5 Things I Learned From 14 Years of Meditation and Mindfulness

What can meditation and mindfulness do for you? What is all the fuss about? Here is a personal account of my experience with meditation, and what I’ve learned along the way.

This article, originally posted in “Better Humans” collection in  Medium, will briefly cover:

  • what meditation is
  • how to keep at it
  • how to integrate it into your life
  • some of its benefits
  • the biggest gift it has given me

For me it all started over 14 years ago, when a friend of mine invited me to go to a two-hour workshop on meditation. There was some explanation of what it is, and why it is valuable. I was then told to close my eyes and “connect to my inner Self”. I had no idea what that meant, but I just decided to follow the instruction without questioning. Some calming music was playing in the background, and there were around 30 people seated in that room.

In those few minutes, I felt such a feeling of calmness in my mind, and complete relaxation in my body like I had never felt before. I was a very agitated and hyperactive child and teenager, so that was a novel (and precious) experience for me. There was also a subtle feeling of satisfaction, of ease. I was hooked. That night I decided that I would start meditating regularly.

And so I did. I started meditating for 20 minutes every nighmint (nowadays I do one hour). Even though I had no idea what I was doing, I just kept at it. Over the years my practice evolved, as I tried different meditation techniques and met masters in India, Brazil, France, Japan and Australia.

As a result of all these thousands of hours of practice, and tens of books read on related subjects, there was deep transformation on several aspects of my life. I’ve also learned some things about myself and about what works with meditation, and I’m excited to share these with you.

“You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day; unless you are too busy, then you should sit for an hour” — Zen Saying

 

1. Different things for different people

Meditation is the mental exercise of focusing all your attention, moment after moment, on the object of meditation. This can be your breath, an affirmation, visualization, mantra, anything. During the session, the effort is to keep bringing the attention back whenever it wanders, and to disengage it from being busy with other things.

“Mindfulness” is the practice of being aware in the present moment, a space of noticing the state of things (internal or external) without judgment. It can be said to be a type of meditation, or a way to integrate meditation in daily life activities.

People do meditation for different purposes. Centuries ago, people would only do it for spiritual purposes: to discover themselves, master their mind, or connect to something higher.

With meditation becoming known in the West, early adopters started seeing that the mental and emotional benefits that come from the practice are useful in basically any area of life — from career and personal development to athletic performance, health care, family relationships, and business.

It is usually one of these three things that drive people to start:

  • Specific Benefit: improving your health, wellness, performance, focus, memory, creativity, etc.
  • Growth: personal growth, emotional healing, therapy
  • Spirituality: connecting with God, transcending the ego, etc.

Whatever drives you to meditate, that is good. You will get the benefits you seek, in the proportion of your consistency and commitment to building this habit. But the wider you cast your net, the more fish you will get — so I would encourage you to practice not only for one particular reason, but for the sake of the practice itself.

Everyday you need to eat, take shower, and sleep. Practice meditation like this, and you are more likely to stick to it, and the benefits will be deeper in your life.

 

2. Three essential virtues

Keep these three attitudes in mind, and your practice will be solid: consistency, interest, openness.

(a) Stubborn consistency.

Have a “never zero” approach. No matter what, do your practice every day. Even if for only five minutes. Even one minute (if you are starting). But do it.

It doesn’t matter if you are tired, bored, busy, confused, depressed, or angry. Just sit. This will wire meditation deep into your brain.

(b) Keep hungry, keep interested.

Keep your interest alive. Read about it, talk about it, meet with people who meditate, go to retreats. It will keep your enthusiasm alive.

(c) Have a Zen-like openness

You need to develop a different mindset to be a “successful meditator”. It’s not about results. It’s about the process itself. Funny enough, you get more results, more benefits, when you forget about them.

Be patient. Don’t harbor expectations with your practice. Don’t close down on any goal.

So, the perfect attitude would be: meditate every day with zest, but no expectations.

But you will not have the perfect attitude. Neither did I. That is ok too. Just keep it in mind.

 

3. Moving Buddha, Living Buddha

If I want to be fluent in a foreign language, just studying it a little bit every day will only take me so far. Fluency comes when I start to constantly think about what I’ve learned, and experiment thinking in that language, during my day.

The same goes with meditation — it has to become larger than your few minutes a day sitting on a cushion. That is the whole point of it, isn’t it?

