I’ve given meditation a fair crack, and it just hasn’t worked for me. I have, however, found a way to get most of the benefits in just a few seconds per day.
A few years ago, my wife and I joined an online challenge to meditate every day for 30 days. The programme gave us a guided meditation to follow, which lasted anything from ten minutes to half an hour.
We didn’t enjoy it much, but we hate breaking a streak. So in a move that tells you basically everything you need to know about us, when we finished the 30 days we decided to push on towards 100 days.
We went through guided meditations on Headspace, and from countless YouTube videos (Sam Harris was a favourite for both of us). I eventually took to doing it with no guidance at all, because it didn’t seem to make much difference. I remember being euphoric when a car would drive past blaring music, because it gave me something mildly interesting to focus on for a few seconds.
We were both relieved, and I think felt a bit silly, on the 100th day.
Just to be clear: I’m not saying that meditation doesn’t work. I’m just saying it didn’t do anything for me (at least, not anything that a nap of equivalent length wouldn’t have done better), despite giving it a fair crack and trying many different approaches.
However…it’s not actually true to say I got no benefit from it at all.
Finding moments of meditation
To give an off-the-cuff definition that will outrage experts in the practice, meditation is basically just paying attention. It’s not about achieving a zen-like blank mind or even trying not to get distracted by thoughts: it’s about noticing when you’re distracted by thoughts and coming back to the here and now.
Doing this for 10+ minutes in a row didn’t do much for me. But I’ve since started finding moments of meditation every day.
This can take various forms – all helpful:
- Snapping out of worrying about my to-do list, and feeling the water running over my hands while washing up.
- Suddenly noticing all the sights and sounds of being on a train, and taking an active interest in the experience rather than just wanting to get where I’m going.
- Noticing when I’m getting frustrated, switching to focusing on my breath for a couple of seconds, then having a mental reset.
- Pulling myself out of my own self-concerned thoughts and observing (without judgement) the people around me.
The common factor is stepping out of my non-stop mental monologue, and taking a moment to actually notice the world.
Each moment might last for a second, perhaps up to 20 seconds. Some days I do it regularly, other days it might only happen once. It’s virtually blink-and-miss-it, yet I feel like I’m getting the majority of the benefit of a whole meditation session in that time.
I don’t know if this is something you can get in the habit of doing without attempting a meditation practice first. I doubt it: you probably have to learn the techniques, and get them “ingrained” to some extent.
So even though attempting to establish a meditation practice was a failure, I’ve been able to take the basic skills and apply them in a way that works for me. For that reason I’d recommend giving it a try – but logging 100 days out of sheer bloody-mindedness probably isn’t necessary.