I’m a skeptical person, especially if someone is selling me something, especially on the internet. I don’t know why, it’s just my natural state to not give the benefit of the doubt until I see value for myself. Everyone has an angle or an agenda it seems. “Check out my thing, buy my product, try out this new technique...for only $99.99 per month, you too could have a six pack, and be happy every second of your life”. Now of course not everything is a scam. Not everything is purely driven by money. Not everyone is a con artist. Most things are actually pretty legit, just positioned in a scummy way. But, to gain a level of trust or ‘buy in’, some scientific evidence, fact checking, history of being legit, word of mouth from someone you trust, or any combination of the above is generally required. Why am I ranting about this?
I felt this level of skepticism about some aspects of the wellness space. Again, not everything. It’s well established that sleep, exercise, healthy eating are good for you. Now what’s considered ‘enough sleep or exercise’ and what’s considered ‘healthy’ could be debatable, but let’s give that a pass. Besides these three core aspects of wellness, there are entire genres of the space around alternate healing and holistic medicines that I wouldn’t go near until the relevant due diligence has been conducted. This doesn’t mean they are a scam, I’m just a naturally skeptical person, remember.
In my mind, meditation sort of loosely fit in there somewhere. I didn’t hate it, or disagree with it. It just maintained a safe distance between my life and whatever it was. It conjured up visions of candles, religious ceremonies (I’m hindu but not religious), priests, solitude, and seemingly only weirdos doing it. The last one is harsh, but I can’t articulate it any better. Weirdos is not necessarily bad, it’s just ‘different’ to every normal person I’d encountered in life. ‘Different’ tells the brain that meditating is not automatically trustworthy, so we must reject or investigate the matter. Without a doubt the majority of the western world feels similar apprehension around the topic.
This all changed when I started hearing about regular people incorporating meditation into their usually busy routines. My attention was piqued. I mentioned here that I started with the headspace app, but the truth is I dived into the so called ‘benefits’ from a scientific angle rather than taking it for a given. The studies conducted around mindfulness and meditation in general are both comprehensive and growing by the day. I’ve highlighted some of them here. Certain aspects of the benefits are no longer debatable. They should be discussed as truths rather than potentials (like smoking gives you lung cancer - truth).
It’s important to note that like other tools, the benefits will manifest over time through consistency and practice (no magic pill), and that needs to be reiterated. You don’t get fit by going to the gym for a day. You don’t lose weight by eating healthy for a week. Anything that can have a quick impact on your life in a meaningful way is most likely bullshit. For me, that increases its legitimacy.
Despite the overwhelming evidence around the benefits, why don’t more people meditate? Seems like a no-brainer (pun intended). I think there are a few reasons:
1. They Believe it’s a Hoax
People are scared of getting roped into an alternate healing method where the benefits of consistent practice are not scientifically backed (false). First impressions or perceptions are a strong influencer of whether an individual believes in something. And once we are skeptical, it’s tough to change our thought pattern. I’ve been trying to delve deeper into this world, both through practice and gaining knowledge (books, people, internet, meditation groups). The language in books, blogs and especially guided meditations can be very airy fairy, especially hearing it for the first time. Heard this one - “Close your eyes, deepen your breath and imagine you are the universe...be the universe”. Huh?? For real? Maybe some experienced folks have reached epic levels of enlightenment, but I wouldn’t open with that line. In short, there is an image problem around meditation which brings me to my next point.
2. Religious or Spiritual Connection
Monks meditate. Monks are generally buddhist. Buddhism is a religion. Therefore meditation is a religious practice. The thought process makes sense if you think about it. If you asked me to close my eyes and think about 'meditation', the images conjured up do have a religious feel with a hint voodoo or fantasy thrown in. On the contrary, meditation and mindfulness can be practiced in an entirely secular way without any conflict of current religious beliefs.
3. It’s Hard (To Think of Nothing)
If you’ve gotten over the above two hurdles, this one is next. It’s hard! Undoubtedly, especially initially, it will be almost impossible to sit for more than a few minutes without getting frustrated. Not too different from being unable to serve in tennis, takes a while. A common misconception is that your mind needs to be blank. That no thoughts should enter while in the meditative state. This is simply not true. The aim is to observe your thoughts as your awareness moves from one thought to the next, but not be pulled in. The aim is to be as objective as possible, notice when attention drifts and attempt to pull it back to an anchor point, usually the breath (I'll do another post on the 'how'). Thoughts will come and go, there's no stopping that, and you shouldn't be trying to. With continued and consistent practice, it becomes easier, like every skill in life. And this is a skill you'll have for life.
4. Because People Close To Them Aren’t Doing It
This is a big one. Once your roommate, or colleague, or close friend starts incorporating meditation into normal life, the impact is much larger. For now, it still feels like a celebrity thing, something trendy, something up and coming. A little like Shoreditch or Brooklyn 7 years ago (or Surry Hills?). But look at them now. Shit is going down. You need to be a part of it.
The gist is, something doesn't feel right. All humans buy into things based on 'feel'. The industry needs to do a better job of positioning meditation the way that exercise is positioned. Something that is difficult, takes time, but necessary to maintain a healthy body and mind. If we can break some of the fuzziness barriers down, it doesn’t have to be that complex to incorporate into our daily lives. And even though I’m a skeptic, I’m an optimist, just don’t tell me ‘I am the universe’ (yet) and we are good :D