Meditation was not something that came naturally to me. When I was younger, I found that the rapid-fire velocity of my thinking gave me a sense of vitality. My mind seemed to be racing with thrilling new concepts and associations all the time. On the other hand, I found it bothersome to observe my thoughts and simply let them pass by, as is required in the training for mindfulness meditation. The ability appeared to be so much beyond my reach. The accompanying feeling of ennui was another factor that was counterproductive. I didn't worry if my so-called "monkey mind" with its restless and disruptive thoughts ran amok since I was glad to let it.
But the buzz surrounding meditation and mindfulness reached a level that was impossible to ignore. My life was likewise turned upside down. After becoming a parent almost a decade ago and then spending years reporting on serious topics like high-profile suicides and sexual abuse scandals, not to mention navigating the social and political tumult of the Trump era, I eventually started yearning for calmer internal waters. This desire began after I became a parent nearly a decade ago.
You could be looking for ways to begin meditating for the first time, or getting back into it, now that another new year is just around the corner. First and foremost, you should be aware that it is perfectly acceptable for your path to get here to be winding. In 2017, I wrote about the journey I took of experimenting with seven different meditation apps in an effort to transform myself into "someone who makes time, every day, to quiet their thoughts." My commitment to my practice gradually decreased after it had been at a fever pitch for a few months. After that, I only dabbled in meditation until the COVID pandemic, at which point I realized that practicing meditation on a daily basis for ten to fifteen minutes was crucial in order to deal with the never-ending stream of what-ifs. Then, earlier this summer, I became ill with COVID, and I spent large portions of each day meditating in order to pass the time, deal with the symptoms, and deal with the uncertainty of when I would return to normal.
My go-to meditation app, Ten Percent Happier, recently informed me that I had reached a milestone that my former, more dubious self never would have believed possible: I had completed 100 weeks of consecutive daily practice, with each session normally lasting between 10 and 30 minutes. I experienced the transformation that is described in every cliched anecdote of how meditation changed a person.
Through going through this change, I picked up three valuable life lessons. To begin, it is essential to engage in daily practice for as much of a duration as is comfortable and without an emphasis on attaining perfection. Developing a consistent practice can help you get on the rewarding path that leads to realizing the potential advantages of meditation. Second, despite my initial reluctance and skepticism, I am now able to attest that the aforementioned benefits, which may include a reduction in stress and an improvement in the ability to regulate emotions, were real for me and very satisfying, despite the fact that they took a considerable amount of time to develop. Last but not least, despite the fact that you are becoming less reactive and more calm, it is imperative that you do not use this ability as a means to sidestep intense feelings. Although it is beneficial to be able to better manage one's feelings, this ability can accidentally cause some people to become emotionally numb or detached.
The following is further information on each of the lessons that I learned:
1. Give up trying to be perfect and focus on putting in the necessary amount of work.
I would make this change right away if I could go back in time and progressively extend the length of my guided meditations while also letting go of the notion that there is a "perfect" method to practice.
I spent hardly more than five or ten minutes every day meditating for the majority of the first 100 weeks of my practice. I frequently convinced myself that my schedule was too packed for longer sessions. Even while this is sometimes the case, I would freely acknowledge that there were moments when I depended on a quick practice to "tick a box."
However, research conducted in the scientific community says that in order for one to get the benefits of meditation, one must first devote several weeks to practicing it on a daily basis for at least ten minutes, if not more. When meditators were compared to a control group that listened to a podcast instead of practicing meditation, researchers in 2018 found that daily practice for thirteen minutes over the course of four weeks had no effect on the meditators' brain activity. The findings were published in the journal Behavioral Brain Research. But after eight weeks of the same exercise, the meditators who continued their daily 13-minute practice noticed improvements in their working memory, decreased anxiety, greater focus, and improved negative moods.
Dr. Julia Basso, Ph.D., the study's lead author and an assistant professor in the department of Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise at Virginia Tech, told me that the length of the guided meditation was specifically chosen so that it could be incorporated into a participant's busy day. Dr. Julia Basso is also the director of the Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise lab at Virginia Tech. It needs to be a reasonable amount of time in order to be beneficial, but not an unreasonably long amount of time.