I recently wrote an article for a project management publication on the topic of asking questions. I won’t bore you with the details, but the point of the article was to be the noisy one – ask questions all the time and strive to be as interactive as possible with your teammates.
Today I’d like to focus on just the opposite: being quiet. Ironic, since I’m sitting in the corner of a very busy Panera Bread Company store with Erasure’s “Phantom Bride” blasting in my earbuds.
Anyway, what I want to talk about today is the act of being quiet. The act of taking a moment and focusing inward. I’m not talking about finding your chi or staring at your navel and contemplating the universe. Nope, today I’m talking about meditation. You may have heard of it. It’s all the rage with the hipsters.
Okay, I made that part up. I’m most definitely not a hipster. I’m not plugged in to hipster culture, and I can’t claim to be a spokesperson for the movement. Besides, I’m about 35 years too late to the skinny jeans party and my beard, when I do bother to try, is egregiously inglorious. But I digress.
Meditation, in my humble opinion (see, a hipster would have said “IMHO”), is one of the most badass things I’ve ever learned how to do. People who know my personal history with growing up in a non-religious house (because my parents were too busy diving for rings in the deep end of the pyramid-power new-age pool) will tell you that I very purposefully avoid things that have a specific spiritual, or otherwise faith-based, framework. I am a humanist and skeptic through and through. That notwithstanding, I did complete a course in Transcendental Meditation (TM) many years ago. I was desperate for tools to pull me out of a persistent depression, and TM was recommended by my then therapist. I needed something that was going to help me reduce stress, big time.
TM gave me the opportunity to commit myself to a daily practice of meditation. I found it to be quite relaxing, and it certainly went a long way to keep me away from getting into a cycle of depression medication. There’s a catch with TM, though. You can do all the research yourself (there’s a ton of stuff online about TM, both pro and con), and I won’t try to repeat it here. However, practitioners of TM are working to connect to a global/universal consciousness. I didn’t know this going in, but after learning the mechanics of the meditative act, I didn’t really need to focus on any of the other stuff. It’s not a religion, but it certainly has a spiritual vibe about it that is difficult, if not impossible, to avoid.
There’s also the fact that the TM class cost an embarrassingly high amount of money and takes four sessions (a couple of hours or so each) to learn. I want to be very, very clear here: I don’t want to bag on TM, nor do I want to come down on people who practice it and get value out of it.
I stuck with my practice of TM pretty steady for the first five years or so after I learned the technique. Twenty minutes, twice per day. I let my practice slip after a while and eventually found myself living meditation-free. This allowed my depression to return in all of its glory.
Early on in 2016 I decided I needed to do something about it and figured I would get back into meditation, but wanted something other than TM. I hadn’t forgotten how to practice TM (the technique is deceptively simple and I’ll never forget the how’s and what-for’s of it). I started to look around online for local meditation instructors and kept seeing references to “mindfulness”. What I found was that the act of mindfulness meditation (MM) was a well studied area and had demonstrable positive results. Of course, the TM organization has studies that show its efficacy, but those studies are a bit specious if you ask me. Both styles offer stress reduction, there’s no doubt in my mind of that. But, I have yet to see a genuine independent study on the effects of TM that validates its claims.
I discovered a couple of great books on MM (referenced below) and began to study and practice. As a result I have been able to significantly reduce my stress levels and have been able to stave off the beast of depression that has beleaguered me for as long as I can remember. It’s still there, of course, huddled in the dark recesses of my brain, occasionally getting the better of me and reminding me that it is still strong and needs to be fed from time to time (ala the Babadook). Nevertheless, mindfulness meditation has proven, in my experience, to be more effective than Transcendental Meditation. Plus, you can learn how to practice MM in about 2 minutes. Cost? Free (unless you get picky and want to count the cost of your Internet access to YouTube). Bonus: if you’re a bonafide, card carrying, humanist skeptic like me, you’ll appreciate the fact that mindfulness meditation is not associated with any religious, or otherwise spiritual, dogma. Galactic consciousness-free, baby!
So why tell you all of this? Well, if you’re a writer (or otherwise a creator of stuff), there is a high probability that you deal with some level of FED (frustration, exhaustion, and depression). I know I do. Practicing meditation can help you deal with this phenomena.
I try meditate two to three times per day (depending upon my work/personal schedule) and usually only for five to ten minutes at a time. However, I will go a full 20 minutes if I can (it’s kindof like a power nap, only better). Quiet your mind. Quiet your body. You’ll be better for it.
I highly recommend meditation to ANYONE who needs a way to deal with day-to-day stress (i.e. everyone). Here are some links that might interest you:
- If you’re into exploring Transcendental Meditation, then check out the official TM organization at https://www.tm.org/
- For a really entertaining journey to discovering the power of mindfulness meditation, read Dan Harris’ “10% Happier“.
- For a really good book that gets you schooled up on how to practice mindfulness that also comes with an audio CD, check out Sharon Salzberg’s “Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation: A 28-Day Program“
- Both Dan Harris and Sharon Salzberg have some entertaining and informative videos on YouTube. Start with this one and do your own homework afterwards: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w6T02g5hnT