Meditation is hard, but mindful habits are possible for all of us

A friend and I recently decided to undertake a mission: meditate every day for 10 minutes. For many years, I’ve heard countless successful people rave about the mind-clearing, zen-building, productivity-boosting, magical benefits of meditation—the classy word for “sitting there and doing nothing.”

My favorite podcaster Tim Ferriss interviewed over 140 people from a wide range of fields for his book “Tools of Titans” and reported, “Some type of morning mindfulness or meditation practice would span I’d say 90 percent of the respondents.”

So there it is—meditation is the silver bullet. The one obstacle I need to clear to levitate above the general public with my enlightened mind. The secret to success.

It was an online article called “Why I Meditate” by Oshan Jarow that prompted my meditation mission. Jarow writes that most of the thoughts streaming through our minds all day involve language. Language, though powerful, represents only a fraction of our human experience. Meditation offers a way to access consciousness, which Jarow calls a “vast, unexplored landscape.”

Our minds create stories all day to make sense of the world and our identity: that we have friends, do important work, and that each action we take has a purpose. Meditation brings us beyond this self-centered stream, allowing us to appreciate our small-but-mighty place in the universe.

I spent most of my summer in India, the birthplace of meditation over 7,000 years ago. I even visited the hometown of the Dalai Lama: a small region in the Himalayan foothills filled with greenery, goats, and men in traditional dark red Buddhist garb. 

Although many aspects of the trip were peaceful, I was unable to absorb meditative benefits solely by existing in a mindful country.

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So how did my experiment go?

The first day I tried meditating at night and almost fell asleep. The next two days were a bit better, but my roommate walked in halfway through, and I couldn’t focus. I forgot for the next two days. And in the subsequent attempt, my mind was racing from a cup of coffee.

After about a week of on-and-off attempts, I gave up on a consistent practice.

However, I wasn’t quite done with meditation yet. I signed up for Campus Ministry’s silent retreat at the end of fall quarter, hoping that forced solitude would put me into a meditative zone.

I didn’t spend much time “meditating” on the retreat, though the whole time certainly had a reflective and relaxing mood. Every day I spent time journaling, napping, hiking, eating (silent group meals are fascinating), reading and just staring at the wall doing nothing. Although I didn’t become enlightened, I walked away with something potentially more potent: a realistic optimism about integrating aspects of meditation into my everyday life.

Although not everyone may want to commit to meditating, I do think that every person should integrate elements of a broader concept—mindfulness—into their life.

I learned I need daily space to detach from the speed and busyness of classes. I like morning and evening walks, daily exercise or even just a few minutes of quiet breathing as ways to intentionally slow down and let my mind wander.

Some people are more introverted and need recharging time after socializing, while extroverts gain energy from being around people. I find myself somewhere in the middle of the spectrum; I love being with people, especially one-on-one, but also need daily alone time to recharge. Regardless of how much you enjoy being alone, spending some time each day in solitude is a healthy way to check in with yourself—even if it’s just for 15 minutes before bed.

One mindful habit I have recently tried to cultivate is being more aware and engaged in the present moment. I naturally ruminate on the past and make plans for the future, but I don’t want these habits to detract from my ability to enjoy the moment, especially when I’m spending time with people.

Although I’m still not a consistent meditator, I still highly recommend trying and believe that intentionally practicing mindful habits is a key to a happy, healthy and peaceful life. Don’t be too hard on yourself when building new habits—give yourself some breaks while also choosing times, mindful activities and environments where you can succeed.

If you’re not up for the challenge of meditation, try to develop mindful habits like reflection and solitude. At its core, mindfulness is a gift to the parts of your brain and body you can’t access with conscious thought. By letting your mind make subconscious connections and rest from the chaotic playing field of life, you’ll be more prepared to play the game with a positive mindset.