There is a popular concept out there that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to master a skill. This comes from Malcolm Gladwell’s famous book Outliers.
So what is the skill that is mastered with the deliberate practice of meditation? Some equate 10,000 hours of meditation to a PhD in happiness. Other people say it is peace, emotional freedom, serenity, self-awareness, liberation, or non-attachment. For me, I like to use the word Self-Mastery, which I believe encompasses all these concepts.
Well, today I have completed my 7,000th hour of meditation! [Update Nov 21st, 2017 —> now I have completed 8,000 hours.]
In this post, I’ll speak about what benefits meditation has given me so far. In other words, what has changed in me and in my life, as a result of this practice. Unlike most of my other articles, which are more objective (and of the type “everything you need to know about this topic”), this one is more personal.
There is this taboo in meditation and spiritual circles to talk about how your personal practice is going (especially if it is giving you benefits). It is a good check on the personal ego, but I believe that it limits the community in negative ways as well. This is something that Daniel Ingram criticizes a lot.
In a way it’s right, because by talking about your personal practice you are putting your ego on the line, and risking to either sound stupid, or proud. However, in my own experience I have got so much inspiration and motivation from masters (and advanced practitioners) when they openly speak like this. I have also got relief when I read some advanced practitioners talking about their challenges in practice. I’ve found that when I just speak plainly and boldly about what meditation has given me, without fear of sounding boastful, that many people are actually inspired to practice more. So here I go![For the really curious, here is my logbook.]
- 10 Ways Meditation Changed My Life
- My Practice Right Now
- Weird Experiences In Meditation
- Towards 10,000 Hours!
10 Ways Meditation Changed My Life
Meditation brings benefits in four levels: (1) physical, (2) mental, (3) emotional/psychological, (4) spiritual.
In this article, I will focus on the mental and emotional benefits. Since I started the practice very young (14 years old), and with sound health, the physical benefits are mostly invisible for me, and are all on the prevention side, so nothing dramatic here.
I need to emphasize that what I share here is my experience, according to the techniques I’ve chosen to practice. It is of course also influenced by all the relentless reading, contemplation, retreats, pranayama, and spiritual practices I’ve done over the past 17 years.
The reason why I’m sharing is to show the possibility of this practice, when taken seriously. And don’t be fooled – I still have a long way to go! ?
As to the techniques I chose, I first practiced meditation in an unstructured way, for about 2 years. Then I did breathing awareness in the form of Zazen for 3 years, and Self-Enquiry (Ramana Maharshi style) for 9 years. Over the past 2 years I have practiced Yogic techniques.
(1) Less Reactivity
If someone cuts me off in traffic, my natural reaction now is to breathe and relax (rather than get tense and curse). The same thing goes for most times my computer hangs.
There seems to be no more automatic reactions. Regardless of what happens in the outside world, if an automatic reactions come up in my body or mind, there is an immediately pause or space right before it. And there is a clear choice of either going with the reaction or just staying quiet.
I’m constantly watching myself. It is almost like there is an automatic pause before any note. With less impulsivity, there is more conscious action, and less regret.
(2) Fearlessness, Confidence, Inner Strength
I’m more at ease when having hard conversations, receiving heavy blows from life, or dealing with difficult people. There is this feeling that I can always accept anything that the present moment brings, and make something good out of it. This allows me to be more in control, less anxious, and less worried.
Worries still come up. But when they do, I immediately recognize them, become aware of their effect on my body, and consciously relax the nervous system. Following that, there is the space to think whether I actually need to take any action or not.
Another aspect of this is that when day after day you are openly facing your own mind and inner demons, there is a natural sense of inner strength and confidence that develops. If a strong emotion such as frustration comes, there is no need to panic, because I’ve learned from experience that they all come and go. I am the perceiving consciousness, larger than any thought or feeling I perceive.
Finally, I’ve also developed a sense of imperturbability and invincibility, like a man who consciously knows he is dreaming and, therefore, fears nothing in the dream. This is actually related more to the spirituality aspect of meditation than to purely the techniques themselves.
(3) Willpower & Focus
The core exercise of meditation is to constantly be aware of what is going on in your mind, and directing your attention as desired. So in a single meditation session the muscles of self-awareness (“mindfulness”), focus, and willpower get exercised dozens of times.
In other words, the more I develop the art of attention, the more willpower and mental resources I have available for everything else. With sharper awareness and stronger intentions, other things in life have become easier – like taking care of my health, relationships, career, etc. There is less friction in making things happen.
(4) Wellness / Happiness / Contentment
One of the core teachings of meditation is that true happiness is internal. It is a state of mind and heart; not a status in life.
