I remember clearly the first time I ever meditated.
Sitting crossed legged on the floor, I struggled to control my breath. I had just had an argument with my other half, for the life of me I cannot remember what it was about, something very trivial I would expect. Back then I got overwhelmed easily, my mind would race with thoughts and ideas that seemed impossible to control and often this lead to me getting cross and taking it out on other people. I was not a nice person to be around at all.
If you had asked me about meditation even a few months before this instance, I would have dismissed it as 'woo woo'. But there was no denying the amount of people that swore by it. I was stressed, angry, burnt out, anxious and tired, all of the time. I literally had nothing to lose in giving it a go.
So I struggled to control my breathing, sat crossed legged on the floor. The Headspace app purred away in my headphones, gradually calming me down. Birds tweeted away outside my window, I could hear the low hum of the M4 motorway in the distance. Ten minutes, flew by and the result was instant. Immediately a sense of calm washed over me, like a heavy, ever bearing weight had just been lifted away, a sensation I hadn't felt for a long time.
I was hooked. Actually, the second and third days were much harder to cope with, I could feel my mind almost battling back against this strange ritual I was introducing it to, like some kind of mental tug of war between calm and a influx of random thoughts, but I persisted and it was a habit that I very consistently kept up each day after that.
Having kept it up for so long, I had begun to forget the benefits it had bought me over time. It was just part of my morning, holding as much a place as making my first coffee or bushing my teeth. My concern was that I had maybe stopped valuing it as much as I had done before. Intrigued, I decided to stop meditating and see what happened.
If you are looking to get started with meditation, I strongly recommend trying out:
- Headspace - an app with guided meditation and articles to improve our mental wellbeing. I think this is a great starting point.
- The Daily Stoic - daily meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living. One short meditation for each day of the year, I read this each morning and it is a perfect start to the day.
As you will find out, just the habit of meditating for 10 minutes a day can have a massive impact on your life.
My Other Good Habits Slipped
I have been journalling, reading and keeping an up-to-date to-do list consistently for the past year.
After about four days of not meditating I noticed that I had more of an urge to cut corners elsewhere. I kept putting off things that I would have done without thinking before such as my morning journal and updating my to-do list as a last thing before shutting down my laptop for the day. I became careless, lazy even, convinced that I would catch up with these things later, although that never happened.
Lots of books I have read on self-development talk about the importance of consistency. Hal Elrod's The Miracle Morning, and James Clear's Atomic Habits are two fantastic reads that discuss the importance of morning routines/daily habits and how much they can impact the rest of your day. What I was seeing here was I was falling out of a routine, and in doing so, I was giving my brain permission to drop other habits from my routine.
This has a catalyst effect on other areas of my life. Without my to-do list I started missing things that I should have done. Without reading my knowledge would obviously eventually stagnate. Not writing in my journal daily started to mean I would think less about the things I was grateful for and be in touch with my thoughts and feelings.
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I Found it Hard (Nearly Impossible) to Focus
All my life I have struggled with being able to focus. I remember when I was in school I would quickly get bored, falling asleep at my desk or doodling.
Naturally, my concentration span is terrible. If I am on my own I find it nearly impossible to watch an entire film or play a console game for more than about 30 minutes without my mind wandering. At work it wasn't much easier, I would have to work in small iterations making use of a Pomodoro timer to keep me on track. Long meetings were an absolute slog, especially virtual ones, it wouldn't take long for my brain to move onto something better (usually scrolling social media or flicking through Slack channels).
Whilst I have never been able to get over this entirely, it became evident that my daily meditation was having some benefit on making me be able to focus a bit more than usual. I had a number of hour long meetings where I just couldn't sit still throughout, not able to concentrate on what anyone was saying, my mind wandering off constantly, thinking about what I needed to get done after this meeting ended. I found that I started to fidget a lot more and I would reach much quicker for my fidget cube, my hands almost burning for the desire to keep busy in some way.
Conversations became much harder to have with my partner for this very reason, I found myself not being able to remember what Becky was saying when she had finished saying it, my mind aimlessly drifting off onto another topic entirely.
To take it to the extreme, I nearly crashed my car twice in the space of the fortnight as well. That may be a coincidence, or it may not be, but it was evident to me that my concentration span had definitely dropped by the end of the two weeks.
I Felt Anxious
Possibly the worst one for me was the fact that I started to suffer with anxious spells again. This was one of the reasons why I introduced meditation into my morning routine, as I am a natural worrier!
I am under no illusions, my anxiety is not as debilitating as some peoples, more of a niggly sense of dread that lingers in the pit of my stomach. My anxiety keeps me awake at night, makes me question myself and my life choices, makes me feel inferior and is generally a pest.
Whilst I believe it was a multitude of different habits and lifestyle choices I picked up that helped ease my anxiety (especially digital minimalism which I wrote an article on) it was definitely scary and unsettling to have the same feelings that I tried so hard to get rid of come back so quickly at the change of one ten minute habit.
Anxiety for me is a vicious cycle - I feel anxious about the fact that I am not doing or achieving enough in life which in turn makes my mind race with 'ideas or thoughts' about things I should be doing which in turn distracts me from focusing on the important things.
It was a relief when I started my practice again, although the habit has not come back as easy as I had intended it to.
Similar to when I first tried, the first 10 minutes was a glorious, cathartic sense of relief - but following on from that each extra ten minutes I spend is hard going. Its a horrible feeling, that I know eventually will pass, but it is almost as if my mind is somehow tricking/testing me by fighting back against my search for mental clarity. My ten minute rituals are an inundation of random thoughts, discomfort and unrest.
I know with perseverance this will pass however, and after a week of getting back on track it is becoming easier to clear my mind and I will get back to enjoying the benefits that meditation bought me previously.
I intend to write a lot more on this subject - because it is something that interests me greatly and I wish that more people would introduce meditation into their routine.
If you have decided to give meditation a go off the back of this article then I would love to hear about your experiences. If you meditate and want to share how it benefits you then I would love to hear from you - either leave a comment or reach out to me on social media. I can't wait to hear from you.