Mental peace and well-being are key to living a happy life. Everyone knows it. But very few pay attention to it. The mind doesn’t get its fair share of importance when thinking about health or living a better life. There are a couple of reasons that I have figured out –
Working on mental well-being doesn’t produce visible results like physical transformations do (think beefed up muscles and a sexy jawline) and without external stimulus it is hard to picture an improved desirable state. Thus less motivation to get started. The process is intrinsically about conditioning your mind to do nothing—to embrace boredom. With the amount of dopamine inducing distractions that we have around us, this becomes extremely difficult to do. While I had been formally prioritising better physical health for a few years now through better dietary choices and by going running or hitting the gym, mental health was still something that I would consider paying attention to but shrug off citing the paucity of time excuse. Working a very strenuous job at a fast-paced startup and the associated stresses that it brought were proving to be detrimental to my well-being. My sleep was getting affected, I was not performing optimally and it felt like there were a million thoughts running through me at any point in time. I am an overthinking introvert whose general brain activity is higher than the mean and to some extent I am used to it. But it had now grown to a point where it felt disconcerting.
So I resorted to some popular apps like Calm and Headspace and started meditating before sleeping. These were guided meditations which enabled me to relax and practice mindfulness. The flow was simple—it started with some deep breaths to relax the mind and body and then moved to experience each and every sensation that I was feeling from how the air felt against my body to the way I rested on the mattress. It had a calming effect and eased me into sleep.
The getting to sleep part improved but the other problems still persisted. I was on the lookout for something that takes me a notch above and helps me attain a calm mind. That’s when I came across Naval’s thread on Twitter and it felt like something that I should try. His backing logic for whatever he was saying made a lot of sense.
Meditation - The Art of Doing Nothing:— Naval (@naval) May 16, 2020
I’ll summarise his stance here:
Meditation is your birthright. It’s your natural state. It requires no one, needs no thing, and has no technique. We say that we want peace of mind but what we really want is peace from mind. All chases, whether flow, drugs, beauty, thrills, orgasm, or devotion, are attempts to escape from the mind. Meditation is the direct path.
Prepare for meditation by sitting quietly in the morning, with eyes closed and back upright, in any comfortable position that will minimize movement. Sixty minutes are easier than thirty, as it takes time for the mind to settle down. Sixty consecutive days are needed, just as it takes time for the body to go from unfit to fit.
Make no effort for or against anything. Whatever happens, happens. Surrender to yourself in the moment. Resist nothing and reject nothing, including the urge to resist and reject. Meditation is not going through thoughts but rather letting thoughts go through you. The thought “I am meditating” is also a thought.
No focus, no mantra, no dharma, no chakras, no Buddhas, no gurus, no gratitude, no scripture, no temple, no music, no gadgets, no apps are required. Some may be helpful, but eventually all will have to be left behind. Start simply, because that’s where this all ends. There are many meditation methods, but “no effort” is the universal method.
Meditation is a single player game. There is no point in comparing to other meditators or to even your own previous meditations. Ignore all advice on meditation, including this thread.
~ Naval Ravikant on Twitter
I started my journey on the path of enlightenment! And here is how it has panned out so far –
These were just plain hard. To sit in a place for 60 mins without moving gave me severe shoulder and neck pain. There were myriad thoughts and my response was to bring my mind back to nothingness and that is not how it is to be done. It was tough to silence that voice in my head that was guiding the meditation. But I was able to ignore it by the end of day 10.
Apart from thoughts, I saw bright lights, complete darkness and vivid imagery of some beautiful natural elements such as snow-clad mountains, expanses of greenery and hummingly flowing clear rivers. While these brought peace, there were times when I felt extremely uncomfortable, majorly towards the fag end of the hour. This sometimes led to me sweating profusely and feeling uneasy—even claustrophobic sometimes.
The overall experience changed from being excruciating and calming to being difficult and calming. From what I have experienced, I feel that it is always going to be tough going through that one hour. But that one hour has a disproportionately positive effect on the rest 23 hours so I found it to be totally worth it.
The other realisation I had during this time was how fundamentally wrong I had grown over time by not processing what is happening to me. During my school days, I had an hour-long commute on either side and I remember how I spent that time plainly thinking about stuff. About what was going on, how will I approach my studies and sometimes even ruminating about math or physics problems that I was stuck with.
This habit had faded away over time and meditation brought back highlights of how having a dedicated time slot for thinking was responsible for me being clear-headed.
Day 21 onwards
The hour of meditation by this time had started becoming a true reflection of whatever was going on. I used to doze off for bits when I was sleep-deprived. Thoughts of what I was reading started flowing in. The events from the past reduced in number but there were some flashes.
On certain days, I was unable to recall what I went through. On other days, I used to come to my senses with a sudden jerk—it felt like I was in another reality altogether. I think perhaps this is what meditation is meant to do. It might sound philosophical and spiritual, but I was united with something beyond what I experience in my day-to-day life. It is a state where I am neither conscious nor unconscious, rather somewhere in the middle.
There was a trend developing now. As I eased into the first 20 minutes, there were a lot of thoughts. Then it gradually turned peaceful. And after what feels like the half hour mark, I transcended into the state described above. Once I came out of it, the last 10-15 minutes started feeling futile where I was just concerned with getting over it.
This is when I decided to apply Naval’s advice—’Ignore all advice on meditation, including this thread.’ I have now modified it to a certain extent where I sit with an hour long timer but I open my eyes when I usually come out of the transcended state or when it starts turning into a struggle during the later stages where the mind can’t do nothing and is distracted by the thought of ending it. What I have found is that I clock anything between 40-50 minutes this way and the return from the experience is still the same.
Meditation has been a revelation and given how it has positively affected me, I'll highly recommend everyone to try it.
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