“No one can be told what The Matrix is, you have to see it for yourself.” — Morpheus.
Meditation is like the Matrix; I don’t believe that anyone can tell you what you’re going to get out of it, or how it is going to affect you, it is something that each individual has to experience for themselves.
But this is my experience.
I’ve been meditating regularly, pretty much daily, for over 3 years; I was struck by the number of people whom I admired that meditated regularly; visionaries like Steve Jobs, business titans like Ray Dalio, talented actors like Hugh Jackman. All are, or were, regular meditators.
Dalio even lists meditation as one of his Principles in his book Principles for Life and Work.
One of the things that was apparent about meditation though was that you had to actually do it. It wasn’t something that you could do in half measures and expect to see results. It was like training and exercise in that way; a weekly workout isn’t enough. You need to throw yourself into it, full force, if you want to see changes, and even more importantly, you have to do it every day.
So I did.
For a long time it didn’t seem to be doing anything, I didn’t feel any different; I didn’t feel super zen, I hadn’t developed telekinesis, but I kept at it, kept going back every day, loading the app and going through the process.
And then one day, it happened.
I was in a meeting with my boss, he was a great guy, but he had a pretty nasty habit of shooting the messenger. Something came up during the meeting and I had to give him some bad news. It was the first time he was hearing it, and it was in a room with a bunch of other people, but it wasn’t time critical and it could have been discussed in further detail outside the room, he, however, decided to go the other way.
When you’re having lumps torn off you by a manager in front of 15 other people, for telling him something that he needed to know, there is a tendency to want to react. I felt the adrenaline dump into my bloodstream, felt my pulse quicken, felt the need to defend myself, to jump in, to yell, to say “Hang on!”, and to generally cause a scene.
But in the end, I didn’t react, I responded.
I remember the world slowing down, I remember listening to what he was saying amazed at the fact that I was just letting him take his pop, and when he was finished I calmly responded to his criticism, point by point.
I got myself an apology from the manager himself (later) and praise from the others in the room for the way in which I had responded to the event.
It was eye-opening.
Meditation teaches us to let go, to detach from whatever is happening, that there is no good or bad, there is just what you see in front of you and your response to it.
I saw those things play out that day.
Since then, I have seen the effects of meditation in more and more places, in an enhanced ability to stay calm and collected when others aren’t, to put an event to one side and find the path forward, to not dwell on the past or yearn for the future, wishing away the present.
Then came Lockdown.
During lockdown, I made sure that I was making time to meditate, that I was giving myself the space to breathe, for 10 or 15 minutes a day; the ability to separate my response to what was happening around me from my reaction to it was crucial for navigating the pressures and the struggles of being a Parent, Teacher, Husband, Best Friend, and Professional all at the same time.
Without meditation, I know that I would have struggled to stay calm and focussed in any number of the situations that I found myself in during those weeks, and indeed I saw several around me lose their heads while I could (mostly) keep mine. Meditation was my space, a place where I could retreat to find peace, to find calm; all without having to go anywhere.
Marcus Aurelius speaks of finding peace inside to be happy wherever you are, meditation provided me that sanctuary.
Where to Start
- Commit — The first thing to do is to commit to giving it a proper go, as I said; it took months before I noticed any benefit at all from my meditation practice, and so it will likely be for you.
Remember who you are doing this for, it’s not just about you, it’s about those around you as well; how much better off will they be if you can hold yourself in check, if you can stop reacting to any and every stimulus and instead respond to the things around you in a calm and measured way.
What difference will it make to your family, your friends, your colleagues, if you could be more emotionally centred, and clearer headed?
Commit to trying, to really trying, for them, as much as for yourself.
- Find a Place / Time that works — Finding somewhere that you can sit quietly without being disturbed is essential, which also probably means making some time in your day to go there as well.
Something that I always tell people is never to miss an appointment with yourself, so when you put the time in, do it early in the day, before other things have got in your way, it can be right after you’ve woken up.
Personally I tend to meditate early in the morning, I get up 30 minutes before the rest of the house, head downstairs and fire up a meditation through my Apple Watch before anyone else is awake, that way I know I have the time and the space to myself that I won’t be disturbed, and I know that there won’t be anything else getting in the way.
- Get an App — Speaking of the Apple Watch, get yourself an app that you can use to help you. I use Headspace, but loads of alternatives are out there; Breathe, Calm, Morning…
Ultimately it doesn’t matter which one you choose, just as long as it’s one that you get along with and that you’ll keep going back to, Headpsace does have an Apple Watch app which works for me, but ultimately, they are all much the same, really it’s just about making it easier to get into the practice and learn the basics.
- Stick At It — As my story above shows, it takes some time for the benefits to start to show through, so it’s something that you have to stick at even though you can’t see or feel any changes. It might take weeks or months but the changes will come, and you’ll know them when you see them, but you have to give it time and dedication.
Meditation isn’t something that I speak very often about with others, it’s not something that I evangelise, like exercise. It’s not about converting people or bringing them around to a certain way of thinking, in fact a lot of mindfulness is about accepting things as they are; so if it’s not for you then that’s OK, not everything can be for everyone.
But it if it is something that you want to try, then try it; but you have to really try it, there are no half measures and there’s certainly no quick fix, and it may be that those around you don’t see any change at all, but when it happens you’ll know it, and you might get more out of it than you thought possible,