I suck at meditating. I can't keep up a regular daily habit for longer than a month. I rarely do more than 20 minutes. Most sessions, I stop after 10. I never reached that feeling of bliss some people seem to talk about. I am far from enlightenment. I can't even get my mind to calm down for longer than a few seconds. I don't have a monkey's mind. I have whole groups of monkeys involved in gang wars.
But all this doesn't matter. Because you see, you don't have to be good at it to make it work.
I recently took the time to go through old journals and reading what I was writing a few years ago. And I won't go too much into details, but you clearly can see around when something started to change.
Looking back — as these things are always easier looking back — something clicked more or less around the time, I started implementing a couple of new routines: meditating and studying Stoicism.
I can't say which of these two helped the most. Since the teachings overlap, the truth is probably that they both did. But it is meditating that I find easier to implement into a daily habit.
All you need is your breath, after all. A couple of deep breaths go a long way to calm down your mind. But don't get me wrong. Meditation is a skill. It is not unlike dancing.
We all know how to dance and how to move our bodies. But some people are just naturally more talented; others are training hard every day. But we can all learn to get better at it. And this is true for meditation too.
In the end, meditation is simple. Not easy. But simple.1
So let me give you the basics, and then, in the end, I will point you into directions if you want to dig deeper. This meditation should take around 10 minutes. Set an alarm or use an app (I recommend Insight Timer for the Timer feature. Look for Kevin Wammer in Luxembourg if you want to add me.)
- First, you have to sit down. It is easier to meditate when sitting down because if you meditate while lying down, you will probably fall asleep. I do.
- Get into a comfortable position. Don't slouch. Again, you don't want to fall asleep.
- Take some deep breaths with your eyes open. Gaze into the room you're sitting in but don't focus on anything particular.
- Close your eyes and tune in into your different senses. Try to be mindful of the sounds, of the smells, of the lights and colours you see with your eyes closed. Try to recognize the weight of your body on your chair or on your way too expensive meditation cushion. Feel your clothes on your skin.
- After a couple of minutes in this position, become mindful your breath. You can feel it in different places: the tip of your nose, in your stomach, in your chest. I feel it the most on the tip of my nose.
- Most people, when meditating for the first few times, will start thinking after a few minut... who am I kidding, after a few seconds, and completely forget that they were supposed to meditate.
- If you're lucky, you will recognize what has happened very early. Sometimes you won't, and your timer will ring. But if you do, tell yourself silently "I've been thinking" and bring your mind back to the breath.
- Don't be too hard on yourself, though. You can't stop your mind. Even the most advanced meditators constantly think 2 Meditating is recognizing that you were thinking — so good job on doing that.
- And this is it. That's all there is. You sit, you breathe, you forget that you were meditating and start to think. You recognize that you've been thinking and you bring your focus back on your breath. Rinse, repeat x 1000.
- The more you do it, the calmer your mind becomes, the more focused you are, the quicker you realize you've been thinking. It's a skill. You get better at it.
A side-note: Don't try too hard to focus on your breath. It's like dancing again. If you focus too much on your steps, you mess up. If you don't focus enough, you mess up. You need to find the middle ground.
How long should you sit? For some people, 10 minutes is enough. I have to sit at least 20 minutes3 before I either fall asleep or my mind calms down a tiny bit. So, it depends. But three minutes is better than no minutes. Five minutes is better than three minutes. Twenty minutes is better than five minutes, and regular sitting is better than two hours once a week.
Try this for a week, and you will probably not recognize any significant differences at all. I'm sorry. You might feel calmer and more Zen. Or you might not feel an immediate change at all. But keep going and looking back you will realize that something has changed. You are less stressed. You are more grateful. You have more patience. Things will be less "extreme "then what you're used to.
If you want to get more serious, here are some other ways you can create a practice.
You can either use an app like Headspace, Calm, Balance, Waking Up or Insight Timer. I used all of them. You can read a book by Thich Nhat Hanh or Jon Kabat-Zinn. If you are adventurous read The Mind Illuminated by Culadasa. Or look for retreats or classes in your city. But we're all in lockdown, so stay the fuck home!
Or you follow what I currently do and do whatever David Caine tells you to do.