How to do that? By reminding ourselves, several times a day, of the “quiet space”, the calmness of mind that we experience while in meditation. When you are talking, eating, working, anything. Just take a deep breath, become mindful of your body and state of mind, and bring back the attention to that space. This is mindfulness in action.

Another experiment that worked well for me is to bring my strongest emotions inside meditation. For a while I used to take any strong emotion that would come as an opportunity to meditate, go deep into it, and find out what it is. I can’t recommend this practice for everybody, but for me it was deeply liberating. I did it with fear, and with sadness. And I can say these things have never again had the same power over me. These negative emotions, if they come up in me, is now more like a bucket of salt thrown in a lake — not a bucket of salt thrown in a small pound. It doesn’t really get salty, you know.

So make sure to couple your “formal practice” with a few 30 seconds moments of meditation during your day. That is the most important element in integrating mindfulness in your life. And bring your state of mindfulness to your strongest emotions. A powerful liberation can occur.

 

4. Things will change

Your view on things will change. Your self-identity may change as well.

But don’t panic. I’m not saying you will become a monk disconnected from the world, nor in a hippie blissed-out state. You will see how many things you believed in are actually not true, and your mind will become more flexible.

I cannot really say what the changes will be. That depends on you, it’s subjective. In the next point I’ll explore one of the major shifts that meditation brought for me.

 

5. I’m not my mind

 

One of the greatest gifts meditation has given me is the understanding that I’m not my mind, and a space of detachment from whatever is happening, inside or out.

I now deeply know that whatever I’m thinking or feeling is just another temporary movement inside my consciousness. Be it a worry, or fear, or stress, or limiting belief, whatever. It appeared at a certain time, stays in for a while, and then disappears. If there is no attachment to it — and I have learned that I don’t need to be attached, that it is a choice — it will just pass. And, even during the time that the feeling is happening, it does not make me a hostage anymore.

Just like I observe my breathing going in and out during meditation, I observe the mind getting irritated, the body warming up, and the impulse for action rising. And I know that I always have a choice. A choice to act based on it, to make use of it, or to simply let it go. This is the power and freedom that meditation keeps giving me.

 

Parting thoughts

Have you done meditation for some time? Please comment sharing your findings as well.

If you enjoyed this article, you may also like:

Here is the free PDF version of this post:

  • Ariyalion Games (@AriyalionGames)

    One of the best articles I read on Practicing Meditation. Thanks for sharing.

    • Happy to hear that Ariyalion! I`ll be writing more posts on Meditation pretty soon.

  • I don’t get meditation. I practice it a few minutes a day, because many people recommend it, but I totally don’t get it.

    I’ve heard it is hard to start. Not at all for me. I think one day I’ll spend an hour meditating, just to prove I can.
    Supposedly it’s about self-awareness. I gain high level self-awareness by daily journaling and I attribute my ease of practicing meditation to that.
    What do you think about this theory?

    • I think journaling is also great for self-awareness.

      When you practice meditation do you feel that your body and mind go into a much calmer state? If you do experience that, this state is key for several mind and body benefits, though in some cases it may take some time to manifest.

      On the other hand, my feeling is that if you feel you are not getting much benefit from it, perhaps its because you just need to go deeper in the practice, or just give it a bit more time.

      With time meditation will help you see deeper things about your behavior and the functioning of the mind. You will see hidden reasons and mind tricks more clearly.

  • Keep up the great works to popularize mindfulness in business. I see enlightened organizations for the future..because of good people like you all.

    • Thank you, Ken!
      I think both mindfulness indeed has the capacity to revolutionise business, education and health.

  • Thanks for the reminder that visualization is meditation as well. Traditional meditation (the sitting, breathing type of meditation) is difficult for me. I like that you are open to other ‘types’ of modalities. Thanks for this post!

    • Sure. What you can also do is practice your visualisation as the main thing, and for the last 2-3 minutes of meditation, you focus on your breath. You may find that it is easier like this.

  • Nice work Giovanni – it is an inspiration t see how long you have maintained your discipline. I am learning a lot working with guided meditations like the ones of http://meditate.net.au/

  • Thanks for sharing your tips … Definitely, the last point I understood the most – why I am not the mind and why I have the choice to “let it go.” … Awesome 🙂 Come here to learn how to drive MORE traffic to your website: http://www.abiwrites.com

  • Milind

    thanks for this. I came here from your quora response. loved the part about bringing up your strongest emotions.

  • I’m glad you found my work helpful, Elizabeth.

