Why Do I Meditate?
When I was younger, I never thought much about my ability to focus. My mind operated through the assembly line of education, household chores, and maintaining relationships among my social circles. The hallmark of immaturity is the inability to be self-aware and focused; meditation, however, helps instill these skills.
The benefits of meditation are many, but there are three primary reasons why I believe it is worth doing. I will also touch on my approach to meditation that I hope appeals to the pragmatic among you.
In 2012, I took my first proper vacation to Japan. I went by myself, and came back with a feeling of having just woken up from a dream. I began to ask myself, "What am I doing? Have I been wasting all this time?" This kind of epiphany has dawned on me more than once, yet over time that feeling of wakefulness leaves and I find myself back in "the grind"--endlessly moving in circles.
I’m sure you’ve felt this way at least once in your life, like you're stuck on a loop of work-sleep-eat-work-sleep-eat. This is why we take vacations after all--not only to recharge our batteries but to adjust course, to realize that we are caught up in a metaphorical hamster wheel. Unfortunately, vacations are rarely enough to induce a lifestyle change, because it takes us several weeks to get into a mindset that allows us unplug--even in the most beautiful and remote settings. I believe the primary reason for this is because our brain’s subconscious neural network continues to fire thoughts that have become habitual. Check that e-mail, snap that photo, search what’s new on the web? Whatever your addiction may be, it takes a long time to break habits and sometimes sandy beaches or European villas aren't enough.
Meditation, however, can help, the first reason of which is because it inserts time into the day, breaking mindless patterns. While meditation is not about reflection, it is about slowing the mind down, which I hope you’ll agree, is not dissimilar to relaxation of a getaway vacation.
Second, I believe that meditation will continue to help strength my ability to focus on a task. This morning, I meditated for approximately 30 minutes. Doing it when I first wake up has been some of the best advice I’ve received on getting started. The practice was quite simple for me; I focused on my breath, noticing how each one is slightly different from the last. Today I believe that is all I need in my practice: a conscious observation that each breath is unique. I am not aiming to achieve enlightenment, become more loving, or practice gratitude. Yes, those things are important and overtime, maybe I’ll get there. Instead, I am aiming to mature my mind so I can focus it at will. In today’s working culture, it is vital that we do not mistake activity for productivity. Meditation ensures we avoid this.
Learning to meditate well, in my opinion, is about learning to be curious about the mundane. For example, breathing. Breath is unconscious; we do it without thinking about it. Yet we have the ability to notice our breath and even control it. This is where most meditation practice starts, but until this morning, I didn’t realize why. Each breath is unique! It’s subtle, but the amount of time you allow to pass between breathing in and breathing out varies. The amount your nostrils expand is variable. The smells you inhale are not consistent. The way you feel after each breath is also worth observing. I now believe that I can spend the rest of my life studying my own breath.
A reminder that quality, and curiosity are two sides of the same coin. After completing my meditation, I went on to make tea mindfully. I paid attention to the cup I was using, counted in my head the seconds the tea steeped, and I noticed how it diffused in the cup. Does this sound crazy to you? Consider the application of being able to do this in everyday life events. The ability to really pay attention is fundamental to critical thinking, to avoiding panic, and to discovery. When I execute my 25-minute pomedoros today, I will be reenforcing the state of mind I gained this morning by evaluating if I am working effectively.
Finally, I find that meditation is a path towards self-discovery. Beyond the mechanical breath, I inevitably walk away more reflective. The quiet-time of meditation allows me to ask myself questions that previously would have received automatic, ingrained responses. I find it easier to journal, to think about my priorities, and to clearly see my own desires.
It's entirely up to you why--or even if--you begin mediation. My goal in this post was merely to show that mediation doesn't need to be undertaken for some deeply philosophical reason. Think of it instead like fitness; just as you lift weights to strengthen your biceps, you meditate to strengthen your mind.
A small update
In writing this, I have to apologize for the long delay in the release of the Joie App. The timing for it’s development was less than ideal. We were getting married and planning the wedding. I was starting a new job. On top of it all, my wife and I were planning our honeymoon, from which we have just returned.
Projects like this have a tendency to fall off as the author loses interest. I was reminded today why the Joie app needs to be made--both for my own benefit and hopefully for others. By reflecting on the progress made so far, I’ve decided to pivot away from Xamarin for a short time and build the app natively on iOS first. This means that the first beta tests should be available before the end of the year and I hope to be making frequent updates on its progress. I hope that between the Joie app, and the Joie blog we are making the world a tad bit more mindful.