• Help me learn new skills in 2017 – Meditation!

    This post is part of a series in which I’m dedicating two months to learning six new skills this year. The full schedule can be found here. This is month one/two. (tl;dr at the bottom of this post)

    I’ve tried to meditate before. Before this year, I’d maybe made it for a few days at most before losing track and giving up. I’d even tried Headspace before but never got past the third day.

    I’ve never been opposed to meditation. It’s not that I’ve been disdainful towards it, or thought it was a waste of time. It was just that I didn’t prioritize it or give it enough weight in my day to make sure I did it.

    It may surprise many of you, but I am a huge consumer of self-help books. I’ve read many and found a few gems. About a year or two ago, I came across Dan Harris’s book 10% Happier. It was a revelation. He described meditation in a way that I could appreciate. It wouldn’t work miracles. It wouldn’t end my mental neuroses or issues. But it might make me ten percent happier.

    It has.

    I committed to doing this every day, and one of the great things about this series is that when I commit to the blog, I prioritize making it happen. I started with the Headspace base pack, for 10-minute sessions at a time. When I cleared the first ten, I upped the time to 15 minutes for the second. When I started the final 10-day base pack, I increased the sessions to 20 minutes.

    If you had told me months ago that I could somehow sit still and not do anything for 20 minutes, I would have laughed in your face. After that, I tried out the packs on “patience” and “acceptance”. Both were helpful.

    I should be clear that I’m pretty clinical about meditation. I don’t feel very spiritual about it. I didn’t have gratitude-moments or any real breakthroughs. I had no out-of-body experiences and didn’t advance to any other planes of existence.

    That doesn’t mean I didn’t succeed. I found that the most important thing was committing to 15-20 minutes every day without fail. There have been any number of benefits. These include, but are not limited to:

    • I have learned that my active, thinking mind is not nearly as helpful as I think. I might have sometimes found it entertaining to have arguments in my head while I shower or drive, but they only seem to rile me up and never lead to resolutions.
    • I have learned to quiet my mind. By that, I mean I recognize when I’m not present, I can note “that’s thinking”, and I can bring myself back to the moment.
    • I spend a day or two in Disneyland recently. I found that I could wait in the lines much more easily. I didn’t get impatient. I didn’t get frustrated. I could recognize the symptoms and return my focus to breathing for a minute or two, and that helped a lot.
    • When I’m on the elliptical machine, the time goes much faster. I can focus more easily on the show I’m watching and not be in my head about the time.
    • I find it easier not to get into arguments with my kids or with my wife. I’m not perfect, by any means. But I can see when there are potential issues brewing and I can choose not to engage or go there. I’ve noticed a difference even if no one else has.
    • I can tell when something is upsetting me and decide not to let my mind go down the rabbit hole. I bring my focus back to the moment, to my breathing, and I can see I’m being calmer.

    It was incredibly helpful to learn that I am not my thoughts. Arguing with myself makes no sense. While I’m not sure I buy completely into Eckhart Tolle’s “pain body“, I do appreciate that sometimes there is an “other” who is thinking things that aren’t helpful. Meditation has helped me to stop doing that.

    I noticed small, subtle changes to my attitude as well. I got through Noah’s Bar Mitzvah with less stress than with Jacob’s because I was more able to quiet things. The time I spent meditating each day would “reset” me and leave me calmer overall. I found myself focusing on my breath even without really thinking about it at times to avoid getting lost in thought.

    I think 10% happier is a decent way to look at this. I may go back to 15 minutes because 20 is often harder to schedule, but I’m not sure yet. I plan to continue Headspace, because I find it to be a useful guide, and I paid for the full year. I also find that using good noise canceling headphones helps.

    I’m also convinced that it took this kind of commitment to get the behavior change I needed to do this consistently. It will be interesting to see whether I can maintain that as I start to focus on other skills, but I believe I will. It was that helpful.

    On to knitting!

    tl;dr: You may enjoy Dan Harris’s book 10% Happier. You may find Headspace helpful. Either way, you should really consider meditating. I found it to be quite valuable.

    @aaronecarroll

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