30 day challenges
Focused on self-improvement and living a fuller life.
Cairns at Nevada Falls, Yosemite
From time to time, to remind ourselves to relax and be peaceful, we may wish to set aside some time for a retreat, a day of mindfulness, when we can walk slowly, smile, drink tea with a friend, enjoy being together as if we are the happiest people on Earth. — Thich Nhat Hanh, Being Peace
Along my journey of self-improvement , I want to focus on increasing my self-awareness, compassion, and overall happiness. While in Sydney last year I was fortunate enough to attend the Mindful Leadership Forum and one of my major takeaways was the importance of training the mind through meditation.
Most people understand the importance of training the physical body, but fewer people know the benefits of training the mind. Imagine that you are physically fit yet unhappy, or that you are successful in your career but not in your relationships. Like everything in life we need to measure our well-being holistically, for those who train their body it’s not that far of a stretch to see the value in training the mind. When we train the mind, we have the ability to think more rationally, logically and are capable of exploring alternative ways of solving problems.
As a student of Stoic philosophy, I believe that our perceptions, or outlook on life, is very much within our control. I find the concepts of Stoicism and the practice of meditation very much aligned in that many of the great Stoics took dedicated time throughout their day for self-reflection. Through self-reflection, you can improve your clarity of mind and gain control over your emotions. Unlike with Stoicism, meditation is not about controlling your emotions but recognizing the source of your emotions and being in a non-reactive state of mind.
For the month of April, I set out to meditate at least once a day. I practiced both guided and unguided meditations ranging from 5 to 20 minutes at a time. I practiced mostly at night before I went to bed and kept a journal of how I felt before and after meditating. Using a Likert scale, I found that my mean value was 2.88 before meditating and 3.65 after meditating. Although the data is subjective, I believe that my overall state of mind improved after meditation. Some of the things I observed:
- Learning to sit is hard. At first, my mind would wonder, and my body would ache, but now it is not as hard. I’m still a long way off from sitting in Lotus pose, but one day I hope to get there.
- Don’t judge your practice. One of my major takeaways from Shunryu Suzuki is that just showing up is the most important step, some days it goes as planned, some days it doesn’t.
- Breathe. This is the root of all practice.
You do not need these resources to meditate, you just need to start, but I did find them useful in establishing a practice.
- Calm or Headspace. I enjoy guided meditations and had previously tried both of these apps but choose to use the free version of Calm this month. You can also find lots of guided meditations on YouTube.
- How to Sit (Mindfulness Essentials). This book is a great intro into Mindfulness and the first one that I would recommend if you are new to meditation.
- Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. A helpful book that I would recommend reading a few pages at a time that touches on many different concepts, including meditation.
- Commit to Sit: Tools for Cultivating a Meditation Practice from the Pages of Tricycle. Lots of reference articles and continued reading on the subject of meditation.
- Find a teacher. If I were to start again, I would find a teacher to help guide me.
Life tends to fly by without time for us to reflect. I find it hard to quantify the value of meditation, but what I do know is I’m happier and more aware of my emotions, so meditation is a practice that I choose to keep.