“Meditation is the discovery that the point of life is always arrived at in the immediate moment.”Alan Watts
In recent months I have decided to build the habit of meditation into my daily routine. This is not something I would have contemplated even a couple of years ago. In the same way I would not have experimented with plant based eating or intermittent fasting.
Meditation is one of those practices that has crept slowly into my consciousness through exposure from various spheres of influence. The most powerful probably being the work of Tim Ferriss.
For those who are not familiar, Ferris first found fame in 2007 with the massive bestseller “The 4-Hour Workweek.” Since then he has launched a hugely popular podcast in which he delves into the various particulars of human performance.
His latest books; ‘Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers’, and ‘Tribe of Mentors: Short Life Advice from the Best in the World’ are collections of advice from hugely successful people.
After completing them, he found that regardless of industry, the vast majority of respondents had a mindfulness or meditation practice.
“Despite the fact that these are people from tennis to surfing to cryptocurrency to fill-in-the-blank, like any field you can possibly imagine — some type of morning mindfulness or meditation practice would span I’d say 90% of the respondents.”
BUT as Ferriss puts it:
“Meditation has a branding problem, a lot of people would think of yoga instructors playing didgeridoos, swinging dream-catchers over their heads — and they wouldn’t be entirely wrong in a lot of cases. (But) regardless of how one chooses to meditate, there is proof that it’s like a workout for building the skill of emotional control, and that in turn is a valuable skill to have when you’re a high performer in any field.”
I am certainly guilty of judging meditation as something that was a bit ‘wu-wu’, and only practiced by monks and yoga teachers. But the more I read into it the clearer it becomes as to just how powerful meditation can be.
Meditation is a practice where an individual uses a technique, such as focusing their mind on a particular object, thought or activity, to achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm
The English meditation is derived from the Latin meditation, from a verb meditari, meaning “to think, contemplate, devise, ponder”.
A 2009 study of views common to seven experts trained in diverse but empirically highly studied (clinical or Eastern-derived) forms of meditation identified three main criteria as essential to any meditation practice:
- The use of a defined technique.
- Logic relaxation.
- 3. A self-induced state/mode.
Other criteria deemed important [but not essential] involve a state of psychophysical relaxation, the use of a self-focus skill or anchor, the presence of a state of suspension of logical thought processes, a religious/spiritual/philosophical context, or a state of mental silence.
Some of the difficulty in precisely defining meditation has been the need to recognise the particularities of the many various traditions.
The history of meditation is intimately bound up with the religious context within which it was practiced. Some authors have even suggested the hypothesis that the emergence of the capacity for focused attention, an element of many methods of meditation, may have contributed to the latest phases of human biological evolution.
Secular forms of meditation were introduced in India in the 1950s as a modern form of Hindu meditative techniques and arrived in Australia in the late 1950s and, the United States and Europe in the 1960s.
Ancient meditation focused on spiritual growth and transcending emotions to live in a calm present state. After being introduced to the West in the 20th century, meditation was realigned to match the goals of a modern, secular society — and it was soon used as a way to reduce stress and improve healthy living, similar to the Western world’s version of yoga.
Meditation Versus Mindfulness
The terms are often used interchangeably, and sometimes, in their simplified forms, refer to the same general thing — the idea of calming your frenzied mind.
The differences between mindfulness and meditation have been debated and interpreted in thousands of ways, and the debate likely will continue. They’re two sides of the same coin — they complement each other, and they very often overlap. At the same time, each has its own specific definition and purpose.
Though it’s often a fine line, here’s the main difference between the two: Meditation is a large umbrella term that encompasses the practice of reaching ultimate consciousness and concentration, to acknowledge the mind and, in a way, self-regulate it. It can involve a lot of techniques or practices to reach this heightened level of consciousness — including compassion, love, patience, and of course, mindfulness. So mindfulness is a type of meditation, alongside tantra, yoga, sexuality, silence, breathing, and emptiness.
Mindfulness is the act of focusing on being in the present, such as focusing completely on drinking a hot cup of tea, taking in its scent, warmth, and taste and removing overpowering emotions from the mind.
“Mindfulness is a form of meditation. There are many forms of meditation, including contemplation and visualisation, but mindfulness is the type where you bring your full mind to an object. Being mindful of your breath, for example, is a common form of mindfulness during meditation. Following your breath improves your awareness of being in the present. This is called mindfulness meditation, known as shamatha among Buddhists. Eating could be another way to practice mindfulness: You can be mindful of your food, truly tasting it, and when you drift off into all sorts of thoughts, returning to tasting your food — that is an act of mindfulness.”
Both spiritual and secular forms of meditation have been subjects of scientific analyses. Research on meditation began in 1931, with scientific research increasing dramatically during the 1970s and 1980s. Since the beginning of the ’70s more than a thousand studies of meditation in English have been reported. However, after 60 years of scientific study, the exact mechanism at work in meditation remains unclear.
But the evidence does suggest that harnessing your mind to be in the present can improve your mental and physical health. Since the 1970s, clinical psychology and psychiatry have developed meditation techniques for numerous psychological conditions. Mindfulness practice is employed in psychology to alleviate mental and physical conditions, such as reducing depression, stress, and anxiety.
Preliminary studies showed a potential relationship between meditation and job performance, resulting from cognitive and social effects. As of 2016 around a quarter of U.S. employers were using stress reduction initiatives. The goal was to help reduce stress and improve reactions to stress. Google implements mindfulness, offering more than a dozen meditation courses, with the most prominent one, “Search Inside Yourself“, having been implemented since 2007.
Research studies have consistently shown a positive relationship between trait mindfulness and psychological health. Studies also indicate that rumination and worry contribute to the onset of a variety of mental disorders, and that mindfulness-based interventions significantly reduce both rumination and worry.
Clinical studies have documented both physical- and mental-health benefits of meditation practices and mindfulness programs have been used to produce outcomes such as for healthy aging, weight management, athletic performance, helping children with special needs, and as an intervention during the perinatal period.
The necessity for more high-quality research in this field has also been identified – such as the need for more randomised controlled studies, for providing more methodological details in reported studies and for the use of larger sample sizes.
I have only just started this journey so will refrain from commenting until I have done a few months but hopefully it proves to be as beneficial as the studies suggest. As such I will leave you with another quote from Tim Ferriss, since we seem to have the same views on the application of meditation:
“So meditation, or mindfulness practice, it’s really about, to me, decreasing emotional reactivity so you can proactively create your day and create your life; versus, just being a walking reflex that sometimes screws up.”
The Silent Assassin
Stress has become the silent assassin wearing us down day by day without us even realising it: Weakening our immune system, affecting digestive health, destroying sex drive, causing aches and pains and making us tired, unhealthy and unhappy.
When you feel under pressure, overwhelmed, unfocused and low on energy it's really easy to convince yourself that this is just how life is, how everybody is.
But that simply is not true.
Watch this replay of a live chat I ran on stress to discover:
- The battle I had with stress after leaving the military.
- The strategies I used to overcome it.
- What the Limitless 30/30 Challenge is.