Meditation, long associated with unwashed hippies and robed gurus, has recently been shown to boost focus, reduce stress, and improve the immune system. Brain scans suggest it can literally grow the gray matter in areas associated with well-being and compassion.
The practice has now been subjected to thousands of studies, suggesting an almost laughably long list of health benefits, including salutary effects on everything from binge eating to psoriasis to irritable bowel syndrome.
And yet… even where I live, in the supposedly open-minded (dare I say "liberal") Upper West Side of Manhattan, when I talk about meditation, I get lots of skeptical looks and hear loads of ridiculous reasons for why people aren't doing it. Here are my top three, and a bonus suggestion on how to learn meditation yourself:
I get it. I used to feel this way, too. But there's a reason why businesspeople, lawyers and Marines have embraced meditation. There's no magic or mysticism required — it's just exercise. If you do the right amount of reps, certain things will happen reliably and predictably. One of those things, according to the research, is that your brain will change in positive ways. You will get better at not being carried away by your passing emotional squalls; you will learn — as the saying goes — to respond, not react. We now know that happiness, resilience and compassion are skills, susceptible to training. You don't have to resign yourself to your current level of well-being, or wait for your life circumstances to change; you can take the reins yourself.
|"It's too hard for me."|
I call this the "fallacy of uniqueness" argument. People often tell me, "I know I should meditate, but you don't understand: my mind just moves too fast. I can't possibly do this." News flash: Welcome to the human condition. Everybody's mind is out of control. Even experienced meditators struggle with distraction. Moreover, the idea that meditation requires you to "clear your mind" is a myth.
|"I don't have the time."|
Everybody has five minutes. My advice is to start with five minutes a day and to tell yourself you'll never do more. If you increase your time gradually and organically, great. If not, totally fine.
|Learn how to do it|
If you want to learn how to do it, check out my recent post, The 3-Step Brain-Hack for Happiness. I also wrote a whole book about how I became a reluctant meditator, which made me better at my job as a reporter, and nicer at home – although by no means flawless (ask my wife). It's called 10% Happier. It's coming out next month.
For more information on Dan's book, click here.