Once I really started to deepen my experience in meditation, with concentration becoming more steady, I began to experience a sense of joy, and even bliss. This experience I cannot find anywhere else in this world.
I’ve found that the more this grows, the less attachment there is to seeking pleasure in external achievements and things. This also makes sense from a neurological point of view.
As an example, if you eat your favorite ice cream, it will give you X amount of joy/pleasure. Eat it a second time after that, and it will yield X – 2 pleasure. Go for it a third time, and you get X – 5; and so on. Your neurons become increasing less receptive to that stimulus, so there are “diminishing returns”. As a result, the pleasure soon becomes boring or meaningless. The same thing happens with other external sources of enjoyment – like sex, drugs, money, fame, and power.
On the other hand, research shows that the pleasure that advanced meditators experience in their practice doesn’t suffer this down-regulation. It doesn’t get boring, and there are no diminishing returns!
When the mind is calm, interiorized, and one-pointed, we have access to a happiness inherent in ourselves. It depends on nothing external, is more long-lasting, and it doesn’t get old. It’s like being happy for no reason. Being well in your own skin, in all times and places.
Before taking on meditation, my dominant mood was that of restlessness and anxiety. Now, years later, my dominant mood is a sense of energetic presence, peace, and contentment. Meditation has removed almost all of my psychological suffering. I have no negative self-talk, and can’t remember the last time I felt sad, depressed, anxious, fearful or bored.
(5) Integration / Wholeheartedness
Integration means that all the voices inside yourself are working in unison – rather than fighting and competing for power. For example, if a part of you wants to lose weight, and another part hates exercise and healthy eating, there is constant inner conflict. You are divided, and with that division comes frustration and regret.
What I’ve found is that with years of meditation and other essential practices, inner conflict may initially arise for me, but it gets resolved much quicker, and in a more cohesive way. It’s like there is a team of employees with opposing ideas and priorities, but when they discuss the issue and cast their votes, the whole team will then act in the chosen direction wholeheartedly.
(6) Control Of Mind
Meditation has given me a lot of control over my internal world. Although some thoughts stay a bit longer than I’d wish them to, I’m no longer oppressed by any of them.
Indeed, increased self-awareness allows me to stop feeding negative thoughts and emotions before they have a chance to grow and multiply. And to a certain degree there is a power to “switch off” any disturbing thought or emotion that may arise. Sometimes I make use of it, while at other times I prefer to investigate and see what’s behind it.
Worries, fears, hatred, anger, boredom – all these have basically disappeared and do not arise anymore. Except perhaps in very subtle, weak, and short-lived expressions (if any). I can “drop” any mental state and be in equanimity, any time of the day.
As I mentioned above, it often feels to me as if life is a dream… So even though I participate with joy and intensity, there is this underlying feeling that nothing can disturb me, and that I need fear nothing – all is a play.
Nothing seems to be able to cause real fear or attachment. Whatever emotion rises inside of me, it only stays for long if I want it to.
Also, I just can’t be bothered to worry about what other people think or say about me. Practice has shown me that my own thoughts are mostly only “brain farts”. So why should I care about someone else’s brain farts?
(8) Mental Flexibility
The deeper I go into meditation, the more flexible I find myself becoming regarding concepts, beliefs, and worldviews. Opposite truths can be allowed to exist at the same time, without a problem.
Continuous personal growth requires that you contradict yourself from time to time. And meditation gives you the strength of mind to let go of old ideas and say “I was wrong” without fear of losing face.
(9) Power over Emotion
Loving kindness meditation taught me that we have this power to generate any feeling or emotion in our own minds, without depending on any event or person. I’ve been experimenting with this and it’s an amazing power – one that depends only on your imagination and ability to focus.
My inner study on how my mind works has also given me a certain ability to “dissolve” any emotion that arises back into emptiness. This means that you can allow any emotion to arise… but they don’t need to stay around unless you want to. Can you imagine how much negative self-talk you can stop this way?
Your life changes.
The other day we were at a dinner party when a couple of friends asked me what are the real benefits I get from my meditation. Before I could answer, and to my surprise, my wife jumped in and said: “I have lived with this man for over 8 years, and I have never even once seen him angry, sad, broken, or in pain. Not even in the midst of hardships in life.”
(10) Inner Freedom
When you know that everything that is happening is only appearing on the screen of consciousness, and that you yourself are the screen on which it all appears, nothing can touch you, harm you or make you afraid. – Annamalai Swami
After 10 years in my meditation practice and spiritual search, I had an awakening experience that changed my life for good. (I’ll skip the details…)
After that day, it doesn’t really matter which state my mind is in. All thoughts and emotions are seen as just phenomena inside my consciousness, and their spell is somewhat broken. Nothing sticks anymore; it’s almost like I cannot be bothered by anything – even in the midts of engaged action. Like the bird flying through the skies, leaving no psychological traces behind.
