Isn't Meditation Weird?
I think a lot of people think of meditation as being this strange, esoteric art that only monks in Asia do. Actually, Christian monks in the West also meditate!
Okay, actually, normal non-monastic people meditate, too. And it's not just the weird hippie sitting in the back of your Eastern philosophy class. People who meditate span the whole gamut, from your average stay-at-home mom to even highly successful people like Kobe Bryant.
In an interview with The New York Times, both Kobe Bryant and Ariana Huffington confessed to meditating on a daily basis. Interestingly enough, when Kobe Bryant was 18, Michael Jackson tried to get him to meditate. When I first read the article, I totally read Michael Jackson as Michael Jordan. After all, it's a lot easier to imagine Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan, two elite athletes known for their intensity, using meditation to enable peak mental performance during gametime.
Yes, according to Kobe Bryant, Michael Jackson, music icon known for hits like "Thriller," was able to remain in complete stillness and meditate for up to 7 hours at a time.
© Zoran Veselinovic
While not every successful person in the world meditates, it's interesting to note how many do.
Here's a list of some more people who meditate regularly:
- Rupert Murdoch, news mogul
- Oprah Winfrey, talk show host and most powerful celebrity of 2013
- Ray Dalio, billionaire founder of Bridgewater Associates, the world's largest hedge fund firm
- Russell Simmons, hip-hop mogul
- Gisele Bündchen, supermodel and wife of star quarterback Tom Brady
While it's not necessarily a key ingredient to success, meditation is definitely not without its benefits as various amounts of studies have shown that meditation has a myriad of benefits, both mental AND physical.
Some benefits include:
- Increase in self-awareness
- Increase in focus and discipline
- Reduction of stress and anxiety
- Better sleep
- Lower heart rates
- Lower blood pressure
- and much more...
Newer studies are showing how meditation can alter even your brain as well as your body on a cellular level!
Back to the Topic...
Sorry for the major digression, but I just wanted to show that meditation A) is not bologna B) real people have seen real results from practicing meditation. Personally, I have been able to all but eliminate anxiety and depression from my life or at least change the way in which I would typically react to them, which brings me to my first meditation-inspired Life Hack.
Life Hack #1: Respond, Don't React
The first of my three meditative Life Hacks is Respond but Don't React.
What Is Reacting?
You're super stressed, have a bunch of deadlines to meet, and you wish your boss would stop bugging you. Everything feels like it's set to implode and your wife wants to cheer you up but she can't, making her miserable as well.
If you're reacting to what's going on around you, you are not at the cause but at the effect. So in plain English, this means that you let things get to you and let your (often negative) emotions take control of the situation.
Respond and Don't React
Responding, then, is the opposite of reacting to a situation. Instead of being prey to any whim of emotional variance you may experience due to a negative scenario, you instead are able to identify what's going on and respond accordingly. In layman's terms, instead of say, letting a stressful event get to you and have stress wreak havoc upon you, you realize that a potentially challenging situation has arisen, but you know that instead of jumping on the emotional rollercoaster, you simply respond accordingly to the situation by taking the appropriate actions necessary.
To illustrate this life hack with an example, my friend recently got into a fight with his girlfriend. In sum, it was a typically petty fight that a lot of couples go through. Instead of realizing what it was (a petty fight over $10), he chose to let his emotions get the best of him and reacted to the situation and was bitter for the rest of the night. Instead, he may have improved the situation - or at least how he felt about it - by realizing that what he was fighting over was really inconsequential and responding by letting go of the situation, being the sensible partner in the relationship, and moving on so that he could enjoy the present situation (that night).
Remember, respond and don't react because reacting isn't useful, which brings me to my next point...
“I feel a lot less anxiety since I’ve been meditating. I feel like a ninja in a fight. Now, when something comes at me, it seems like it comes in slow-motion.” - Ray Dalio
Be a ninja, don't react.
Life Hack #2: Is It Useful?
