System Reboot Day 3:
Meditation Practice, Setbacks and Adjustments
Hey folks, welcome to day 3 on May 25, 2018 (if you haven’t noticed, I post the blog the day after so I can write about my whole day).
As promised, I will explain my meditation practice in this blog so that anyone can follow the instructions and integrate it into their own life.
But first, I want to talk about “setbacks”. Today I woke up around 7am. I was pretty sore and tired from the exercise I did the day before, but I got up and committed to doing the beep test again. Remember how I improved so much in just one day? Guess what?! Today I did the worst that I’ve done so far, lol… It would be easy to see this as a setback, but it’s really not. First of all, before I even started the test today, I knew I was not going to do as good as before. I could just feel it. I hoped that maybe once I got going I would warm up and it’d be different, but that was not the case. In fact, part way through I was thinking “How the heck did I make it so far the day before?”
It was also a bit wet and rainy, so the conditions were not great either. But the biggest thing was that my body was fatigued. I had worked out the past two days in a row for the first time in years. I also worked until 10pm, on my feet all night, at Salvatore’s the night before. I was simply too tired.
This is actually very normal when it comes to exercise. We push ourselves, but then our body needs time to recover. It works the same with pretty much anything! If you’re learning to play an instrument, it actually becomes more difficult if you try for too long in one go. If you’re trying to make psychological changes, you often have a few great days but then it’s like everything tumbles down again. That’s normal; it’s completely fine! Like I wrote about “failing” in the previous post, those moments are to be expected, but (insert your favorite cliche saying here): it’s not the setback that beats you but how you respond to it.
There is a type of thinking that we all fall victim to from time to time, myself included, that is called “all or nothing” and “black and white”. I could have easily thought “I am actually getting worse so I might as well give up.” That seems a bit dramatic, but we think like this A LOT when it comes to everyday things. Here is an example: “I just tidied up the kitchen and someone left one dirty dish in the sink, there is no point in trying to keep it clean now” so you let everything pile up again and in a few days it’s a complete mess. As defeating as it feels when someone leaves a mess after you’ve cleaned up, it would actually save you a TON of work if you talk to the person and you both try to keep it tidy instead of waiting until it looks like a disaster again.
Same goes for learning new things. What ends up happening is that if you take a break for a few days, or even weeks, you will notice that when you try it again you’ll be much better than before. That’s because your brain and body have adjusted and literally grown new muscles and neurons to account for the work you’ve done while exercising, studying, or whatever it is that you’re doing. I remember when I first started learning guitar I got so frustrated that I just gave up. A few weeks later I decided to try again and was so surprised how much easier my fingers moved to the proper positions.
So when I did poorly on the beep test today, luckily I have done this enough to know it wasn’t a big deal. It was clear that my body needed rest from cardio, so I am not going to do any cardio tomorrow. Hopefully when I get back to it in the next day or two I will be back to where I want to be.
I also worked at Salvatore’s today from 11am-9:15pm, so I didn’t have a whole lot of free time. I did make sure to write my blog for the day before work and Cathy and I did a nice long walk with Spirit (our dog).
Now for the meditation!
I shouldn’t have used an exclamation point because meditation isn’t that glamorous or exciting. It can be, but usually not. It’s really simple, but it can be quite profound! But sometimes it’s quite boring. Before I explain the techniques, it’s important to get some common myths out of the way first.
Common Meditation Myths:
1. It’s impossible to do wrong and anyone, I mean ANYONE, can meditate. I am tired of hearing people say “Ah I can’t meditate.” Ah, yes you can!
2. Meditation is NOT about quieting your thoughts. This is a big reason why most people think they can’t meditate.
3. It doesn’t take a long time. Just 5-10 minutes a day will create incredible results.
4. You DO NOT need a perfectly quiet place to meditate. It’s nice to have that from time to time, but it’s not necessary.
Okay, so here is the basis of what I do for my 5-10 meditation each day. I sit somewhere comfortable (usually with a nice back support). I close my eyes and I start to focus on sounds. I hear traffic, I hear birds outside, I hear other people in the house, etc. I don’t force myself to hear the sounds, I just let them come to me and pay attention to each sound for a few moments. I don’t fight against any of the sounds, I let them be; they are now a part of the meditation.
Through the entire process, I notice when I get distracted by thoughts and feelings. So if I am listening to the sound of the birds and I think “Hmmm, I wonder what I will have for supper?” I just notice that, acknowledge that it’s a thought, then I go back to listening to the birds again. The reality is that we will get distracted a million times by thoughts like this. Our brains are meant to think; that’s what they do! That’s why myth 2 is so important: Meditation is not about quieting your thoughts, sometimes they will quiet, but it’s more about giving less of a shit about them. When I get distracted by a thought, I don’t get all pissed off because I had a thought. I just go “Cool, I had a thought.” then go back to listening to the birds, or whatever it is I am focusing on.
The next step is I start to focus on my breath. First I focus on the temperature change in my nostrils. I notice that when I breathe in I feel a cool sensation and when I breathe out I feel a warm sensation. After doing that for a few moments I notice that when I breathe in I feel my chest rise and when I breathe out I feel my chest fall. After doing that for a few moments I notice that my belly rises when I breathe in and when I breathe out I feel my belly go back in. After doing that for a moment, I combine all three in one motion:
Air goes in, chest begins to rise, belly begins to rise, then there is a slight pause, the belly begins to fall, chest begins to fall, warm air begins to flow out, then there is a slight pause, then the breath goes back in and the cycle starts over. Again, through this entire process, I get distracted by thoughts and feelings many times. I don’t fight them, I don’t get upset at myself, I just notice them then come back to wherever I am with my breath.
I do that for 5-10 minute and that’s it. Literally that simple! That’s how simple meditation is. There are many ways to do it, but at the end, it usually always comes down to the same thing. You don’t need a super quiet place to do it (one of my favorite places is on the bus!), just notice the distractions like you notice your thoughts, then come back to whatever you are focusing on (like your breath, the sounds, etc.). In fact, because I had to work a 10 hour shift today, I did my meditation while walking to the grocery store after work. I obviously didn’t close my eyes, but I focused on my breath and my surroundings. It was really lovely 🙂
As simple as it is, if you stick with it for a few weeks, you will notice some profound results. Science has consistently shown that it helps restructure your brain, reduce anxiety and much more. And once you get used to the meditative state, there are a lot of cool and powerful things you can do there.