But then, in 2013, as I started training to become a Coach, I was introduced to the concepts of mindfulness and meditation, and although I didn’t understand them particularly well, people I respected believed that they had value, and so I started to loosen my preconceptions.
For the next three years, as I began to read more and more personal development books and articles, I started to understand that meditation, and mindfulness, were far from weird - on the contrary, I discovered that a lot of great and successful people practiced daily mediation.
I read a couple of books on the subject (Pema Chodron’s ‘How to Meditate’, and ‘Mindfulness: A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world’ by Penman & Williams) and finally understood its real value, but despite a few serious attempts, I still couldn’t get the hang of meditation myself.
Then everything changed around 18 months ago when I heard a Lewis Howes podcast, where he interviewed Andy Puddicombe, the creator of Headspace, the meditation app. Andy did such a wonderful job of explaining what meditation is (and isn’t), that the pieces finally fell into place. From that point on, I was a Headspace & Meditation convert.
“Most people assume that meditation is about stopping thoughts, getting rid of emotions, somehow controlling the mind. But actually it’s about stepping back, seeing the thought clearly, witnessing it coming and going” - Andy PuddicombeThrough the Headspace app, I was finally able to begin my meditation practice, and although I missed the odd day here and there, I did start to mediate pretty regularly. I have no affiliation to Headspace, but it is fair to say that it began the practice that I genuinely credit with changing my life.
For those of you unaware of the app, it contains a number of themed meditation sessions, starting you out with the basics, and then progressing through 10 to 30 day packs which focus on different challenges (stress, health, performance, etc) and different techniques (noting, visualisation, etc). Everything is narrated by Andy Puddicombe himself, (a man with possibly the most calming voice on the planet), and although it is a paid-app, it is worth every single penny.
Personally, I used Headspace for just over a year - my meditation practice grew stronger and more regular every day, and although I have lost count, I suspect I am currently on an unbroken streak of over 150 days. I no longer use Headspace (I cancelled my annual subscription when it came due), but the skills and understanding it taught me allowed me to develop my own daily mediation practice.
My meditation practice today is pretty simple, but it works perfectly for me. I get up early in the morning, make a cup of coffee (in a travel mug, so that it stays hot) and then go to a comfortable chair in my office. I have a quiet meditation music playlist that I start playing on my Amazon Echo, and then I set a timer for 16 minutes. I take a few deep breaths, and then close my eyes and settle my body. I go through a few personal affirmations, and then I focus on my breathing for the remainder of the time. Sometimes my mind is relatively calm, other times there is a LOT of self chatter and no two mornings are the same, but I do know that I always feel better afterwards.
But what of my bold claim that mediation has changed my life ?
Well, I one-hundred-percent, hand-on-heart, believe that it has made me much calmer, which in turn has made me happier. I have learned to see thoughts for what they are - just thoughts - and I have realised that they will always come and go, and holding onto them rarely brings value. I still get upset, stressed, emotional, angry and all of the other negative emotions, but the feelings somehow don’t seem as intense, and they certainly don’t last as long. These benefits didn’t come overnight (I think it was a good 6-9 months before I really started feeling them in my daily life), but they are certainly here now, and I do believe that they would slowly diminish over time if I stopped meditating.
I cannot imagine my life without meditation now, and I am slowly starting to experiment with new techniques as a way to deepen the benefits I feel. I know that this will be a life-long journey, but that’s OK, because I’m looking forward to where it takes me.
And rest assured, I haven’t turned into a weird hippie - just a calmer, happier middle-aged bloke…