When I was 14 years old my dad gave me a book called As a Man Thinketh by James Allen. Written in 1903, this book is one of the earliest known self-help books aimed at helping its readers transform their mindsets into a stream of positive and productive thoughts. Filled with the types of quotes that are reserved for posters with a stock image of great redwood trees, Mr. Allen gets to his point very quickly, “A man's mind may be likened to a garden, which may be intelligently cultivated or allowed to run wild; but whether cultivated or neglected, it must, and will, bring forth. If no useful seeds are put into it, then an abundance of useless weed seeds will fall therein, and will continue to produce their kind.”
It was with this lens that I viewed meditation as an act of neglect for my mental garden, allowing my thoughts (and therefore my mind) to ‘run wild’ would produce the ‘useless weed seeds’ that I was so desperate to avoid. I resisted meditation because of some deep-seated fear that it was unproductive and fruitless, but so many that I knew had seen unexpected benefits from consistently practicing. So I read, researched, and listened to as many people as I could and what I found out was extraordinary. Meditation is not the absence of thought or the act of suppressing your thoughts, rather it is the act of stepping back and observing your thoughts without judgment or hesitation.
Half a month in and I have hit my goal of meditating every day, but in doing so I have discovered quite a bit about my mind and what works for me. I have tried a variety of platforms - Calm, Journey Live, Headspace, Youtube meditations, etc. I generally have a tolerance for about 10-20 minutes at the most for mediation, and I have to do it right before I fall asleep or in the morning before anyone else is awake. It’s actually become a part of my morning routine and I view it as an essential part of my day. But there is one thing that works best for me, and it may be a little, well, nontraditional.
Ben pictured here mid-meditation with a visit from his daughter.
I am guilty of having a busy mind. It’s hard for me to step back and just observe or listen. Often I am thinking about what I can say, rather than listening or, instead of being present during one holiday I am thinking about the next holiday already. You get the picture. So, in an effort to quiet my overactive mind, I have found that my meditation is best done with a side of M&M, that is music and/or movement. So yoga, running, breath work, or just your typical ice bath/cold shower. For whatever reason, I need distraction or better put, distortion to really step back and view my thoughts. This practice may not be typical but that is the beauty of meditation, it can be whatever you want it to be.
Pairing breath work with meditation has been particularly powerful and something that I now routinely practice while going to bed is called the 4-7-8 method where you inhale through your nose for four seconds, hold your breath for seven seconds, and exhale slowly for eight seconds. I don’t know why, but this quiets my mind more effectively than anything else and allows my mind to drift peacefully into a deep sleep.
With this newfound appreciation for meditation, I anticipate the next few weeks to continue on their course. Grateful for what I have discovered and optimistic that I can build up a tolerance to more forms of meditation and deeper explorations of thought.