I recently set a streak of 100 straight days of meditation using the Headspace app. After completing the ten-day trial, I decided to purchase the one-year subscription. The paid version of Headspace consists of four broad categories of guided meditation with a few subcategories for each. There are also “single sessions” which are more episodic. After 100 days, I have completed three Foundation levels, as well as the Self-esteem, Change, Balance, and Acceptance subcategories, ranging from 10 to 30 days each. I have also done 11 single sessions, intermixed within my daily sessions. Here are a few things I have learned:
The biggest challenge with meditation is that it is such an abstract concept. There is no tangible byproduct that one can point to and say, “here is my result.” Expecting to master meditation in a month or even 100 days is like expecting to be fluent in a new language in that amount of time; it is simply unrealistic. As with anything else, meditation takes a lot of deliberate practice to become proficient.
It is not about controlling or eliminating thoughts.
One of the goals of meditation is to learn to be at ease with your thoughts. It is not about getting rid of bad thoughts or feelings, or avoiding certain emotions entirely. Rather, it is about achieving a sense of calm. One of the analogies Headspace uses is that of a stormy sky. While at times there might be dark storm clouds looming over everything else, the blue sky is still there above those clouds. If you have ever been in a window seat on a plane, you know what it is like once the plane breaks above that cloud level. Similarly, while we may occasionally feel overwhelmed, emotional, and stressed, it is important to recognize our inner sense of calm is still present as well.
There is an important difference between “I am stressed” and “I am feeling stressed.”
We are not our emotions or feelings. In one of the subcategories I completed on Self-esteem, the app discussed a noting technique where we simply look to recognize how we are doing. Again, it is not about changing these feelings or emotions, but identify them for what they are. Instead, the objective is to gently note, “ah, I’m feeling stressed/anxious/angry/etc.”
More effort does not equal a greater result.
Some days are especially challenging if the mind is going 100 miles per hour. The key is to focus on the breath and recognize that trying to pin down the mind will not be constructive. Certain days go really well and others are frustrating. The main goal at this point is to develop a daily habit of meditation, understanding it is a work in progress.
As Andy Puddicombe, founder of Headspace, says, “training the mind is about changing our relationship with the passing thoughts and feelings. Learning to view them with a little more perspective. And when we do this, we naturally find a place of calm.” I would strongly recommend trying the first ten days of the Headspace app for guided meditation.