This week is not going very well. I had a cold a few weeks back, which I thought I had kicked. It is back with a vengeance, so I am doing little but bingeing Netflix. Nonetheless I thought I might take a break from add a bit more colour to this thread.
When I was in primary school (up to about 13 years old) my ability to concentrate was really well developed. Schooldays were like a competition to me, where I would be pushing myself to complete as much work as possible in each class. I read voraciously, and my reading skills were tested at a grade 7 level when I was in grade 3.
I guess this started to decline a little as I got into high school. I still performed well academically, but naturally once you get into your teen years you start to have a bit more on your mind. But something else came along during that period which I think has had a big impact over time - my access to the internet. Once out of school I read significantly less books. There was so much to read on the world wide web. I checked forums obsessively (shoutout to @JohnnyTruant who mentioned being active on a Tool forum previously - would that be the famous toolshed forum?), read blogs, and basically just started consuming information in much smaller pieces. Fast forward to my late 20’s where I was diagnosed with severe disruptive sleep apnea (I now use a CPAP machine every night) and my early 30’s where my anxiety really started to grab more of a hold over me, and I really felt the powers of focus I once had taken pride in were gone. In my work environment I was managing a team, which in some ways helped mask it because my days were taken up with lots of meetings and mentoring direct reports, but when I needed to sit down and work at a long task myself such as reporting or documentation making any progress felt really difficult.
This is one long prelude to saying I kept seeing more and more people extoll the virtues of a meditation practice. Eventually I downloaded the Headspace app in my early 30’s. I’d also started reading books again, and had just finished with The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. I felt determined to make meditation one of my keystone habits, and so I forced myself, day after day, to do at least 10 minutes of meditation. I beat myself up a lot because I felt like I was “failing” at meditating. I couldn’t stop my mind from chasing thoughts all over the place, and very rarely felt what I was expecting myself to feel - a clear, empty, peaceful mind. Still, I persevered for about 6 months, meditating at least 6 times a week. There were glimpses of the benefits. Sometimes I felt I caught myself before my thinking spiraled too far. But ultimately I didn’t feel the benefits were enough to keep persisting.
Some time in the following years I saw I think this exact youtube clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_qo4uPxhUzU
It’s about a news anchor called Dan Harris who had a panic attack on air. After searching and research, he found that meditation was something that worked for him and many, many other people. In another clip of his, he said something about meditation which had a profound impact on how I view the practice.
When you meditate, and you feel your mind wander away, that is normal. That happens to everyone. But when you are able to notice your attention has drifted from your point of focus, and you are able to pull it back…that is like a bicep curl for your brain.
Suddenly, I had a new paradigm through which to view my practice. Each time I let my attention wander and pulled it back was no longer a failure. That very act of pulling it back was in fact the entire point of the practice.
If anyone is reading this post and tries meditating in the future, I hope that lesson saves you a lot of anguish. I wish I could say it vaulted me into a consistent practice and I now have the meditative powers of a tibetan monk. Sadly, that’s not the case. I could rattle off some excuses, but it really doesn’t matter. The main thing is that I am in a better place mentally than I have been for a long time to take up this practice again.
As I said in my first post, I will be using the Calm app. Ive tried a number of meditation apps, and the reason I am coming back to Calm at this point is because of how extensive the library is, and because of the soundscapes and imagery in the app. I don’t know that the teaching in this app would necessarily be better than some of the other well-adopted meditation apps, but the 30 day program I am working through now (How to Meditate by Jeff Warren) is quite good so far. He even uses a similar terminology regarding bringing your attention back (a bench press for your brain).
Over time this year I would like to be able to extend the length of my meditation sessions beyond 10 minutes. I think a meditation retreat could be a really interesting longer term goal, but I worry about how well my body would hold up to having to sit in positions for long periods of time. I hope it can help me further improve on not chasing my thoughts, separating myself from my thoughts, and being able to concentrate more.
I also have an idea for a mobile app that is somewhat related, but I might talk about that in a later post.
I’m pausing before hitting the button to post this. It feels really weird. Why would anyone care? I’ll post anyway, with the mindset that this thread is for me first, and if anyone else takes the time to read and get something from my ramblings, then that is a bonus.