The first places I looked to to get an idea of what exactly I want to be doing (and why) were YouTube and Wikipedia. Not exactly the go-to place for highest of quality information, but for broad, big-picture understanding, there's nothing quite like these sources for diving into areas. After some reading and watching, I walked away with a few ideas.
Firstly, meditation (more accurately, the state of mind of someone in meditation) is a part of a larger set of different states of mind, ranging from sleep and dreaming, to hyperactive and on a drug-induced high. Meditation is a way of entering one particular state of mind, usually involving cutting off exteroception (senses of the outside world) and holding a single point of focus effortlessly.
I thought it would be best, at least in the learning process, to conceptualize meditation as a way of finding and being in a specific state of consciousness, probably somewhere between wake and sleep, and something akin to what I might call the "artist's euphoria". But alongside meditation, I thought it would also be interesting, for the next several weeks, to be mindful of my state of consciousness every day, as much as I can (without being disruptive to myself, obviously). So while the bulk of this experience will focus on meditation itself, I'll also try to make comments on conscious mindfulness as I explore that as well.
Turning to YouTube, I found a nice-looking set of recommendations for beginning to meditate every day. Specifically, I'm starting out with two tools. First is an iOS app called Headspace, which guides you through the process of daily meditation, and second is a tool call binaural beats, wherein low-frequency "beats" are sounded into both ears at slightly mismatched intervals, inducing a certain state of mind.
Lastly, I found it was essential to do it every day, at few specific times during the day. So I'll be starting out with meditating for 10-15 minutes right after I shower in the mornings, and see where that takes me.
DAY 1: THE FIRST 10 MINUTES...
The first days are always interesting when learning anything, but that's especially the case in trying something like meditation, where you're not even quite sure how to do it right, or if you're doing it properly when you are. And having the few resources and apps I talked about above really helped start on the right foot.
Specifically, I started with the Headspace app, that guided me through a first-time 10-minute session in an easy-to-follow for-dummies fashion. I won't spoil the details for you, but the app guides you through your headphones through the process of internalizing your mind and letting your thoughts go freely, among other things.
After those ten minutes, the first thought I had was that the last ten minutes were so calm and peaceful, I wanted to go back and do it again. It's surprisingly tempting, once you're in the zone, to keep goinng, and usually, there's nothing wrong with that (Yesterday I had to tend to something else.)
But perhaps the most surprising thing from the very first day is how easy it was to "fall into" the silence and the room that's created mentally as I started meditating. In my notes, I described it as being, "like sleeping, without sleeping.". And I think that's still rather accurate.
After a few minutes, your mind returns to its normality, but I did feel like I was more focused and productive, that it was more open-feeling than usual. I don't know if it was the drinks, or because of other things. At the same time, it also felt like the various scraps of random ideas that run around my mind all day were also weakened after that minute or two.
Taken all together, so far, it sounds pretty interesting. I'm still trying to fiond the best place and time, but for now, I enjoy more than you find this enjoyable.
THE FOLLOWING DAYS
The following few days were a mix of getting to know the process and getting familiar with the impacts it had on me every day.
Unfortunately, for the first few days, I couldn't nail down a single time during the day to consistently meditate, so sometimes I snuck it in before the day started, and sometimes I ended the day with it. But that didn't have too much impact on how it changed the state of my mind each time.
There were certain consistent patterns and feelings I noticed after a few days, though.
Firstly, I used to start meditating by sititng down on the floor and trying to clear my mind. But after a few days (and once, trying to do so whilemy next-door neighbors were putting on a roof repair), it seemed evident to me that neither of them were really necessary. So since then, I've moved on to sitting down on a chair that doesn't move around and starting by just letting go of that need to "clear my mind". This has worked pretty well so far.
Speaking of clearing the mind, when I was starting out, I thought I'd have to find a quiet, undisturbed, distraction-free place each time I wanted to meditate. Because of that, the time and place I could do so was rather limited. But after a few days, this, too, seems a misconception. For me, it doesn't matter too much if there's noise around or the place isn't entirely comfortable. Although they hinder the process of getting "in the mode" initially, once you're in the mode of letting thoughts go and focusing on the body and the breath, it doesn't seem too affected by the surrounding distractions. Past that point, you aren't trying to pull focus away from the outside; you're trying not to be distracted by your own thoughts.
And that was the last main change I experienced these last few days. My idea of meditation went from something I did to pull myself away from my surroundings, to something I did to distance myself from my own thoughts distracting me.
There aren't too much in terms of struggles or difficultites I'm experiencing so far, except for the usual pains of the learning process of a new skill. But one particular point that bothers me once in a while is the urge to "check in" on the progress I'm making. Once in a while, I'l get the urge to see whether or not "it's working", and that almost always pulls me out of the zone.
In case you were wondering, this is how the process goes, roughly, in my life.
