Let’s All Sit and Do Nothing (Why It Could Change Your Life)
In Visitacion Valley Middle School, a bell rings twice a day.
It’s a school in one of the roughest neighborhoods in San Francisco where crime, poverty and traumatic stress are part of every day life; and where seemingly like magic, the rowdy students quiet down and sit in silence for 15 minutes once they hear the sound of that bell.
It’s part of the Quiet Time program, where adolescents are being taught to clear their minds and become familiar with the idea of silence in an effort to reduce stress levels and improve focus. Schools that have implemented Quiet Time have shown significant improvements in attendance, test scores and grades, among other things.
All from sitting quietly and doing nothing. Amazing.
I understand why. The thought of doing nothing and thinking about nothing is boring. It’s new agey. It’s hard, frustrating and uncomfortable, and something that’s not easy to measure. Unlike exercise where you look and feel noticeably better, the benefits of daily meditation are gray at best.
So why invest time – time that most of us don’t have – and energy into something we can’t see, touch or feel?
That’s a question I’ve struggled with after years of failed meditation attempts, but I’ve finally come to the realization that the mind needs the same attention that the body does.
Because our mind is the center of everything that we are. It decides how we feel, what we say, what we do, where we go, what we eat and drink, how we exercise (or not exercise). The mind defines our sense of fulfillment, happiness and balance.
Isn’t that worth taking care of?
Let’s take a step back first as I’ll attempt to explain in simple terms what meditation is all about and why we should care.
MEDITATION… IN 10 SECONDS
The simple answer is that it’s a practice where we train ourselves to be aware of the present. It’s not about forcing thoughts out of our heads (which is what I believed for a long time), it’s about allowing ourselves to accept whatever is happening right now, free of judgement and resistance. The quiet mind zen part comes eventually.
We do this by focusing on one particular thing – it could be your breath, your posture, a sound or sensation and staying committed to the practice.
And practice is the key word here. There is no right or wrong way to meditate, so long as you do what works for you – and on a regular basis.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?
It’s been proven in the scientific community, time and again, that even a simple meditation practice has many benefits, specifically around stress, anxiety, creativity and productivity. The act itself of sitting in silence and becoming familiar with being present can physically change the brain and it’s response systems, thus impacting how we handle things like relationships, problems, setbacks, challenges, big projects and high stakes situations.
These are pretty significant things.
And there’s more – things like improved relationships at home or at work, performance under pressure, response to fear, concentration, energy, clearer thinking, lower blood pressure and lower heart rate.
All things we could use more of in our lives.
FIVE RULES TO CREATE YOUR OWN QUIET TIME PROGRAM
As dictated by someone with 6 whole days of meditation practice under her belt.
- Commit to a practice. 10 minutes a day every day, or 20 minutes a day for 40 days – whatever. Formalize it, write it down, announce it – so that you make it harder to quit when it gets hard (and it will, I promise).
- Same time, same place. You’ll have an easier time if you can practice at the same time every day, ideally first thing in the morning. Your mind is a little quieter and you’re less likely to be disturbed.
- No distractions. It’s not always easy when you have little kids and a yipping dog, but fear of disturbances will make it more difficult to get to that ‘relaxed’ state.
- Expect to be frustrated. Your mind will wander and you won’t be able to stop it. So don’t try to stop it. Don’t try to force thoughts out of your head. Accept the insanity and keep breathing.
- Read up on meditation. If you’re interested in a meditation practice, I recommend that you not take my word for it and invest some time reading up on how to approach it, practice it and why it’s important. Here are a few good starter books:
- Wherever You Go, There You Are; Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life (Jon Kabat-Zinn)
- Get Some Headspace: How Mindfulness Can Change Your Life in 10 Minutes a Day (Andy Puddicombe)
- The Attention Revolution: Unlocking the Power of the Focused Mind (B. Alan Wallace)
- 8 Minute Meditation: Quiet Your Mind, Change Your Life (Victor Davich)
THREE OPTIONS FOR BEGINNERS IN NEED OF A LITTLE GUIDANCE
- Headspace (website & app, paid): If you want some hand holding, start here. It’s a website and app that teaches you how to meditate in 10 minutes per day through step by step guided sessions (general and subject specific). Very easy to use and follow along from any device. There is a “gym membership” for $7.99/month if you sign up for a year after your 10 day free trial.
- Omvana (app, freemium): A “do it yourself” app that brings you a variety of audio programs, guided meditations and inspirational speeches for meditation, stress, productivity, romance and more. Some programs are free, others are available for purchase. You choose what you want to listen to.
- Just jump right in: While guided meditations help, they’re by no means necessary. This is the process I have used to get started, and as I fall into my routine, I’ll be experimenting with different postures and breathing methods.
Maybe you’re too busy, too restless or too stressed. Maybe you think you’re incapable of meditating. It’s not for you. Or it’s too out there. You’re not alone. And you’re not wrong either.
This whole mindfulness thing – it’s a hard thing to wrap your head around. It’s a struggle for me and I’m not sure if I’ll feel any different come the end of this experiment.
All I ask is that is that you don’t dismiss the idea that a little quiet time every day, even for just a few minutes, is something that we all could benefit from.
Maybe you’ll consider trying it out for a month – every day for 10 minutes – just to see what happens. It just might be the thing you’ve been looking for (or not, but you’ll never know until you try).
And with that, I’ll leave you with this thought from Headspace creator Andy Puddicombe:
Meditation isn’t about becoming a different person, a new person, or even a better person. It’s about training in awareness and understanding how and why you think and feel the way you do, and getting a healthy sense of perspective in the process. It just so happens that when you do that, any changes you want to make in your life become that much more feasible.