How Meditation & Mindfulness by Andy Puddicombe changed my life.
A Little Story
“Hello? Is anybody here?” whispered the warrior frightened. The scent of bat poop infiltrated his nose and he heard the echo of dripping water. Darkness extended in every direction he looked.
Where am I?
Little by little, his eyes got accustomed to the darkness and he saw the contour of a stone corridor. A flickering light lured him from behind the corner, so he decided to find its source. When he turned around the corner, he was relieved to find the Learn More Wizard sitting with his eyes closed and his back supported by the wall. His legs were extended forward, and his hands were resting in his lap. A torch attached to the wall illuminated him. “Why didn’t you answer me?” the warrior asked, “I was scared and felt alone.” The wizard didn’t flinch and kept sitting peacefully as he was.
Weird. Very weird.
The warrior noticed there was a puddle between them. When he looked into it, his eyebrows raised. He saw the reflection of the wizard, but in the reflection, there was no torch, the wizard himself was the source of light.
Is he dead and is that his soul? Or is he just enlightened?
As if a ghost was stirring the puddle like a bowl of soup, the reflection of the wizard changed into a swirl of light. When it came to rest a sentence was formed: “Dear Read More Warrior, as you can see I’m in a deep meditation. Please don’t disturb me.”
Meditation? I didn’t know the wizard was a spiritual hippie.
“It’s not because I’m meditating that I’m a hippie, dear warrior,” the wizard told him via the puddle. “Somehow, people always think of hippies or levitating monks in perfect lotus positions when they hear the word ‘Meditation’. It’s also possible to meditate however you feel comfortable, no higher power involved.”
Whaatttt? You can read my mind?!
“Well, technically we are in your mind. This is the deep dark home of your thoughts.”
I don’t understand… Are my thoughts so dark?
“No, your thoughts are not dark. Your mind is dark. For the moment. Your thoughts… well, they are something different”
The warrior looked to his left and saw a lovely little firefly in the distance. He was enchanted by it.
It’s so beautiful…
The firefly came closer and closer. Attracted to the firefly’s beauty, the warrior walked towards it. It looked like the firefly was growing bigger and bigger. It reminded him of the night in the countryside when he tried to illuminate the stars with a headlamp.
Wait a second… That’s not a firefly…
The blaring sound of a horn penetrated his ears. It wasn’t a firefly, it was a train, storming towards him. The warrior jumped aside, but his shoelace got stuck in the wheels of the train and he fell with his face on the ground. When he was back on his feet, there was already another train heading towards him. He could just in time dodge that one. Trains were coming from all directions, bumping into each other and setting on fire. The warrior was trapped by his own thoughts. He crawled up with his head between his knees, hoping that the trains would just go away.
It’s too much, I can’t handle this.
No, you can handle this, dear warrior.
Now you’re also in my mind, wizard?! As if it isn’t full enough yet!
Just breathe, and focus on the way it feels.
My lungs hurt from the smoke, you stupid old man! I have other things to worry about.
Focus and count your breaths.
The warrior reluctantly focused on his breath. After a while, he perceived a sense of calm. The blaring horns sounded more distant. Fewer trains were zooming around him.
Open your eyes, I’ve put a notebook and a pencil in front of you. Write in it.
He picked up the notebook and opened it. On the first page, a quote was written:
To be continued…
Fireflies and Trains
I don’t know about you, but sometimes zooming trains of thoughts in my head criss-cross each other in an overwhelming manner. Sometimes the train disgusts me and I try everything to act as if they don’t exist. Nonetheless, the screeching noise and stinky smell are impossible to ignore.
Other times I find a dazzling firefly in my mind and I can’t resist the urge to chase it. Like an entomologist with an insect net, I try to catch it, but inevitably I fail. I tried to write down my thoughts in notebooks. I tried typing them and I even trained to increase my typing speed. Still not fast enough. It made me wonder what if technology would be invented that transcribes your thoughts in real-time?
During these chases, I passed through the landscape of my mind, not paying attention to where I was. Never noticing that maybe the chase itself was the source of the firefly’s restlessness. What if I would just sit down in the grass and enjoy the view? Maybe the firefly would join me. Maybe then I would then encounter a book under the tree called “Meditation and Mindfulness”.
My first introduction to meditation was around three years ago. I started with guided meditations for a week and then tried to maintain the habit of daily meditation without guidance. Meditation soon turned into a pill I took when I needed it. Two months ago, I read the book “Meditation and Mindfulness” by Andy Puddicombe, which inspired me to give daily meditation another try. By habit-stacking it on my already existing morning habit of taking a cold shower and using cross calendar cues (future link), this time around, I was able to keep up with it.
Before trying it myself, I had a certain view on meditation, which I think was similar to most people’s. I thought it encompasses a certain spirituality, which I don’t like. However, this book convinced me that meditation can be highly practical. It helps you to relax and it trains your focus, something which is quite important in today’s world of instant gratification by social media which impairs our focus.
First, let’s define how I meditated. I sat down for 10 minutes in a comfortable position with my eyes closed. I started with five deep breaths, went on to scan how my body felt and the rest of the time I focussed on my breath. Every time I noticed that my focus had wandered off, I brought it back to my breath.
The first and foremost thing I learned by meditating was noticing when I was distracted. Originating from the meditation sessions themselves, this skill diffused into my daily life. It is especially helpful for students like me who get easily distracted while studying.
I thought upfront that meditation was about trying to push thoughts away in order to have a relaxed mind. This scared me because I really like to keep a hold on my thoughts, I love to write them down, especially my late-night ideas. I thought somehow that by meditating and pushing away my thoughts, I would become less creative.
Let’s use the firefly/train analogy again. If our mind is a big dark space, thoughts can be little lovely fireflies or homicidal storming trains and everything in between. My experience is that by meditating, we can increase the spaciousness of our minds. This elongates the time between thoughts. It is impossible to eliminate all thoughts, but by meditating I could slow down the influx of thoughts. In that way, it was easier to catch the lovely fireflies and not feel overwhelmed by the storming trains.
Meditation also helped me to relax when I felt overwhelmed. Once, I watched an overstimulating movie in the cinema. It was filled to the brim with dance music, flashing lights, violence and nudity. It may sound silly, but during the drive back home, I felt agitated. Every sound I heard felt like too much to handle. I wanted to scream, but knew that wasn’t going to help. So I just took some deep breaths and focused on my breathing. In the end, everything was okay.
There it is, the other M word. I guess with this word, even more stereotypes are spawning in your mind. However, I’m enjoying this even more than meditation. If meditation is focusing on your breath with your eyes closed, mindfulness is focusing on the moments of daily life. It gave another dimension to things I already did, such as walking and eating. During walks, I got out of my head and started looking around. Things I had only noticed before, such as the elderly couple bathing in the sun, the local graffiti piece and the stars in the sky, suddenly struck me as immensely beautiful. Eating mindfully also made me discover how rich in flavour and texture even the simplest meals like bread with hummus could be. It also slowed me down during eating, which was nice because I have the tendency to devour my food before others could even blink.
Set a timer of 5 minutes. Gently close your eyes. Inhale deeply. Breathe out and imagine you are exhaling all your thoughts. Repeat 5 times. From then, focus on your breath. Notice how it feels, how it sounds. Keep doing that for 5 minutes. Whenever you notice your thoughts have wandered off, bring your focus again to your breath.