After reading 10% Happier, I was motivated to give meditation a shot. 5–10 minutes a day seems like a small cost for even an additional 5% happiness in everyday life, and the sheer simplicity of the exercise should enable it to be done anywhere at any convenient time. That was the theory anyway.
In practice—as somewhat predicted by the book—I’m finding it pretty hard to consistently work meditation into my daily routine. Procrastination plays a role, but I have noticed that I’m much less inclined to start a session whenever the scheduling is too tight; it feels better to have ample padding of time before and after1. With 10 minute meditation sessions, a comfortable period is closer to 25–30 minutes.
I’ve been trying 2 meditation apps: Calm and HeadSpace. The apps differ in their stylistic design, but approach the subject in a similar manner: via audio recordings of a guide who provides simple instructions on what to think about during meditation exercises. Both apps offer ongoing subscriptions for their services, but all that really unlocks is additional libraries of recordings which are centered around a positive effect or theme (e.g., productivity, happiness, etc.) Color me skeptical, but one of the central appeals to mediation is its simplicity. Tying the same exercises to attributes that are themselves hard to measure and understand seems like a placebo more than a proven effect. Right now, having exhausted both apps’ starter packs, I’m content with using Calm just as a session timer.
So…does it work?
As an inconsistent, lazy practitioner, I will admit that there’s something about sitting down and forcing the mind to clear itself of thought. I wonder whether it operates on a similar principle to one of my favorite techniques for problem solving: sleeping on it and allowing the subconscious to explore the problem space. Meditation, then, is a way to force the brain into that state at will, and additional practice just makes getting there that much more quickly. With this framing, there has been a few times when I’ve employed meditation as a tool, a forced break after encountering a difficult situation when I wasn’t completely sure of the solution.
To be fair, I’m still relatively new at this, and I suspect I’ve fallen for the Americanization of the technique, where the value proposition ends up being transactional—i.e., I adopt the advice, I see immediate improvement—as opposed to appreciating its holistic foundation. As I continue to practice, I’ll be curious to see whether familiarity unlocks newfound insights and perspectives.
And yes, I recognize that one of the benefits of meditation is the ability to step back from the day-to-day, and so this issue is as much a reflection of my own novitiate.↩