I believe everyone should meditate. Even you. But if you’re anything like I used to be, you’re totally uninterested.
The reason I avoided even trying meditation for so many years was because it sounded weak. Whenever I heard someone talking about meditation I could feel my testosterone levels dropping. Everything about meditating just sounded “woo woo”, soft, and weak. I’m not a hyper-aggressive dude either. So when something pings on my radar as not being manly enough to try, you know it’s pretty bad.
But then a bad-ass Navy SEAL named Mark Divine pointed out that I was being an idiot. When a trained killer tells you you need to rethink your stance on meditation, you rethink your stance on meditation. He showed me that I needed only look at the results that meditation could deliver (something I could experience for myself in less than 5 minutes) to get over my fear that it too woo woo and fluffy.
Why Meditation is Bad-Ass
Just as my journey of learning to control my mind began with getting down to the anatomy of the human brain, discovering the power of meditation began with me understanding the physiology of meditation. Once I understand how something works I can really begin to use it.
What gives meditation its power is the parasympathetic nervous system. The autonomic functions in your body are broken up into two parts – the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for hyping you up and dealing with the fight or flight response, and the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the “rest and digest” functions. It’s the counterbalancing force to fight or flight. Meditation is the tool by which you can learn to use that calming force at will.
Background Radiation Kills
In a world of constant stimulation, stress and anxiety a certain level of what I call “background radiation” builds up. Overtime, even low levels of stress and anxiety build up and create a pervasive sense of unease. Put frankly, that unease sucks. One of the reasons that vacations are so awesome is that usually they allow you to drop your background radiation levels to zero. That leaves you feeling light and primed for the more soothing feelings of joy and creativity – states that just aren’t possible when your background stress and anxiety levels are elevated.
Meditation is a Mini Vacation
Specialized breath control is the key to triggering the parasympathetic nervous system and making meditation work. I’m still blown away that the body has this secret key for tapping into one of the most pleasurable sensations the body has to offer – what I’ll call the “calm creative” state. It’s that deep sense of relaxation and rejuvenation you get on vacation. You feel completely at ease, but still energized and creative.
I won’t go into a ton of detail here, but drop “Mark Divine mediation” into google and the first result is the video you’re looking for if you want to learn the meditation technique that I started with. I now use a variation on the theme, but it’s still more or less the same idea. The key for me is in through the nose, out through the mouth. And when I realize my mind is wandering I repeat the phrase “just breathe” and return to focusing on my breath. After about 30 seconds I begin to feel more relaxed. After 10 minutes I feel great. After 20 minutes, well, my legs are usually falling asleep by then from sitting cross-legged so I stop. But man, I would have otherwise kept going, because it feels so damn good. It feels exactly like being on vacation minus the sandy beach. (Note, if you really want to transport yourself, get the Calm app and listen to the sounds of the ocean while you meditate. That will really make you feel like you’re on vacation.)
Make it a Habit
With rare exception, I meditate 5 days a week. It’s the first thing I do after working out. I can’t encourage you enough to make this a daily habit. I find that by eliminating my background radiation daily I’m able to whether even the craziest of storms because there’s no cumulative effect day after day. And if I’m going through something super gnarly, I just up my frequency and/or duration of meditation. Meditation is something I make time for. It’s like eating. You’ve just got to do it. Just as hunger is the trigger to eat, let even light levels of stress and anxiety be the reminder to meditate. Engaging the parasympathetic nervous system is perhaps the most profound and immediately effective mind hacks that exist. Don’t fail to take advantage of it. And besides, haven’t you been promising yourself that you’d take more vacations?