Meditation can open up surprisingly many doors when it comes to being more aware, mindful, focused and just at peace with yourself. I try to meditate every morning for about 15 minutes and been doing that for quite some time now. Originally, I tried to find a way to deal with anxiety, however, after such a long time of practing meditation, I get to observe how my mind and character have changed beyond my original motivation, which I find quite amazing.
With this article I’d like to share how meditating every day has changed the way I think, the way I judge, the way I deal with people, the way I react to (external) stimuli, and pretty much the way I live my life.
There are a lot of reasons why people meditate, ranging from dealing with stress and anxiety to being more mindful, focused, and present (in the moment) every day. I first started meditating pretty unregularly out of curiosity after seeing Igor Minar’s talk on (Super)Power Management, in which he also mentions one of my favorite books Search Inside Yourself.
Unfortunately, however, I soon became part of the group of people that practiced meditation due to stress and anxiety. In fact, for several years during my time of travelling the world and teaching Angular at thoughtram, I had to deal with a series of anxiety and panic attacks that were most likely triggered by stress and me simply being burned out.
One of the worst experiences I had was when I was giving a talk at a conference about two years ago. The moment I went on stage my heart rate went up, a thousand thoughts went through my head, I felt out of breath, couldn’t think, let alone speak, straight anymore and just wanted to stop and leave. It’s probably hard to notice when watching the talk now, but the first three minutes of it were horrible in my head and the feeling kept coming back a few times throughout the talk. A panic attack on stage in front of over 500 people.
This event lead me to picking up meditation regularly again and getting a better understanding of how my mind and body works. I’m glad to say that ever since, I haven’t had any major panic attacks and on top of that, I’m overall happier in life, I’m much more calm and react much better to situations in life like keeping a cool head in heated discussions.
Whatever motivates you to give it a try, it’ll be most likely time well spent.
You might be thinking you have to sit with closed eyes and crossed legs on the ground, saying ”Ooommhhhhh…” out loud for an hour or so. That is really not the case. You can totally do it, but it’s not necessary. Meditation is all about being aware of how your body feels and the thoughts that go through your head without judging or getting caught up in them. Often, this is done by focusing on a certain part of your body, like the breath or your feet, legs, arms, hands and chest etc. At the end of the day, what you’re aiming for is to keep bringing your attention back to what you’re focusing on, everytime you notice your mind has drifted off. There’s also no requirement to do it for a long time. Just a few minutes every day can already make a difference. There’s even little exercises and techniques that can be applied for just a few seconds, multiple times per day.
Generally there’s no right or wrong, which makes the whole activity very rewarding. I personally am looking very forward to my meditation session every morning because I know there’ll be 15 minutes of relaxation for my mind. Just keep in mind that it takes some time and practice to get used to focusing on, for example your breath, while your brain is bored and craves for distraction. It’s not unusual to have bad days either, where your mind seems distracted all the time and you can’t manage to focus for just a few moments.
I recommend using one of the great apps out there that guide you through your meditation sessions, such as Headspace and Waking Up (no affiliation, I just use those myself). They both come with free sessions that can be used infinitely, so you don’t have to go all-in and get an annual subscription right away.
Alright, here are some of the things that I’ve observed and noticed in my body, mind and character over the past few months.
I’m a quite active and impatient personality by nature. I used to rush a lot of things, whether it’s life or work, things had to be done quickly so I could move on to the next thing. I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s also core to what lead to all the stress and anxiety I’ve experienced in the past years.
Probably one of the biggest changes I’ve noticed is that my mind is overall much more calm. Being calm turns out to be a very good foundation for all things in life! I no longer rush to work on my bike every morning, instead, I enjoy the ride and am more aware of all the people, streets and houses I’m passing by (given that it’s not raining of course).
When it comes to discussions, I can give much more constructive feedback and don’t get too attached to the topic at hand. When I have a lot of things on my plate for the day, instead of getting overwhelmed and stressing out, I just take it one step at a time, at a pace that’s comfortable for me. Bullet journaling helps a lot with that.
You know, life is not a race.
I think I now understand what he meant.
Sometimes, I used to let my thoughts out as soon as they popped up in my head without letting the other person finish their sentence; whether it’s during an argument or simply when the person asked for advice. Despite not being the most polite thing to do, my intention is usually to express my understanding or confusion, and since there’s a lot of empathy I have the urge to let them know my thoughts as soon as possible. Similar things could happen when people tried to build up to questions - I think I know what the question is going to be so I try to answer it right away.
These days it’s different. I no longer immediately try to respond, instead, I listen. And I keep listening. Even when you’re done, I’ll be listening. At least for a few moments. It’ll give both of us space. Space for you to finish your train of thoughts, maybe you want to add one or another thing. Space for me to process what you’ve said and carefully craft a response that hopefully addresses your concern.
This has a couple of nice effects as well. The other person will feel and appreciate that there’s “room” to talk and to express what needs to be expressed. It also shows that you’re indeed actively listening and on top of that, you’re taking the time to give a meaningful response.
It’s amazing how this can make nearly every discussion in your daily life constructive!
Not judging anything is one of the key concepts in meditation. Thoughts will come and go. Bad ones and good ones. Some will trigger emotions, others won’t. When these thoughts come up, it’s kind of like watching them from far away without really doing anything about it. No action required, no judgment needed. It’s that moment when we bring our attention back to what we’ve focused on (often the breath). The same applies to feeling tension, heavyness or lightness in the body. It’s not about whether we think it’s good or bad, it’s just about being aware of it.
I’ve noticed that I’m judging things in my environment much less. It’s almost as if I’m completely neutral to any external stimuli that other times made me react in a certain way, like feeling anxious and offended or getting aggravated. Even things like getting to know new people becomes a completely different game if you don’t (sub)consciously start making up a picture in your head based on your impressions.
There’s an interesting feeling of curiousity that comes with it, which makes me feel humbled throughout the day.
At this point, you might have noticed that a lot of the experiences I’ve mentioned boil down to pausing, slowing down, and creating mental space. It’s interesting how these few, very simple, things can affect pretty much every aspect of your life.
Even though it’s really just a few moments, all of a sudden there’s time to enjoy the now, there’s time to listen, there’s time to make decisions, and there’s time to be aware of your mind, your body and your surroundings. It’s like watching a movie in a higher resolution on a really good screen.
How could you say no to that?
I’d like to finish this article by saying that, by no means is my life now all about rainbows and unicorns. It might have sounded a little bit like it, but meditation doesn’t take you to a parallel universe in which everything is just fine. Life will still be hard at times and there’s going to be moments in which I just want to throw everything out of the window. However, at least I now have better tools to deal with such situations. Tools I don’t want to miss anymore.