“Suppose you read about a pill that you could take once a day to reduce anxiety and increase your contentment. Would you take it? Suppose further that the pill has a great variety of side effects, all of them good: increased self-esteem, empathy, and trust; it even improves memory. Suppose, finally, that the pill is all natural and costs nothing. Now would you take it?
The pill exists. It’s called meditation.”
– Jonathan Haidt, The Happiness Hypothesis
There’s an easy way that’s scientifically proven to make you happier, healthier, more balanced, more effective, and less stressed out. It increases your effectiveness, makes sleep easier and more restful and improves relationships. Word on the street is that it even gets you closer to God/Enlightenment. It’s called meditation, or, in the academic community, mindfulness.
If you’re meditating daily already, great! You have no need to read further—unless you want to help your friends live better, happier lives.
If you’re not meditating daily, why the hell aren’t you? Don’t take my word for it (or Jesus’s*or Buddha’s or Muhammad’s or pretty much every other saint we revere)—the research is ridiculously conclusive. Try this article, or one of these Time articles: here or here.
Fact: Life is better with meditation. Way better. There’s no need for me to recap these summaries, instead I write to help explain why you’re not meditating and how to remedy such a thing. (Spoiler: make room for it in your schedule.)
What You Think about Meditation is Probably Wrong
Myth #1: I can’t do it, I’m always thinking.
Do you think meditation is trying to clear your head? Well, you’re wrong. Many people are waylaid on the path to peace by false information. No need to point fingers, let’s just set the record straight.
Meditation is a practice of non-judgement towards your thoughts. Specifically, it takes the subjective feeling that “I” am thinking (feeling, existing), and makes it into an object of awareness. We often identify as our thoughts and feelings—I am what I am thinking, I am hot, cold, I am successful, male, female, etc. Yet, these thoughts last for a few seconds, at most, and we have the feeling that something persists. What is that feeling? It’s the awareness of these thoughts. As Sartre said, the consciousness that thinks is not the same as the one that says I am. Otherwise, how could you be aware of yourself thinking “I am”?
So eschew the idea that meditation is not-thinking. Thought comes (it always will), you observe it without judgement, and let it pass. Like a cloud evaporating before the sun. Like a bubble floating to the surface of water and popping. Like a log floating down the river of your mind.
There are many different forms this practice can take, but the point is that you build a habit of peaceful thinking that then becomes more and more available to you during the rest of your life, when you’re not specifically practicing “meditation.”
Myth #2: It takes too much time
Not all runners need to train for marathons. Similarly, not all meditators need to drop everything and go on a 10 day meditation retreat. Just start with a 5 minute meditation every day. Maybe you up it to 10 minutes, and 15 minutes once a week. That’s enough. That’s a bunch more of meditation than you’re doing right now.
If you run a mile every day instead of sitting on the couch, I promise you’ll feel healthier. Similarly, if you meditate 5-15 minutes a day, I guarantee you’ll feel healthier, happier, and less stressed out. I guarantee you that you’ll want to keep doing it.
Myth #3: Why would I want to be a passive pussy that’s just cool with whatever happens?
This is the most destructive and pervasive myth about spirituality. Being nonjudgmental DOES NOT mean non-action! You always have to act. Not-acting is an act—it means you’re breathing and standing in one place instead of moving.
SO, if something terrible happens, like someone tries to rob your wallet on the street, the meditative attitude doesn’t mean you just sit there like a dumbass and hand them the keys to your car as well. No, it means that because you have less judgement about what’s going on, you’re actually quicker to react and more in tune with the most appropriate response. If you weren’t peaceful, maybe you’d be too scared to jump after the robber. Or maybe you’d be too angry to realize that they’ve got two friends with a gun, so it’s a better idea to just go on your way. The meditative attitude gives you the freedom to react to any situation with greater clarity and discover the most appropriate and beneficial action, even if it means kicking some ass.
So get on your butt and meditate**. Not everything is meditation—to truly be a transformative practice it has to, in some way, take some aspect of your subjective identity and turn it into an object that you’re aware of and able to see from the outside. Find a practice that works for you, start small, and stay consistent. If you stick with it, you’ll notice tiny incremental changes that add up to massive leaps over time.
*The word “meditate” appears in the Bible (King James Version) 14 times. (Words that could be translated as “meditate” appear much more often.) The count includes mentions of prominent Bible characters engaging in the practice, as well as explicit commands for all who worship God to do the same. Exs: 1 Timothy 4:16, Psalm 1:1-2. Note that a great way to get outside of your subjective identification is to put it out there for God to observe.
**Not all meditation requires sitting. There are great traditions of movement oriented options such as walking meditation. Note that walking is not inherently a meditation, it has to be paired with conscious attention