard them; identifying when they’re made-up lies and projections. By knowing when these thoughts creep in, I’m able to say at an instance, “oh no! That’s not what or how I want to feel, or think. Why am I feeling or thinking about this?” And boom! I get my positivity back. This has made my mind whole again. I’m more positive, happy, and peaceful within. My confidence and outlook are off the charts.
Like I’ve mentioned, our mind is a reaction machine. We simply get angry, and perhaps react when things don’t go our way, when someone offends us, say something we don’t like, or try to deflate our egos. We are quick to judge someone based on what they say or how they look. We forget that love should be our main focus. Meditation has taught me to control my emotions by coming back to the focal point that I want — love, and compassion for people, no matter what they say, who they are, where they come from, or what they look like. It’s a phenomenal feeling.
Before my newly found super-power, I’d spend time thinking and moaning inwards about what I said to someone or the not-so-good feedback I got from a colleague or someone on social media. Spending time on these thoughts only led to self-doubt, fear and a total lack of confidence. But with my superpower, I can in an instant detect when these false thoughts and projections creep in, halt them, analyze why they came if I need to, and discard them. I only care about what I’m doing now, or what I want to be thinking about now. I’m aware the universe has given me abilities without limit, and any thought that says otherwise is a lie, and a distraction.
Overthinking is one of the causes of stress and burnout. It’s natural for us to worry about unpaid bills, or how we want to tackle a problem we face at work. And often, we dwell so much in thinking that it becomes an addiction. We put pressure on our brains to do so much unnecessary work that only heightens stress. It becomes even more stressful when we attach negative emotions to those thoughts. The result is an overworked brain, and depleted energy making us unable to complete the work we currently have on our plates. Ever been to work and before noon your energy levels are down to zero? In many cases, that’s the result of overthinking.
Meditation has given me the ability to be aware of when thoughts creep in and stop myself from following those thoughts. I’ve seen a boost in my energy levels and wellbeing.
There’s never been a time when a significant amount of humanity was collectively addicted to the same thing. Agree or not, most people are addicted to their phones. And why not? It’s the antidote to boredom, and a means to satisfy most of our innate desires.
Phones are great tools, but they are addictive, they steal our time, and can lead to anxiety and depression. From the moment I became aware that I had a problem with my emotional states, my number one suspect was my phone, and yet I can not do without it. I use it for communication, work, and learning.
On the other hand, I was addicted to it. I turned off notifications completely, muted everyone’s status on WhatsApp, and yet I find myself picking up my phone most of the time without thought and intent; scrolling helplessly on Twitter or Facebook reading crap, watching videos that add no value. I couldn’t control my impulses, not until the effects of meditation set in. Now, I’m aware of when those impulses arise. My screen time has drastically reduced. To be honest, this behavior is hard to break, but by being mindful and conscious, I now pick my phone less often than I used to.
I could go on to write about the impact of meditation in my life, but here are other ways meditation has helped me:
Looking back, my problem was me being in desperate search of myself. Most of our worries stem from a lack of a sense of self, and most people spend their entire life living in a false sense of self. Meditation has taught me that the self is not my thoughts, personal history or a story, or something that I want it to be, but rather, my self are those moments when no thoughts are pulling me away from the present moment.
The present moment is all there is, yet it’s been habitually overlooked unconsciously. We’ve been conditioned to overlook the most important thing there is, ever. The fact that our entire life consists of only the present moment — every experience we’ve ever had, and will ever have only happened in the present moment.
We all have goals, aspirations, things we want to do, learn, and experience, but what really would lead us to accomplish these things is what we do NOW — not what we think about tomorrow, or what people think about us. Being PRESENT is crucial to living a life of happiness, not devoid of worry but not focused on it.
I’m certain that not everyone wants to sit and close their eyes every day for 10 minutes. From my experience, I’ve learned that meditation isn’t only possible when I sit with my Headspace app. I meditate while on the bus by looking at the street signs, people, and being present. I could decide to look at, and observe the shoes of everyone that passes-by until I get to my destination. It’s about being the master of your mind, rather than being a slave to it.
But it’s hard to do if you haven’t put a routine in place — time and place to first start the practice and develop the habit of being in the present. As you can probably already tell, I believe that social media addiction is real. Technology amplifies our thoughts by putting more stuff in our minds, one thought after another, one Facebook post after another, and there’s no end to this stuff. The result is missing the present moment. Imagine being in this state for years; what kind of person you could turn out to be. I battle with social media. I can’t live without it really, but I don’t let it control me. I only go to Instagram when it’s time for Instagram. Maybe I should start a #TurnOffAllNotifications campaign.
Lastly, I know people have notions and differences when it comes to meditation, but it works. You just have to believe and do it consistently for a long time. You’ll reap the rewards and start living again.
© 2020 Precious M. All rights reserved.