When I even mention meditation to someone these days, I can physically see their brain conjuring up images of burning incense and lying around on pillows. I’ve definitely been guilty of thinking this way myself in the past and never thought I’d become someone who meditates on a regular basis. However, after delving into some of the teachings of Stoicism, I’ve embraced meditation as a way to not only calm myself but also help me make decisions or plan things out.
Breaking the Stereotype of Meditation
Before we get too far into the benefits of meditation, I want to first address the definition. Toss out those images of a temple deep in the jungle and the wise old master cross-legged on a pillow. Meditation is simply making the time to focus your brain. In most cases, it’s focusing your brain on not actually thinking; being devoid of thought itself.
I’d be willing to wager that many of you reading this have reached this mental state in the past, if you don’t already reach it on a regular basis through normal activities.
If you’re like me, you’ll find yourself occasionally overwhelmed with tasks, thoughts or commitments. Whether it’s work, your spouse or even things happening in the news, constant input and stimuli can leave our brains a little frazzled. I’ve talked before about dealing with stress and mental overload using certain techniques, but those are tips for dealing with already defined issues or stress.
What meditation helps combat is the stress or thoughts that haven’t fully formed yet. If you’ve ever been in a situation where something’s bothering you, but you can’t quite put your finger on it, this is a prime example of where meditation can step up to the plate. One of the best methods I've found for describing why the process works so well is to reference a common household repair, the leaky faucet.
When a faucet begins leaking, it usually starts off slowly with some occasional drips here or there. It’s an easy issue to ignore, but if left for too long, it can become costly and time consuming to repair. Now imagine we’re going to repair or replace this faucet with a new one. If the first step we take is simply removing the old faucet, we’re going to be met with a pretty aggressive stream of water. As any good handyman will tell you, you’ll want to shut off the water before starting any kind of plumbing project to avoid any surprise water or pressure.
Meditation is simply a method to shut your brain’s water off at the street level. It allows you to stop the influx of thoughts or pressure, if only to get a reprieve from the small leaks. There are plenty of times I’ll sit down to meditate and simply use the time to think of nothing at all. It doesn’t always have to have a goal or purpose.
How to Meditate
There's no one right way to meditate and the exact method you use is completely up to you. If you’re looking for a great resource to help you get started though, I’d definitely recommend the Headspace app. It does offer a subscription, but the free app is enough to get you started with some guided exercises that will help you understand how to clear your brain of thoughts. These exercises explain some great tips and tricks you can use to notice when your mind is wandering and embrace it, rather than giving up. Trust me, in the beginning, you'll find that it's near impossible to do something as simple as "not think."
Making the time to meditate is the most important factor to me. Most times, the moments I feel like I can’t spare the time to meditate are exactly the ones I need to. Taking a five-minute break to clear my thoughts helps alleviate those overwhelming moments and allows me to re-double my focus on a particular project or thought. It might seem like you can't even spare those five minutes, but the relief and focus you'll feel can quickly make up for lost time.
There are probably activities you’re already doing each day that you can work meditation into. If you take walks or spend time working on a project in your garage, consider devoting five minutes to breathe and focus on not thinking about anything specific. The most important thing I’ve noticed is consistency. Whenever I lapse on meditation, I can feel my brain spinning up to even higher RPMs and I usually find getting back into a meditating rhythm instantly reduces my stress and invasive thoughts.
So whether you’re overwhelmed and looking for a solution, or you just want to take a more active role in your mental health, consider meditation. You don’t have to don those silk robes and lecture people on enlightenment, just take some time to turn the water off at the street for your brain. If anything, you can just reduce your mental utility bills a bit.