By Jared Dickerson
When I first started meditating, I was moving through the endeavor with frustration and impatience. “Why can’t I quiet my mind? Why can't I just focus on my breath? I’m a brass player for heaven’s sake!” My first venture only lasted about 3 months, and it was full of holes and missed days, only to fizzle out to nothing at all.
Fast forward to today — I am 82 days in to the daily meditation journey, and since I received a few comments from friends and listeners about Episode 18 (check it out if you haven’t already!), I wanted to write out some thoughts. My goal for this post is to convince readers that this habit isn’t complicated, and that the work is entirely WORTH IT. The changes it has brought into my life are noticeable and very favorable!
When I meditate I recite sanskrit chants in my head and move through my “check-in network”. What do I mean by a check-in network? I cycle through some objectives during meditation: I internally recite the chant, soften my muscles and release excess tension, make sure my posture is straight but relaxed, find my breath, and dial back in to the chants. Over and over… When I first started, I would only focus on my breathing and found it maddeningly frustrating how easily distracted I was.
But here’s the thing: the brain is GOING to be distracted. Nowadays when I meditate, I am not trying to silence or stop the mind, rather I am an observer of it. The check-in network insures that I can keep the “distraction part” of my brain busy, almost fooling it into bouncing around to things that are all a part of the greater meditation process. Of course inevitably I will bounce to things that are NOT helpful, but when that happens my response is, “Okay, back to the network. Breathe, chant, soften, straighten, breathe.” I take note of what the unhelpful distraction was, and find that they’re usually the same everyday: money, practicing, work, that thing I lied to my 7th grade math teacher about, etc. I observe it happening, catch it as quick as I can, and gently bring myself back.
That’s my trick, and it is definitely a balance! I direct most of my focus on the chant, then the next most on my breathing, and the posture/tension checks are the least frequent. I notice my thoughts raging like white water rapids, but instead do my best to focus 99% of my energy on the check-in network, and 1% of my energy on acknowledging those passing thoughts. And once I made that distinction, meditation began to be palpably therapeutic.
As you heard in the episode, this practice has seeped into every aspect of my life. I learn music faster, I embrace habits quicker, and I am more efficient in overcoming general emotional tumult. I even get a refreshing enjoyment from simpler things like eating or taking a walk. The way I listen to music — both my faves and new stuff — is now with replenished and open ears. I hear AND listen now. I look AND see now. I touch AND feel now. Does this mean I am a Yogi? “Yogi Jared” sounds pretty sweet…
And the best part, creativity really flows! I find myself having more ideas and a clearer process of executing them. Starting this year when I first went in to that *observational* meditative state, the first things I noticed were my repetitive stressors. I started to more easily sift through what was a bad mental habit and what was a new thought. Since the brain is just a collection of information from personal experiences, the chances are high that most thoughts and worries are eerily cyclical (are we a simulation?). Once I began to pick up on what was passing fluff and what was not, my brain thought and executed differently.
When a new idea pops up, instead of resorting to my usual self-doubt and fear, my brain treated those tendencies as passing fluff, and the majority of my mental energy instead went into expanding and hashing out this new idea. Of course I have to sift through my daily fluff still, we all will do that forever! But instead of spending a ton of energy on sifting, I spend a ton of energy on furthering the creative process. Creativity became more active, and dealing with problems became more passive. With meditation, I didn’t have to “train my creativity,” I simply cleared out some of the blockage.
Let me conclude with a really fun and exciting metaphor: If my brain were an A/C unit, meditation acted as cleaning out the dust filter. Sure, the A/C was cooling off the house before clearing the filter, but now it can do its job quicker and better. Same product, less time and energy, more efficient. Who doesn’t want that? Go clean out the A/C filters in your brain!