6 Things You Need to Know Before Meditating

Do not dwell in the past. Do not dream of the future. Concentrate the mind, on the present moment“. -Buddha

Look, I understand where most men stand on things of a spiritual nature. Getting in touch with one’s self takes being vulnerable and I appreciate that this doesn’t come naturally for us big brave guys, we don’t need to meditate, we’re tough men GRRRR!

Except we’re not. In the United Kingdom, suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45 And men are TWICE as likely to take their own lives in the United States than in the UK. In 2019, 11 Million men in the United States climbed out of their cars to confront another driver in a road rage incident and 5.8 Million men died in fist fights (almost half a million of these happened at work). And, perhaps the most sobering stat, 7 men die every 2 seconds in America as a direct result of stress.

So, what the f-ck is going on?

Let’s get real guys, something’s gotta give. Losing our shit at someone because we can’t control our tempers isn’t a manly thing to do. Risking peoples lives on the road isn’t either, and nor is bottling stuff up until it kills us or we kill ourselves. Read this post, pass the information on, and let’s start taking control of our lives instead of being mere spectators to the carnage.

My Goal here isn’t to teach you gents how to meditate (I will give you access to a certified meditation guru later in this post). My goal is to offer you some insight into why you definitely should begin meditating today!

I think you’d agree that most of us are trying to become happier. The way we typically do this is to look at what makes us unhappy or causes us stress and then seek to overcome that. We think we will find happiness at the end of our troubles. Or we think that once we become successful, happiness will surely track us down and pounce on our lives.

One only has to have a look at the lives of some successful and wealthy people to realise that’s not true. A great example of this is Ben Affleck. Ben attended one of the best acting schools in America, shot to fame early in his career and won an Oscar at the tender age of 25. Ben’s model good looks and acting ability has seen him go on to play many leading roles including the iconic Batman. After some failed relationships, to the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow and Jennifer Lopez, he went on to marry one of the most beautiful actors in Hollywood (Jennifer Garner). Basically, if you searched for “my Dream Life” on Google, Ben Affleck’s photo is what one might expect to pop up.

At the time of this post being written, Affleck’s net worth is a very comfortable $130 Million, and yet he can’t seem to stay sober or quit gambling. He spends most of his time trying to escape from the reality of being Ben Affleck and desperately unhappy.

Ben’s situation is by no means unique, many uber successful actors and music artists are so miserable that they either search for happiness in the bottom of a bottle or relief at the end of a rope.

The reason for this is that happiness is not about what you look like, how much money you have or who you are dating. Happiness is about how you feel about yourself and the world in each moment.

I appreciate, more than most, that some folks deal with depression and other mental illnesses which cause them to struggle with, or give up on, reality. But for those who aren’t struggling with severe disorders, what is the path to happiness and does anyone have a map?

If you’ve never meditated before, it may seem like a skill you could live without. But if we can agree that money and success doesn’t make you happy, perhaps it’s worth reading on further to examine whether there may be another way to find a fulfilling life. Learning how to meditate is learning how to use the steering wheel and brakes in an otherwise speeding car.

I’m certainly not suggesting that you give up on whatever dreams and success you are striving towards and lie around making snow angels in the garden. But being happy as well as successful seems like the winning combination.

1. A Beautiful Day for a Walk

This is the only life we have and we seem to think it’ll last forever. We rarely make the most of the present moment and it passes us by while we’re away in our minds. We need to seize any opportunity to help us connect with what’s actually going on as it’s happening. We need to meditate and become mindful.

What have you got to lose?

Imagine you see a short video clip of someone taking a walk along a path lined with grass and flowers. Imagine the sky is blue and the sun is kissing the face of the subject as they amble along.

When you look at such a clip, you notice all the beauty of the moment and envisage the person having a head full of sweet nothing. You assume they are just wrapped up in the beauty of that moment and you long to be there so you could experience it.

The reality though, is that, if that was you walking along that path, you would likely just be ruminating about what you just did before you arrived or what you should have done or what you would have done if you only had the chance. Shortly after beginning the walk, it would just be another place to experience being lost in thought.

