What I Learned From Doing Nothing



At the end of 2020, I found myself in a position of self-reflection. I had been made redundant from a job I held for most of my adult life and reevaluating whether it was a career I wanted to continue to hold. I decided to take some time off and do what I can to become a better version of myself. I do what every self-respecting 30 year old who’s been laid-off does… I started a blog. I started journaling (shameless self-promotion here: https://every-day-tech.com/2020/12/23/what-i-learned-from-talking-to-myself/), I write every day, and I started meditating. If 2020 me told 2019 me that I would start meditating, I probably would’ve known something life-changing was about to happen. I am not a “metaphysical” or “spiritual” person, yet here I was, in a guided meditation session being told to look into the darkness of my closed eyes and be aware of my own consciousness. But, while on paper it may not sound beneficial to a cold skeptic like myself, I can’t play down the benefits that only 2 weeks of daily meditation have provided.

I used Sam Harris’ “Waking Up” app for guided meditation. There are daily sessions ranging in length from 5 minutes (the shortest) to 13 minutes (so far the longest session.) It begins simply with the one thing that you can take with you throughout the day if it’s the only thing you take away from these; focus on your breath. Anytime you find your mind wandering and you’ve forgotten you’re even trying to meditate at all, come back to the breath. Focus on the tip of your nose when you breathe in, and again when you breathe out. I used to think the goal of meditation to sit still and stop thinking entirely. But it’s not. The goal is to allow those thoughts to come and go without impeding your focus. From there, we begin to focus on what happens when we notice and focus on those thoughts that draw our attention and focus away from where it should be. Turns out, when those intrusive thoughts are scrutinized in any way, they shy away. The first few days of meditation really point out just how messy our brains are. We spend so much time in a disorganized haze. Below are a few sections of the journal I kept, in which I would write down my thoughts immediately after finishing the session.

Day One:

12.10.20 – First day of meditation. It was short, only 5 minutes, focused mainly on breathing. I did repeat the ‘lesson’, as the app likes to call them. I did nearly fall asleep the second time, but it could’ve been because I was quite tired from being up at 5 a.m. that day. Overall, not bad for a first day.

12.11.20 – Day 2 of meditation. A 10-minute section this time. Focused mainly on breathing and noticing exactly when your thoughts would intrude upon your focus. Using the Waking Up app, Harris calls out the feeling exactly; that there are times my mind will wander and I’ll forget that I’m even trying to meditate in the first place. This happened at least twice. It’s nice coming out of the session though, it does help me feel less mentally cluttered. I’m looking forward to day 3.


12.12.20 – Day 3 was a revelation. Harris introduces deliberately long pauses after his guidance. For instance, when asked to focus not solely on your breath and instead on the feeling of being seated and the feeling of the chair on the different parts of your body, there is what feels like a 10-minute pause. I noticed myself being able to catch where my thoughts were drifting and I was forgetting that I was meditating at all. I was able to catch those thoughts quicker and return to focusing on the meditation itself. I think I’m getting the hang of this. It could’ve also been helped by the fact that I replaced my cushion-less office chair with a padded one.

12.13.20 – I write these journals within 5 minutes of doing the meditation sessions, to make sure my thoughts on the matter are the clearest they can be. What this leaves out is what I do with those thoughts throughout the day after the day’s sessions. After yesterdays session, I found myself more able to draw my attention back to where I needed it to be simply by pausing the moment I notice myself wandering, and focusing on my breath. What I mean by that is, just focusing on what the sensation on the tip of my nostril is when I breathe in and exhale. Even for just a second, and I’m able to bring myself back to the moment. Today’s session added in environment sound: traffic, birds, animals, talking. Focusing on the sounds themselves and when they appear and leave, helps to realize that there isn’t really a distracting place to meditate. You can meditate on the sounds themselves and find enough peace and calm by simply experiencing those sounds. Sounds a bit too metaphysical for my liking, but we’ll see how it pans out as I work more after this session.

12.14.20 – Where yesterday and the day before were revelations, today felt more like a slide backward. Hard to focus on the meditation itself, my mind wandered constantly. But maybe that’s the point at this phase? Harris does specifically call out what you should do when you notice your mind wandering, and notice exactly what happens with those thoughts once you notice them. Here’s a secret, they go away. If you catch yourself lost in thought, focus on that last thought, and watch it fade away. Then take a deep breath, notice the breath, and begin again.

At this point, there is a break for twelve days where I let it get away from me. I still continued on, and will do so for the foreseeable future. But, looking back now, this might be a good point to decide if meditation is worth taking on. Is it worth all the hype? Did its absence mark a noticeable change in my day? Short answer, yes. Even a minute a day just focusing on your breath and drawing your attention to a single thing to notice just how scattered your brain really is, helps untangle that scattered mess. With 2021 well on its way, try adding a bit of meditation to your day. Even if you’re skeptical, as I was, it’s a small commitment with a huge payoff.

As always, I hope this is helpful to you. I hope you have a fantastic 2021 and stay healthy, productive, and positive.

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