As a result of this, there is an experience of inner freedom. Something got turned off, and never again came back the way it was. The feeling of being a person, an “ego”, is only a thin veil, not believed in anymore.
My Practice Right Now
At this point in time, I haven’t yet achieved the perfect state of Samadhi (see bottom of this post), as traditionally defined by the yogis. I say this so you don’t get discouraged. Because even before a state of flawless concentration is achieved, there are already some wonderful benefits in the practice.
Nowadays the actual process of meditation for me, during the first minutes, feels like a constant remembering (focusing the attention) and forgetting (getting distracted). After a few minutes, there is some one-pointedness of mind, and almost every day I experience several moments when the mind is still, collected, introspected, joyful, or “thoughtless”. And during the day, of course, there are all those benefits I mentioned above.
As for technique, I focus on the space between the eyebrows (a type of chakra meditation). And I also continually to experiment with different types of meditation and yogi breathing exercises (pranayama).
Weird Experiences In Meditation
Either during meditation, or as a result of the practice, several experiences can happen. Here I’ll list just the ones that I’ve had and can remember. So if you’ve experienced anything like this, know that you are not alone.
These experiences are helpful in arousing your motivation in keeping up with the practice, and sparking a curiosity to explore more. But don’t try to “repeat them” – it usually doesn’t work, and that’s not the purpose anyway.
Here are things I have experienced:
- During meditation
- feeling that I am half outside of my body
- feeling myself to be the whole universe, the entirety of existence
- seeing the existence of the whole universe arise from my heart
- losing the sense of time (one hour passing like 10min)
- rushes of energies coming up through the spine
- feeling something in the middle of my brain opening up, and showering the whole body with so much bliss and joy that it feels like every cell is dancing
- the spot between the eyebrows “throbbing”
- being in a non-dual state, with no other perception happening except my own undefinable existence
- being in a state of concentration where there is so much intensity, it’s like the brain is experiencing a thousand images and feelings at the same time, without being able to process them
- feeling heat building up in the body (this can be a sign of the wrong type of concentration, or of internal energies evaporating)
- feeling consciousness and my energy homogeneously distributed all over my brain, without being focused on any one part, and without much movement
- seeing the image of something that then happened later on that day (déjà vu?)
- seeing all sorts of lights and colors
- breathing stopping, together with all discursive thinking, for several seconds. Then there is usually a particular perception of this event, at which point the breathing resumes. After some years, I gained the ability to perceive this state without disturbing it or forming a thought such as “this is the thoughtless state”.
- After meditation
- seeing myself to be one with whatever I perceive around me
- feeling love for all people I see
- feeling like my brain is changing, expanding, contracting, or cooling down (also happens during meditation)
- feeling a wave of joy or peace taking over my mind
In general, a consistent experience (apart from peace and contentment) has been that of my brain changing. I feel the structure of my brain itself has changed. Sometimes I feel this rewiring happening during meditation practice, and sometimes during the day.
The most transcendental experiences are the times that the mind is completely silent, in a state of non-dual awareness, and motionless. There is basically just a perception of a very subtle – yet expansive – sense of “pure being”. No phenomenon is being perceived in particular. No distraction, no thinking, no bliss, no intention.
Towards 10,000 Hours!
Meditation is not the only way of developing these qualities/skills. But it is an effective way. It’s an exercise that unfolds into a lot of things… if you take it seriously and practice it daily. The more consistently you practice, with the right attitude and technique, the more you get from it.
Meditation has the potential to bring this and much more. Or it may bring you things that it didn’t bring me. Your journey will be uniquely your own. As long as you are doing the practice and deriving some benefit, you are on the right track.
My next milestone is the aspirational 10,000 hours of practice – which will probably take me more three years.
There is no doubt that I still have a long way to go on this path. Yet I can see that what meditation has given me is precious – and that many people seem to want a some of these benefits for themselves.
But what’s most important about this post isn’t what’s happened to me; it’s about what’s possible for you. Most of these changes don’t come easily – but with consistency and patience, they are possible.
The first and most essential step is to develop a consistent daily practice, and finding the right technique for yourself. If you are struggling with that, you might want to check out my course, Master Your Mind, which is targeted to help with these challenges.
Please leave a comment saying what emotional or mental “superpower” you most wish to receive from meditation. Or share any interesting experiences with us.