If this sounds as familiar to you as it was when I realized it, and if you allow yourself to continue this way, you will simply miss your life. You will fail to connect with it, and you will fail to connect with the reality that is there to be experienced and enjoyed from moment to moment.  

2. It Is Always Now

It really is always now. To whatever extent you feel the need to plan for the future, to anticipate it or to mitigate issues, the reality of your life is now.

If you want to be happy in this world, I don’t think there is anything more important to understand about your mind than that.

The past is just a memory, and you are the only one thinking of that memory, it doesn’t exist anywhere in the present. The past is a thought arising in the present (and memories are subjective at best). The future is merely anticipated, it is another thought which we experience in the present, it isn’t a reality.

All we truly have is this moment…

And this one…

But we spend most of our lives forgetting this truth, ignoring it and running away from it. And the real horror of it all is that we succeed. We never manage to truly connect with the present moment and find fulfillment there because we are continually hoping to become happy in the future.

How is it we are unable to fully appreciate that the future never arrives.

Even when we think we’re in the present moment, if we look closely, we see that we aren’t. In very subtle ways we are always looking over its shoulder, anticipating what is coming next or thinking about the moment preceding the present one. We are always solving a problem.

But it’s possible to simply drop your problem, if only for a moment, and enjoy whatever is true about your current experience, in the present.

All it entails is a variation in your attentiveness to the present moment. The mind is an amazing tool. It cloaks things from us that it doesn’t think we need to feel and bombards us with thought. Are you able to feel your brain currently processing trillions of computations a second? Does your mind even allow you to feel that you have a brain?  I actually spend a fairly significant amount of time learning about or thinking about the human brain and how it works, but it almost never occurs to me that I have one.

3. Entranced By a Movie

People often ask me to try and sum up what it’s like when you begin meditating and what the advantages are.

It’s such a difficult question to answer because the significance of the experience and the impact it can have on one’s life is so profound that it’s sometimes difficult to explain what it’s like.

It’s akin to someone who was born in and has never awoken from a dream asking you what it’s like being awake. How do you begin to unpack what the reality of real life might be like?

One of the more subtle ways I try to explain meditation is like this:

Have you ever been at a movie theater, and you suddenly become aware that you are in a chair watching a movie and not actually a part of that movie? Perhaps half an hour or an hour has passed since you shoveled any popcorn into your mouth or slurped on your big gulp. You’ve just been absent from your body, sitting there, completely captivated by the movie.

You look around at your friends or other people with this new found awareness. They are still totally absorbed by the film. Staring like zombies at the screen, laughing periodically, entirely unaware of where they are or that they are only watching a movie.

You feel like you are separate from them, like you’ve stepped off the ride, uncoupled from a false reality in which the rest of them are partaking.

This is what it’s like when you begin to meditate deeply. You are able to virtually bump into your actual consciousness, usually trying to catch its breath. You are able to recognize that, your little life, so loyal and devoted to its obscure purposes, has been carrying on, quite strangely, without you.

4. Why Most People Give Up

At first, meditation seems quite difficult. You sit there and try to clear your head and focus on your breathing, but your mind is so used to having carte blanche over the direction of your thoughts that it just bulldozes your efforts.

Your first meditation session goes a little something like this…

 “Okay..  let’s concentrate on my breathing..  inn aannnnd out, and inn annnd out and, wait, am I supposed to be saying “in” and “out” in my head? Is that a form of thinking? I don’t think it is..  is it weird that I’m counting how many breaths I take? crap I’ve lost count.. god this cushion feels damp, I hope I haven’t been too relaxed and peed myself, naah, it’s just from the air con, shit I have to get the aircon re-gassed soon, summer is around the corner, I need to save, I’ll put it on a list, right after servicing my car, crap, I forgot to put gas in tonight, I’m going to have to go in the morning, now I’ll have to wake up even earlier, I need to remember to set my alarm..  dammit, Meditate, Meditate! my breath my breath! okay in and out and in and out, god im going to have to remember my fuel card, ive maxed out my credit card already….” 

And so it goes…

This is completely normal, you just need to stick with it. If you were learning how to walk on a tightrope, you’d begin just a foot from the ground and you would fall off many times before you found your balance. You need to train your mind.

