6 things I learned after a 40-day meditation streak

I’ve been meditating on and off since 2017. Whenever I stopped because I was “too busy”, my brain slid back to its old and questionable habits: surrendering to distractions, impatience, restlessnessness, fault-finding. It almost felt like I was not in control of myself. After a 40-day meditation streak, all these bad habits are still present in my life, but they steadily subside. Here’s what else I’ve learned.

finding time is always possible, but…

It takes effort and dedication. I used to include meditation in a series of stacked habits. Not anymore. Having a baby at home, it is difficult to schedule uninterrupted time for myself. My meditation sessions last 10-20 minutes and they happen right before I start work at home. If I have to skip my morning meditation, it will happen as soon as I can, but it is incrementally more challenging to keep my mind in check later in the day.

Maintaining a streak helps, but…

It can also muddle the genuine intention. When one day I realized it was 10pm and I had not meditated yet, I caught myself thinking “maybe I can just meditate for three minutes”. It was as if I wanted more to keep my streak rather than reap the benefits, and let me be honest: I have done this in the past. Many times. What was different this time is that I was a lot more mindful. At the end, I meditated for 15 minutes right before I slept. Reminding myself that I’ve been successful in finding time for 40+ days is a lot more empowering than checking my streak in an app.

There are always distractions, but…

I learned to minimize them. An untrained mind is restless by default, so there are hundreds of things that can catch its attention at any given moment. The most common one is our mobile phone. A digital wellbeing app tracked the average time I spent on unproductive activities: social media, web surfing, checking the news, watching random videos. Although I know how to resist these temptations, I did not always have the headspace to discipline myself. Meditation helped me develop it. To make it easier for myself, I used a couple of applications and browser extensions to block unproductive website and apps. After the first few days, the sudden urge to check what was happening in the world started wearing off. And calmness started settling in.

There are breakthroughs, but…

It is important to not get attached or cling on to them. My first breakthrough was the experiential realization that my thoughts are not actually mine. It happened while I was doing a long meditation. A provoking thought suddenly bubbled up in my mind as if it wanted to sabotage my effort. It was very vivid, and it was my voice (in my head), but it wasn’t me who had chosen to have that thought. So, who was it? Enters the Buddhist concept of non-self, which is another post I haven’t written yet. It felt great, and I immediately caught myself getting excited. My mind already had expectations to repeat the experience, which defeats the purpose of meditation. Meditation is about observing the mind, not setting goals or achieving milestones. Some may ask: “What is the point of meditation if you are not getting anywhere?” Well, the point is to be present and curious about the mind. Isn’t that enough?

The mind remains judgemental, but…

It learns to slow down. According to the popular book “Thinking Fast and Slow”, 95% of our thinking is fast, unconsious and prone to errors. For example, imagine you are standing in a queue and someone who just arrived heads straight to the front of the queue. What is your first thought?

A: “What the…! They are trying to jump the queue!”
B: “Oh.. probably they didn’t notice there’s a queue.”

I used to very quickly form baseless opinions like A, and thus feel annoyed, or even angry. By observing my mind, I am learning to forgo assumptions when I lack contextual information. It helps me maintain my peace of mind and move on much faster from things that used to annoy me.

mindfulness carries on throughout the day, but…

It needs space to blossom. I dreaded trivial activities at home, such as emptying the dishwasher or filling it up. The moment I thought “I have to empty the dishwasher”, I felt some kind of tension, and just wanted to be done with it. When I noticed this feeling, I decided to change the narrative. I don’t “have to” empty the dishwasher. I “get to” empty it. It means we had nice food and I don’t need to hand wash. I don’t have to work; I get to be productive and earn money. I don’t have to wait at a red light; I get to drive somewhere nice. When I walk, I get to see things I don’t usually notice. When I don’t grab my phone anytime I’m alone, I get to listen to sounds I usually miss. Instead of always trying to be somewhere else, I get to appreciate my surroundings.

I hope all the above will motivate you to start meditating, or to meditate more. If you don’t know where to start, download a meditation app, find a video on youtube, or “watch “Headspace: Guide to meditation” on Netflix.

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