50 days of meditation
The Anecdotal Claims
Meditation might seem like woo woo gimmickry practised by Silicon Valley hotshots, exuding a look-how-spiritual-and-at-the-same-time-succesful-I-am vibe. To a certain extent, this is exactly what it is. Or has become.
But let’s put the cynicism aside for a minute. Meditation comes up again and again as cornerstones in the daily habits of successful people whether mentioned in memoirs (Ray Dalio comes to mind as I read his masterpiece Principles last week) or interviews (recurring theme on Tim Ferriss’ podcast, for example).
The Scientific Evidence
A team of Harvard researchers has found changes in brain chemistry after as little as 8 weeks of meditation practice. The changes include strengthening in areas that are involved in stress-reduction, empathy, memory and general cognition.
Inspiration and the last push
If you are still a skeptic, here are some books that might resonate with you:
10% Happier by Dan Harris
Harris is a famous TV news anchor. He suffered a panic attack on live TV and was forced to reconsider his way of life and tackle underlying issues. He found meditation and describes that journey from the perspective of a “fidgety skeptic” slowly turning into a dedicated meditator. The subtitle to the book describes it well: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works.
Way of the Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman
One of my all-time favorite books. Life-changing insights available for anyone who picks it up.
The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari by Robin Sharma
Stepping slightly closer to the woo woo zone here. The theme is similar to the two other books though: an initially skeptic career man (in this case a successful lawyer) is slowly persuaded by the ways of mindfulness practice. This book is great for more of the Buddhist approach, which runs through the other ones as well.
How to get started
Even though the practice of meditating is extremely simple (sit down and notice what already is), I find it great to have some guidance to begin with. I have found Sam Harris’ approach very rational and easy to follow. Harris is a neuroscientist with a lot of content and ideas in the field of mindfulness and meditation. For background and motivation, you can pick up his book Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion.
From there, I went on to subscribe to his recently launched meditation app, Waking Up. The introductory course lasts for 50 days. There is a 10 minute daily practice to follow. It introduces new concepts at a slow pace while keeping the core themes in focus: Notice what is. Notice how easily you can change your state of mind. Direct your focus, narrow it, keep it on the breath or another object. Subject/object relationship. Loss of the self. And so on.
For the first 20 days it felt like a chore. I have been doing meditation before, but I always seem to fall off the wagon eventually. This time I found it easier to stick to it, and after those first 20 days I started looking forward to that short break in the day. For me, I have found I have to do it in the morning. Thinking “I will do it later” has proved to be the same as “I’ll skip today”. After day 50, the app continues serving you daily meditations as well as lots of other content on mindfulness. After the first 50 days, the results for me might best be described as a small buffer between stimulus and response. Choosing to become angry or stressed, rather than helplessly being thrown into those emotional rollercoasters, to a larger extent than before. And I find it easier to break negative thought patterns.
Harris sums up the purpose of the practice in day 50:
“The goal of meditation is not to become a meditator. Not even a good one. The goal is to recognize how the mind always already is. And to experience the freedom that is inherent to the nature of consciousness. Freedom from fear, and shame, and envy, and craving. Freedom from self.”
There are tons of apps out there to help you build the habit. The Waking Up app worked for me. You can also try Headspace or Calm. In the end, consistency is key, however you achieve it.