Even after a few tries, you will be able to step back and notice your thoughts as they arise and not just be swept off with them. You will recognize the chaos that is your mind and how much unfettered garbage bounces around in there, it will astound you.

In just a short while you will be able to pay attention to the present moment closely enough so that you’re not doing anything to it.

The good news is that I know of a guided (and free) meditation app that will coach you along, starting at just 5 minutes a day. I have placed the link at the end of this blog. Do it! It’ll change your life.

5. How You Are Able to Use Your New Skills Daily

As you become better at clearing your mind and connecting with the present moment, not only will you be able to take a deep breath and apply this skill at will, but you will also have the process running continuously in the background to everything you do.

Whereas before you might have been someone who became angry quickly, you will now be able to recognize anger as a feeling. You will notice it arise and have the option of becoming angry or letting go of the feeling.

When we recognize our thoughts for what they are and that they are mere thoughts, separate from us, we are better able to take control of those processes. It’s a very empowering thing and all boats rise with that tide, our lives and relationships become far better.

Imagine no longer being a slave to your emotions. Being able to choose not to react to everything that is said or that happens to you, but rather observe the situation and whether any reaction at all is even warranted.

In fact, negative emotions and negative feelings begin to function as a kind of early warning system for you to become more mindful and you don’t get very far into feeling those negative emotions before your mindfulness comes online. 

6. Road Rage

What most people don’t appreciate is that, even destructive feelings like anger have a very short half life. With a little practice you will be able to notice the impermanence of these types of emotions. You think you could be angry for a few minutes or hours but, in order to remain angry for any length of time, you have to keep replaying the situation that upset you over and over in your head.

What you will find after some practice is that, you’re able to simply drop the feeling. When someone cuts you off in traffic, you will find that, instead of tailgating the person or hooting like a madman, you’re able to just put the feeling of anger down.

“Easier said than done” I hear you say. Imagine this. Imagine someone cuts you off and you fly into a rage. You hoot and wave and tell the person to pull over. When you leap out of the car, you discover that the offending driver climbing out of their car is an old friend who you have missed dearly. What happens? The emotions of anger are gone in an instant! You feel no more anger towards this person than to a puppy dog and yet 60 seconds ago, you were willing to risk your life in an altercation.

To be sure, even after you see your friend, the residue of anger, in the form of physiological sensations, are still there. Your heart is beating like crazy; you have sweaty palms and you’re shaking like your life depended on it. But how different is that physical feeling from the first time you had sex, or the last time you went on a roller-coaster? I bet, if you think about it, you’ll discover the feelings you have in your body when you’ve paid good money to be tossed around at the fair-ground are almost identical to those you have when you’re angry.

The difference is that your minds framing of the situation is altered. So, you are able to just drop the feelings of anger and you are able to shake off the physical sensations after you’ve suddenly become angry. You just need a little practice noticing the feelings before they take over as opposed to being a spectator to the carnage and regretting things later.

In Conclusion

We are all in the business of seeking fulfillment and relief from suffering. And there are a number of ways folks try and accomplish this. Some of them are healthy, but when the healthy options don’t work, people turn to cigarettes, alcohol, weed, drugs, sex and dozens of other short-term fixes but these things are like putting a band-aid on something that requires surgery. And they only cause you more distraction from the reality of the present moment.

Sam Harris has a PHD neuroscience, is a best-selling author and pod-caster (Making Sense Podcast). Sam is famous for being someone who goes to almost any lengths not to lie (which is always interesting to see). I’ve had the pleasure of seeing him live (twice) on his sold-out world tours where he chats with guests about reality, the mind, politics, religion and an array of other topics.

Here is the link to the ‘Waking Up’ guided meditation app by Sam Harris. At the time of this post, I believe the ‘Waking Up’ app is free, though it used to be behind a paywall. If it is no longer free and you really want to experience the benefits of guided meditation, please jump on to his site here Contact Sam Harris, let him know you cannot afford it and that I have steered you to his site. Sam will give you an entire year of his meditation app for free. (please only use this option if you genuinely cannot afford the app)

Thank you and enjoy the journey

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