You know those moments when your mind is filled with a barrage of thoughts going 1000 miles-an-hour, making it impossible to focus on even one of them?
There is a way to stop that madness. And all you have to do is nothing.
Of the many things that I wish I had discovered or been taught earlier in life, meditation is high up on the list.
When I think back to moments where I could not focus on a given task or come up with a quick-witted response in a situation that required one, it’s frustrating to think that the solution to both of these (and many other) circumstances simply required sitting for ten minutes a day.
Meditation, zen, and every other spiritual concept are going to mean slightly different things to many different people. However, meditation to me simply means strengthening the brain to be more aware of the present moment.
And it’s not necessarily scented candles, herbal teas, or “om-ing” it out in your darkened room (though you can do all of that if you want).
I believe that most people in the world sporadically practice mindfulness- the act of having active attention on the present- their entire lives without even realizing it.
Those moments in life where you can vividly recall every single detail about your surroundings, who was there, and what was going on? Those are instances where you were extremely mindful.
It’s how athletes can recollect, with striking accuracy, an enormous number of details and facts about games and matches they played in their career. They are completely absorbed in the game situation and moment, having no other distractions going on in their heads. They are just ‘being’.
I can recall being on a family vacation when I was around 13-years-old, and we were walking along the beach at sunset. I remember thinking to myself that the moment was perfect, and wished that I could remember it forever. I took into account everything around me; the sound of the waves, the smell of the salt, and the shade of the setting sun. Not that I had much to worry about at that age, but because I took that moment to focus on everything around me, I can now revisit it in my mind anytime I want with absolute precision.
Like in a video game, mindfulness is similar to creating a save state you can revisit anytime you please, simply by being present. Meditation is the re-charge and strengthening of this ability.
The practice itself is simple, and there is no right or wrong way to do it.
After setting the timer on my phone for ten minutes, I like to sit Indian-style (mostly because I’m not flexible enough to go full Lotus) on a pillow with my back against a wall.
I begin to ‘bamboo breathe’ (one big breath in, hold it in for a second, then release out in three segments), and try to focus on my breath and nothing else.
Sometimes I’ll repeat the phrase “What is my next thought?” over and over slowly in my head. On other occasions I’ll imagine a spiraling black hole, sucking in and vanquishing any stray thoughts that go flying through my conscious.
There are countless ways to “de-focus”, and meditation can be a creative exercise in a way as you feel your mind out and figure out the best manner in which to quiet it.
The thoughts will and do creep in, and that’s to be expected.
Sometimes these thoughts are random, forgotten memories from the past. And more often they are whatever you feel most anxious or worried about in your life at that moment. Many times I didn’t even realize how much something was bothering me until I observed that the thought kept floating through my head over and over again.
And on days where I know I am going to have extra trouble focusing on nothing, I have afew go-to songs I listen to in order to get me in state, which leads to an entirely different yet no less ethereal experience entirely.
As part of my morning routine now, I use meditation mostly to clear my mind before work and increase my focus.
However, I have also experienced moments of intense clarity about my life and the world. On other occasions, solutions have ‘come to me’ regarding projects that I’ve been working on that I don’t think I would have come to otherwise.
Growing up, I always felt like I was more absent-minded than most (my fourth-grade teacher told my parents that it constantly looked like I was “in left-field”), and while sometimes I still am admittedly a ‘man-ditz’, my recall, both short-term and long-term, is easily better than it has ever been.
It’s a striking thought that in today’s world we always have something going on to fill our head space, be it the car radio, the TV on in the background while we cook, or even taking our phones out when we are using the bathroom. It’s like we are afraid of being alone with our thoughts, even though spending time with them is the best way to figure out what is best for us and who we really are.
It’s amazing how much something can come out of doing nothing.