After five days: my steps
1. Find a nice, as-comfy-as-possible-but-not-too-comfortable place to sit down and relax.
2. Start to control the breathing, focusing on the rhythm, and close the eyes. I visualize this as if I'm "sinking in" to some place internal to my mind.
3. After a while, once it gets comfortable, begin to focus on the body. This pulls the distraction away from the surroundings, from the noise and the smells and the location and the time. I focus on the position of my body, the contact points, the places where it hurts and the places where it's most comfortable. I take a moment to do a mental checkup of how I feel, physically.
4. Around this point, I begin to shift my thoughts to my mind -- the thoughts running through my head, the memories that rise up, the things I have to get done. Here, I try not to think about them, but think of the thoughts. I visualize this as being a policeman of sorts of my thoughts and ideas passing through. As the app instructs every single time, the key is not to get caught up in the thoughts passing by.
5. Lastly, I let go of everything -- the thoughts, the feelings, the body, the focus, the distractions. I let myself hang, both literally and in my mind, freely and effortlessly.
6. Once I feel the surroundings begin to register again in my mind, I do a "mental preparation", wrapping up my thoughts and sensations, before I open my eyes and stretch out for a few seconds.
Although I've grown to like the feeling of a blank, open mind immediately after each session, I'm still waiting for the more large-scale impacts in my day-to-day life. Hopefully in the next few days, those will come as well, and I'll be able to talk about them here.
SEVEN DAYS AND COUNTING
Seven days passed, I tried something new. Until here, I've been meditating (sadly, not every day, but almost) with the Headspace app as the aid, guiding me through the ten minutes or so of thought. So here, in the middle of the library I tried meditating in silence, on my own.
There's both a positive and a negative to this. On the one hand, it was quite a bit easier by myself to get distracted by the thoughts running through my mind. Several times, I became conscious of the fact that my focus wandered off a little bit too late, and generally, I had a much harder time finding myself staying "in the zone".
But despite the easier loss of focus, at the end of the eight minutes or so inside my mind, I still found myself quite a bit more in peace and able to concentrate better. While not entirely satisfying, it was still pretty effective on the whole.
There's also another effect I'm feeling more constantly. I can't quite tell yet if it's because of the (almost) daily meditation, because spring break just started and I'll be off work and school for a while, but a lot of the weight, I feel, has been lifted off of my mind. My mind generally is much clearer, and the thoughts up there feel noticeably more organized.
THE LAST DAYS: GOING SOLO
For the last week or so, I spent some time in Orlando for my spring break. And while I could have brought my iPod along to continue the regimen of following along to the Headspace app every day, I chose to try something different, and go solo for the week.
For the first two days of the (road) trip, I was on a bus where movies were playing the entire time, so this made for a completely different kind of environment from my usual, nightly silence. On the one hand, it was harder to stay concentrated on the task at hand, but on the other hand, I also found myself more focused because I had to keep alert from the distractions of the movie and the chatter. I also found that things got significantly easier -- easier to keep exteroception out, once I got going and was "in the zone". Overall I found myself having an easier time visualizing myself watching the flow of thoughts without getting caught up in it. And as a result, the mental clarity that I felt afterwards was also stronger.
After a few days, by the end of the week, it got noticeably easier to find a few minutes to spare and sink into mindfulness. There are still the day-to-day differences that sometimes make it as difficult as the first time to focus, but generally, the process became easier and more automatic. That said, it's still a challenge at times to keep focused without getting distracted, without the app's audio track going beside me.
REVIEW: DOES IT WORK?
As with the Pomodoro Technique, the best test of whether or not meditation "works" -- whether it improves your life -- is probably to see whether or not I'll continue to meditate often after the first few weeks that I've been trying it for this project. And if you haven't noticed, I will be continuing to do so after this little exercise is over.
Going into it, I didn't really know what to look for. I knew it could improve something about my life, but it was only in keeping a (nearly) daily schedule and actually trying it that I found what I consider the two main benefits of meditating daily.
First, every time you do it, it helps clear your mind. Whenever I have some mental clutter, whether from working or from ideas that's been stuck in my head for a while, I love to meditate to get those out of my head and have a clear mind to start the rest of the day.
Second, you'll generally feel better in your day-to-day life. This is in part a side-effect of the first benefit, because having a clear organized mind will almost always lead to a better day-to-day life. But outside of that, starting or ending the day with meditation gave me a clear beginning and an end to a day's schedule, and having a place to return to in times of stress eased it a little bit.
I have to admit: I didn't meditate every day, and sometimes, it was so difficult that I'd quit after three or four minutes. But overall, even if I end up "quitting" meditation for some reason, I think it'll be one of those things I'll have to keep coming back to, because it's just helpful when your mind needs it. And that's the thing I like the most about meditation.