    As someone that also comes from a traditional meditation background, I know exactly what you mean regarding moral reservations as to charging. My thoughts about this have changed over time, and I shared them here: http://liveanddare.com/meditation-and-charging/

    I’m keen to hear your thoughts.

  • George

    I have been meditating for almost a year, and now I am more depressed than ever. Is meditation the root to my depression?

    • I can’t answer this question in general terms, without knowing more about you and your practice. But in short, probably not, although in some special circumstances it might aggravate existing depression, depending on the technique you use and your attitude behind it.
      What type of practice do you do?

  • Aro Karim

    Hello. I have been meditating for 8 months. Nowadays I try to maintain 3+ hours a day. I know it is kind of a lot but I feel that if I don’t do it I go Insane. I’m really in a uncomfortable spot here. My stress accumulates, and it is hard to not be drawn to the energy. I want to find the right angle to tackle this but I just keep on facing dead ends.

    Any tips on what to do from here?

    PS. I love your writing, thank you! 🙂

    • I would need more information to be able to really give a meaningful advice.
      The first thing is the technique. What technique are you using, and what’s your experience with it?

    • Aro Karim

      So I sit meditatin halflotus and focus on a thing. This thing has varied through my development, or sometimes the thing is nothing. But I feel like each day Is different for me. For example today I have done two hours on focusing on my throat, and am probably going to do some healing meditation in the evening. In healing meditation I have bodypart and direct my energy there, so for a month I have been consistent on healing by shoulder (1hour/day). But honestly not too long ago my meditation was about clearing my chakras, and later forward about trying to focus on emptiness, or repeating a word. In mornings I have done lot of just trying to tune my self higher and to be like a channel for energy to go through me. Past week I have done root chakra grounding meditation 1hour/day. First 2 months of my journey I did lot of guided meditations and tried out lot of breathing exercises I.e fire breathing or idk, I don’t even remeber the names. But whatever I have done, I have been consistent, and skipped only so many days. I began 8 months ago by meditating 1 hour a day, but quicky it got upto 2 hours, and for past 3-4 months or so ive meditated 3-4hours per day.

      Wau I hope that was clear enough. So yeah, basically I feel like addicted to meditation. My life feels kind of collapsing on top of me, and I carry this falling momentum and ponder forward. It’s just kind of exhausting, and yeah. What should I do? Should I take a risk in everything and follow my gut? How long is this pondering going to last? On the one hand This meditation lifestyle has given me a million more questions about life, and when I feel conncted I trust the universe, and feel that all answers are within me and I feel tranquil and safe. But on the other hand Meditation lifestyle cured my depression, I have received so much more understanding, and I’m following the path of light as well as I can. But something is off. I want to engage this situation differently. Thinking too much doesn’t help many times, but I have not found the deeper trust for the universe. I feel like if I only had this trust, and went with the flow of life, then the serenity would be there for me. But I don’t have trust and this is annoying.

      Okay Giovanni, man, All help is appreciated, small or big. Thank you for time.

    • For one thing, it is probably a good idea to get one meditation technique, and stick to it. This will be helpful.

  • Karoline

    Hi, thank you for sharing all this. I’ve been meditating for a year for 20 min to 1 h.
    I’ve found myself being more and more in the “observer mode” during the day. I have moments when touching my face doesn’t feel like My face, but just a face, just skin. The same with voice, my face in the mirror etc. I can stare at myself seeing just a girl, not Me. I wonder if that feeling will dissolve or change – as far I can imagine I’ll get use to it, detached from the world as the observer, “knowing one” , and world as the feeling… My current state is somehow scary from time to time, I’m planning to visit psychologist, hoping, he could anyhow understand, but I think , that only person who meditate could help… Thank you once again for sharing

    • Hi Karoline,

      It seems that meditation is helping to break the spell of identification with the body. I see this as a very good thing, but just keep mindful that you are still able to function well in the world.

      If you go to a Psychologist to talk about it, I’d recommend you look for one that has good experience in meditation. Otherwise they might just classify you as having disassociation disorder.

  • Deepshikha Raghuwanshi

    Hi, i am novice to meditation. Great to read your experience.
    One thing i am very inclined to know which you told you won’t recommend. If you can share how do you medidate with emotions which doesn’t please you and rather put you off. Would be great if you can give some insights.

    • I wrote a bit about that here: http://liveanddare.com/negative-emotions
      Basically, you can take the emotions as an object of meditation, and keep paying deep attention to them, in a neutral way. This will initially increase their expression, but by time it will break their spell completely.

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