Lots of people spend a lot of time lamenting on how they've wasted their time on something or worse their lives on everything. The years of your life you spent playing video games? Were they useful? Probably not. That New York Cheesecake you decided to demolish last night after getting irrationally drunk? Was that useful? Nope.
Just as how some activities in life may be seen as a waste of time and the opposite of useful to one's goals, thoughts and emotions, too, can be useful or not.
I have a friend who will tell me that he is always stressed. While stress is not always a bad emotion in the sense that it can give us the edge to strive for something, most of the time, people stress way too much. Yes, work CAN be stressful. However, is it useful to stress so much about it that the work follows you home, into your bed, into your dreams, and permeates into every fiber of your being so that you can never relax? I would argue no. Things like stress and worrying about the future can give you perspective on your goals but most people take them too far to the point where it's simply useless. Why not just focus your efforts and energy on the most important thing that will affect the future: what you are doing now in the present?
Life Hack #3: Non-Attachment to Results
If you've followed me this far, I would like to say thanks. Many of the mindsets that people gain through meditation often fall through the cracks for others due to their convoluted and often mystical nature. These "Life Hacks" themselves that I am espousing might sound totally ludicrous and not simple enough to be "hacks". Respond but don't react? Shouldn't I react to situations? I don't want to be a robot! Is it useful? Of course worrying about the future is useful! How will I pay the bills? And now non-attachment to results? What is that supposed to mean? Not worrying about how I perform in life?
Non-attachment to results does not mean that you shouldn't strive for greatness. In fact, as we've discussed, some of the most successful people alive are avid meditators. You should indeed live an excellent life, where you strive to meet your goals. Nevertheless, don't worry so much about what happens next. The only way in which you will change what's next is by doing your best right. now. If you are more focused on the present than stressed about the future, you have a much better chance of succeeding and getting the results that you want. There is also the added benefit of being better able to bounce back from defeat, for if you are not overly worried about future events and attached to how they unfold, you can learn from your mistakes and do better next time.
I hope I didn't lose you completely. Meditation is something that has significantly changed my life, and I hope that if you are feeling troubled in life, that perhaps it can help you, too.
The 3 Life Hacks I've listed are little mantras I run through my head if I'm ever feeling stressed, anxious, or depressed.
While anxiety for me is still real and hasn't gone away, I don't think it's useful to react to anxiety and have it affect me negatively for the rest of the day. Instead, I recognize the emotion and respond by letting go and focusing on the beauty that surrounds me. Feeling anxious is not useful when instead I could feel content and appreciate what's going on. Besides, being anxious just means that you are attached to results and what could happen in the future ("will my date accept me if I say this?") instead of focusing on the present (enjoying your time and building a connection with someone), which in turn builds a better future (a potentially fulfilling relationship).
If you want to give meditation a shot, here are some quick and easy steps:
- Find a comfortable place to sit and sit however you'd like - you don't have to be in some preying mantis yoga position; just make sure your back is reasonable straight.
- Take deep breaths in and out and try to empty your mind (this may be really hard at first! Don't be mad if you can't maintain this emptiness for more than a few breaths. Simply return to breathing and start again).
- Set a timer and do this for however long feels comfortable and work your way up. For some this may be 10 minutes, others 2 or 5. The mind is a muscle just like the rest of the body and can be trained. You will eventually be able to meditate for longer and reap even more benefits.
Meditation is not a magic pill that will solve all your life problems. However, speaking from experience, I can say that meditation helps greatly in all aspects of life by freeing your mind and thus yourself from debilitating thoughts and emotions and allowing you to focus on what really matters to you. Therefore, meditation can help point you in the right direction but ultimately, it's up to you to take the first step.
For further reading, I highly recommend 10% Happier by ABC News Anchor Dan Harris. It chronicles his journey of becoming a meditator starting from his panic attack on national television and subsequent drug abuse to achieving peace within himself and becoming one of ABC's (and television's) top news anchors. The book is also highly entertaining and actually made me take meditation more seriously as I went from someone who dabbled for 2 years to someone who does it daily and can't stop talking about it :)
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