Meditation for sceptics

A lot of people think that meditation isn’t for them, because they’ve heard it being described as some sort of spiritual or semi-religious practice. But I would say such a description is misleading; meditation, in its most basic form, is a method for improving your concentration. There is nothing mysterious about it. You practice concentrating, and as a result, you get better at it. As a byproduct, it might also help you calm down and relax. Sounds good? Yeah, I think so too – read on.

 

So why would you want to improve your concentration? I’m glad you asked! In my case, the main reason I want to improve my concentration is to make myself more resilient to being distracted when I’m working. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been sitting in a meeting, then suddenly realizing I’m lost in thought rather than paying attention to what is being said. It also helps me stay focused on what I should be doing, instead of going off to look at shiny things on the Internet (of which there are oh so many).

How to meditate

There are many different ways to meditate, but the basics are common to almost all of them. First of all, find a good time and place to meditate. It should preferably be where and when you’re unlikely to be disturbed, if at all possible. Sit on a cushion or a chair. Lie down if you want, but you risk falling asleep. Close your eyes.

Meditation2
Try to find a nice place to meditate. Preferably one that’s secluded, quiet and Doug free, because that guy will totally fuck up your serenity.

Now, when you’ve found a good position where you think you’ll be able to stay pretty much motionless for a while, just try to relax. When we meditate, we try to focus – so we need something to focus on. That’s typically your breath. So, try to “feel” your breath, either as it passes through your nose, or as a sensation in your lungs. Try to stay aware of this feeling. Thoughts will come, but try not to engage in them. Just let them pass, and stay focused.

When you eventually forget to focus on your breath (you will), just return your attention to it without judging yourself for it. Some people feel that counting your breaths instead of just “feeling” them helps. Try it if you want, and see what works best for you.

And, that’s basically it. This is meditation. I told you there was nothing mystical or weird about it. You’re just practicing not getting distracted by anything external (things or sounds around you) or internal (thoughts or unwanted feelings). Be aware though that this is a practice that takes time, so don’t expect immediate results. Try to do this 10 or 20 minutes a day (set a timer on your phone), and a month or two later you should be able to start noticing the results, of not sooner – just hang in there. And of course, meditation would be a very suitable part of one of your Habit routines. I would suggest meditating as part of your morning routine, but that’s entirely up to you.

Apps and guided meditation

There are a multitude of apps out there that you can use to help you meditate if you want. The two most well-known ones are Headspace and Calm. Both these will have “guided meditation”, which means that you’ll be listening to a voice while you meditate and follow it’s instructions. If you get bored meditating on your own, one of these apps might be for you. They can be used for free for a while, then you have to pay for a subscription to continue with the guided meditations.

Summary

So, to summarize:

  • Find a nice, quiet place
  • Sit down, close your eyes and relax
  • Focus on your breath
  • When you notice that you’ve lost focus, don’t be upset with yourself, just return your focus to your breath
  • Try counting your breaths if you want
  • If you get bored, try a meditation app
  • Make meditation part of one of your Habit routines.

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