It was literally just a google search.
I remember sitting at the edge of my bed, frustrated and exhausted from the endless chatter in my head. So, I googled “How to not get overwhelmed by thoughts” (typing that sentence on google was tiring in itself), and, the app Headspace showed up as a search result.
Without even knowing what it was, I clicked on the link and started exploring their content. To be honest, it was the beautiful design that caught my attention, it made me want to stay there, as if, a combination of code seemed to get my frustration- it empathized with me.
One thing led to another and I started meditating every day for ten minutes.
It has been almost a year and a half now, and, the simple act of sitting idle for ten minutes has taught me more about myself and life than any textbook.
Here are some lessons I’ve learned:
#1 We are not our thoughts and feelings
The French Philosopher Rene Descartes is famous for his saying “We think therefore we are” which, roughly translates into equating identity with thinking. And, to some extent, we’re all pretty identified with the voice in our heads, that constant chatter that guides our lives. It tells us what to do, who we are and how to react to situations.
A similar story holds true for feelings. Whenever we feel an emotion, we tend to become it.
Meditation taught me that, in reality, we’re not our thoughts or feelings. That, itsa sense of space can be created between the real “us” and our conscience.
Sitting idle for ten minutes is tougher than it sounds, our minds are going to wander and our feelings- erupt. The goal, then, is to not get lost in this and instead- be present. That is, whenever the mind wanders, recognize thit’sa thought and bring our attention back to the body, to the point of focus (breath in case of Mindfulness Meditation and Mantra in case of Transcendental Meditation).
The same holds true for getting space from feelings. A body scan helps us recognize the physiological changes happening in our bodies (that feeling of rush during rage or excitement, the “heaviness’ in our chest during depression) , helping us “see” our feelings instead of be it.
During times of stress, this space helps us make better decisions. It stops us from using our fists during that argument or believing that we suck just because that voice is a downer.
So, was Descartes wrong? I’ll let Eckhart Tolle take over:
“The philosopher Descartes believed that he had found the most fundamental truth when he made his famous statement: “I think, therefore I am.” He had, in fact, given expression to the most basic error: to equate thinking with Being and identity with thinking.”- Eckhart Tolle, Power Of Now
#2 Life is simple. It just.. is
We have many interpretations of what life is and isn’t; When things go wrong, these perceptions come into play and things get a bit more complicated than they actually are.
Despite knowing that life is in the present, it’s incredibly tough for us to stay there. We’re teased by things and people around us, so much so, that we spend most of our time living in the past or dreading/fantasizing about the future. Or worse- both.
Think about it- at this exact moment, as you read this, what else are you thinking about?
Now, I’m sure you know this. I’m certain you’ve read a hundred other articles that talk about our unfortunate inability to stay in the now. So, the question is- what can we do, if, our society today makes it harder for us to stay in the now?
Meditation is not just about practicing the present moment in those ten minutes.It’s about extending that practice beyond those ten minutes- to the things we do everyday, to the tasks we engage in, the people we talk to; To life.
Meditation, then, taught me that no matter how wrong things go, the present moment is very simple. It just is- right there, without pain, without suffering. It’s our mind’s interpretation of the future and past that makes us worrisome.
The Stoic Philosopher Seneca once said- “We suffer more in imagination than in reality”. And, after year and a half of simply noticing and being curious of my thoughts and feelings, I can say that Seneca was right.
#3 Kindness is the way forward
Meditation helped me become kinder- to myself and to others. It taught me that we can only be charitable and kind to others if, in a very real sense, we’re attuned with our own madness.
It also made me ask a more important question- If we’re not our thoughts or feelings, why do we think what we think? Why do we feel what we feel?
Sadly, most of the factors that dictate this, to some extent, are out of our control- childhood experiences, genetics, etc.
We’ve all had different kinds of childhoods and have been brought up by people, who, themselves, have lived so many different stories. And then, after growing up, we’ve ourselves experienced and gone through so many different things.
Our past matters too because it shapes how we respond to life in the present. For instance, what do you do to fight stress? How do you stay sane when things go out of bounds? Do you stay sane when things go out of bounds?
Here’s Daniel Goleman in his book Emotional Intelligence- “Emotional Intelligence begins to develop in the earliest years. All the small exchanges children have with their parents, teachers, and with each other carry emotional messages.”
So, most of our automatic patterns of thought have been constructed by such experiences.
Now, can we change ourselves?
Of course. But, isn’t it a little sad that much of this is outside of our control?
No wonder people judge us (and we judge them).
Meditation helped me to not make immediate assumptions about people; it made me realize that in reality, no one’s “bad”; we’re all just hurt in different ways. Further, it made me kinder towards myself, so, whenever I’m having a bad day, I remind myself that I’m not my thoughts or my feelings; they just are, for us to observe and learn from.
Because I’m kinder to myself (attuned to my own madness), being kinder to others is easier.
I guess Plato got it right on point when he said, “Be kind. For everyones fighting a hard battle.”
#4 Productivity is simple
We’ve made productivity way too complex; there are hundreds of apps and add ons that will help you achieve “10X more” and “10X faster”. Unfortunately, when it comes to accomplishing things, /more/ is not the answer. And, when we’re done with testing out new versions of apps, we think the “secret” lies in taking supplements.
In theory, however, productivity just requires two things- clarity and focus.
I wrote about how we can use Stoic Philosophy to gain some clarity before engaging in any task.
Just like Philosophy can help us gain clarity, Meditation can help us get in the flow state.
Sitting in silence for 10 minutes (or more) helps me train my mind to come back to the object of focus. So, no matter how distracted I am by thoughts and/or feelings, once I’m aware that I’m unaware, I’m not unaware anymore.
This practice (of coming back to the present, again and again), has made me quite productive. Now, I know that before I start engaging in any task, I need to snooze all my notifications so i don’t get distracted by external things. Similarly, to make sure my own thoughts and feelings don’t block my progress, I try to achieve stillness whilst doing the task by being conscious of my breaths. And, because I only do one task at a time, my working memory has information that is very specific to the task at hand.
Once the flow state kicks in, I’m out and if Meditating for a few minutes everyday can help us enter in this state, I think its worth trying.
I can end this post by going on and on about how grateful I am for that google search, but, I think I’ll let Marcus Aurelius end it, hoping that it encourages you to practice sitting in silence.
People try to get away from it all- to the country, to the beach, to the mountains. You always wish that you could too. Which is idiotic: you can get away from it anytime you like. By going within. Nowhere you can go is more peaceful- more free of interruption-than your own soul. An instant recollection and there it is: complete tranquility. So keep getting away from it all – like that. Renew Yourself. But keep it brief and basic. A quick visit should be enough to ward of all and send you back ready to face what awaits you. – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations.
Monil is a business student turned writer who helps people live a better life through Stoic Philosophy. Find me at: Facebook: facebook.com/mindandtheheart Tumblr: monoshah.tumblr.com