Meditation has to be one of the most polarising, yet intriguing habits of successful people. There are celebrity fans including Gwyneth Paltrow and Jennifer Aniston, lauding the role it’s played in their lives, and business magnates crediting large portions of their success to this daily mind work. As the rest of us seek to understand how to get that success and be more productive, the consistency of this push to meditation is hard to ignore.
“I’ve been starting companies, rehabilitating brands and promoting artists for over 30 years now and I can promise you that no tool has made me a smarter, more focused and clearer thinking entrepreneur than meditation. I would not be living in my incredible home, surrounded by fun toys, if it were not for meditation.” – Russell Simmons
An interest in meditation, is of course not something exclusive to type A personalities. With an ever changing world full of turbulence and pain, the opportunity to find peace and stillness within yourself has unlimited appeal. Each and every one of us experience the highs, lows and confusions of being a human being. Could meditation be one way to ride all this out with the composure of Oprah? Or the consistent warmth of the Dalai Llama?
In a bid to tackle one of the current challenges of human existence, mobile-attachment; apps which try and transition your phone from a provider of stress to a provider of calm, are flourishing. The success of these programs highlights the number of people interested in meditation:
Calm; “Meditate, Sleep, Relax” – 40 million downloads
Insight Timer; “Free Meditation App” – 6 million downloads
Headspace; “Meditation and Sleep” – 16 million downloads
Andy Puddicombe, the co-founder of Headspace has certainly done his research, having moved abroad at 22 and spent 10years training to be a Buddhist monk. He says of his journey to create the app: “Rich Pierson [co-founder] was keen to learn meditation and find a way to relax. I was keen to find a way to make meditation accessible. So we did a skill swap… that’s how it all came about.”
So whilst so many of us seek meditation, and the clarity it can bring, there is then a big, grey, disconnect area, where you sit on a cushion, close your eyes and… panic. Having heard your idols talk about the 15minutes of complete peace they feel sat in a similar position, it can feel a bit stumping to sit, calmly, having got up early in search of this peace and suddenly find your mind flummoxed with thoughts. As you breathe out trying to let it all go, the next breath in and you seem to be inhaling to do lists, emotional anxiety, and the meeting you missed yesterday.
“It doesn’t work for me” you conclude.
So what now? Are you just destined for a chaotic mind. You’ll never be one of those zen people who glide around and maintain their cool.
But maybe not.
Some definitions of meditation or mindfulness include:
“the act of giving your attention to only one thing, either as a religious activity or as a way of becoming calm and relaxed” – Cambridge Dictionary
“Meditation is the process of quieting the mind in order to spend time in thought for relaxation or religious/spiritual purposes. The goal is to attain an inner state of awareness and intensify personal and spiritual growth.” – Yogapedia
“Mindfulness is the ability to be present, to rest in the here and now, fully engaged with whatever we’re doing in the moment.” – Headspace
Maybe there are other ways, better ways, for you to achieve this meditative state, than one of the traditional Eastern meditative practices.
Last week I had a very emotional conversation before bed. I woke up incredibly stressed, swaying between angst, tears, anger. Lots of things, but none of them being clarity.
I cancelled my yoga class because I was too afraid of what it might bring out. I didn’t know what to do but I did know there was a podcast I had saved to listen to. It was Tim Ferris’ interview with Neil Gaiman. [Link Here].
As I left my house and started to listen, I felt a sense of calm start to come in. Gaiman and Tim both have incredibly soothing voices and there was a warmth in their conversation around the creative process which took me to a different space mentally.
The transformative nature of this reminded me of the many friends I have who used to fall asleep to Stephen Fry’s Harry Potter tapes. Fry having a similarly calm tone. There is something about hearing, but not really listening, that empties the mind.
Alternative Meditation #1: Audiobooks and Podcasts
My sister, Gina, is a keen baker. She undoubtedly picked up this trait from my mum, who used to come home from work very stressed and remain that way until she’d baked a batch of flapjack. Gina sent me the following the other day:
“‘Meditation is doing something you love and paying absolute attention. It calms your mind, brings focus and makes your brain work better.’… Turns out I’ve been meditating for years whilst baking… should probably learn to do it properly tho”
Alternative Meditation #2: Baking
A very close friend with a very active mind was talking to me about her current emotional battles. She was in a place where every day was a struggle. Most of the day, except the mornings and a few intermittent moments throughout. Those moments when she found the serenity were when she was doing her make-up. She would get up early enough to have 30 minutes to calmly go through her routine, during which time, nothing was overwhelming. Her focus was narrowed to the task in hand.
Alternative Meditation #3: Personal Care
Maybe because I grew up surrounded by the sea, or maybe, purely because of its power and the way it moves, wherever I am in the world, if I’m by the water I feel more peaceful. Sitting on a rock and watching the waves move forwards and backwards is a movie scene, used because it is a relatable feeling. When I watch it come in and out, whether gently or ferociously it’s not that my mind empties but more that there is a shift from..
I hope the irony of using a wave to demonstrate the emotions isn’t lost here.
Alternative Meditation #4: Being Alone, By Water
Whilst the ability to feel total stillness without tools would be a wonderful gift to work towards, if one of these things brings peace to your day, then embrace it as your meditation ritual. Prioritise it. Find a way to lengthen and make time for it.
This balance in life helps give you perspective, emotional stability, and trust in yourself. Three essential life skills.
And if not – try the pillow thing!