31 May 2013

On Meditation

When I started reading about self development, no matter the source - minimalist books and blogs, psychology papers, self help books, spiritual reads, japanese culture and history - the idea of meditation came up in a way or another. Meditation as a way to be more mindful, be in the present moment, know yourself better, reconnect to your body. However, I've always had this idea that meditation meant stop thinking, and I never could do that. Until I saw this TED talk.

Oh, I still can't stop thinking, especially with a personality like mine, spending so much time in my mind in the first place.

But for the first time, I am hearing that it is OK to keep having thoughts popping in my head while meditating. Because meditation is not about emptying your head "like a still pond", it is not lighting some incense sticks, sit on the floor and make weird sounds.

It is much more simple than that really. I think I have never implemented the meditation habit in the past because I have been impressed by the concept.  Just like many people can be impressed by the concept of minimalism. In both cases, I believe the reason is linked to the strong stereotypes associated with these concepts.

Meditation seems either like bullshit, or like some unattainable perfect stillness of mind you can only reach if you are a buddhist monk living in Tibet. But after reading all this things about meditation, and seeing this simple  TED talk, I now believe that meditation is a much simpler concept than the word "meditation" means to most.

Basically, meditation is the concept of mindfulness. The idea that instead of living your life in a rush, you spend some time reflecting upon yourself and the present moment, taking the time to feel what is happening right now.

As I mentioned above, my main barrier to start meditation was that I can't stop thinking, I can't stop having ideas, images popping in my head. Andy Puddicombe, in the talk above, lifted this barrier of mine by explaining that you can have thoughts while meditating. The goal is not to erase them, but to step back, and observe these thoughts the same way you observe your body sensations.

It may sound ridiculous, but it was a sort of epiphany for me, as if I suddenly understood the simple concept of meditation and minduflness. Now, I am thinking how and when I can implement a short 5 to 10 minute meditation habit into my life - maybe into the new morning routine I'm currently working on.

Anyway, I wanted to share this TED talk with you because it changed my views on meditation, so I thought maybe you'd like to watch it too. I will write a follow-up post in a few months to let you know whether I implement this habit successfully, and if I do, how it changed my daily life...

Do you practice meditation, or another form of mindfulness? How did it change your life? Or do you have, like I did, a sort of barrier, an à priori about the concept of meditation?


  1. As I've mentioned before, I do meditate. I did it off and on for a while, and am currently aiming to maintain a daily practice.

    It is since I started maintaining my daily "streak" that I really feel a difference. I have been trying to put the experience into words, but so far have not found the right ones. In short, it has had a major, but quiet and subtle, influence on my day to day life and thinking. It's almost like I can feel that my brain has changed.

    I didn't exactly have a resistance to meditation, in that I was uncertain about the content, but for a long time, I did resist sitting down and doing it.

    A few unsolicited recommendations:

    There's a nice little app that I use, I don't know if it is available on non-iPhone phones - it is called Eternity. It's very simple and unobtrusive and helpful.

    If you're looking for a book to read, I recommend Thich Nhat Hanh's writing. I read (and continue to re-read) You Are Here: Discovering the Magic of the Present Moment, and find it very helpful. Jon Kabat-Zinn also has some useful books on the topic (though I've never managed to finish one!).

    Finally, I suggest trying some guided meditations, at least in the beginning. I like the ones from UCLA Marc, http://marc.ucla.edu/body.cfm?id=22 - but if they annoy you, look around for another one. I notice that you really have to be able to tolerate the voice and style of the person guiding it, otherwise it becomes an exercise in irritation :)

    1. Thank you for all these tips and recommendations! I admit I don't really know where and how to start, so this is most certainly going to be of great help. I happen to have an iPhone so I will take a look at that app, and your book is added to my to-read list.

      It is also very interesting to hear that meditation actually subtly changed your life. I spend so much time asking myself questions, trying to understand what's happening in my body and mind, maybe daily meditation will help with this too.

  2. This is really interesting, saving this post for later reference! Like you I am one of those people who spend a bit too much time inside their own heads, and I have thought for a long time that meditation would probably be right for me. I just never got around to actually DOING it, you know? I will definitely give it another go :)

    1. I know exactly what you mean here!I'm in quite the same situation actually. But this TED talks, and Abby's links, gave me concrete material to actually start now :)

  3. Aah, I was just researching books on meditation and your post came up, i must have missed it! Trying out meditation is one of my goals for this summer! I'm not doing very well though, it's so much harder than it seems! Good luck to you!

    1. Good luck to you too! I admit I am not managing to include the meditation habit in my daily life yet. It's still one of my 2013 goals though - but I may start with only one or two minutes a day, for example right before going to bed or something. If I find a way to implement the habit little by little, I'll definitely write about it.