With the New Year approaching and general mental health and wellness on the fritz thanks to all that was 2020, I imagine there are a lot of people out there who have “start meditating” on their 2021 to-do list. But meditating, like all activities that take time and practice, is prone to attrition. It eats up part of the morning and has no immediate benefit, so why do it?
Mediation—or “scheduled silence” as I prefer to call it—falls in the crosshairs of most Happiness Is A Skill practices. Though it appears not to have any immediate benefit, it is a slow burn that creates subtle and long term advantages. If I miss a few days of scheduled silence for 10 minutes each morning, I start to notice a general itchiness. I find myself jumpy and on edge, more prone to anxiety and intrusive thoughts. Put another way, scheduled silence doesn’t vault me into euphoria. But it does help keep me steady.
My routine is not fancy. After brushing my teeth, I take 10 minutes (regardless of what time I get out of bed) in silence. I use the Insight Timer
meditation app to keep track of time, primarily because I like the interface and it works on airplane mode. Most days I sit crosslegged on the couch, close my eyes, and do nothing more than pay attention to what comes into my head. I don’t try to clear my mind or even focus on my breath. Instead, I consciously watch the vignettes in my head, noting their variety and randomness. When I slip into a place of unaware thinking, I refocus on the colors swirling around in my eyelids and bring my attention back to what’s on the “stage” in my mind.
It’s a clunky process that’s better on some days than others. I am always relieved when it’s over, and yet I don’t feel complete if it doesn’t happen.
I chose to share this with you today because meditation has become such a buzzword that it’s easy to get lost in all the techniques, strategies, and apps. Those who have transformative spiritual experiences tend to tout it as the solution to the ails of humanity. But in my experience, it is a pragmatic exercise. Ten minutes of scheduled silence proves that I can sit with myself without doing anything, and it opens the door to other practices that require dedication with no immediate benefit.
Like writing a free weekly newsletter, for example. Or stretching. Or waiting in line at the grocery store without needing to check my phone. On their own, none of these exercises are life-changing. But over time, with practice, they contribute to a steady life.