A lot of people see a topic like meditation and their most generous interpretation of it is “relaxation”. I also know there are people for whom if you mention the word “meditation” will think you just asked them to discuss religion for a moment as they roll their eyes.
I get it. But trust me, I’m not praying for you and I’m not expecting you to believe in anything you can’t directly experience for yourself.
And I really think everyone should experience it. I’ve written here before about the connection I draw between meditation and total returns in the stock market and I stand by it.
Everything from the wisdom of not trying to time the market, to dealing with the negative feelings associated with owning a stock that plummets 50% can be improved with insights gained from meditation.
But that’s really just one facet of life that can be improved with meditation. And by no means the most important, just one of the more interesting.
How I discovered meditation is pretty straight-forward, but I hope that by sharing it, it prompts someone to at least consider it (or consider it again).
What is Meditation?
What I mean by meditation is the deliberate training to direct attention in a more purposeful way.
It is the act of getting better at changing what you can, and accepting what you cannot.
Our lives are generally on autopilot, and the voice in our head is constantly chattering away even when we aren’t aware of it.
That little voice is responsible for you turning the heat up when it’s cold. It’s responsible for you thinking about what you need to do today. It’s telling you all the ways you aren’t good enough or are better than someone else. How your situation could be better if only…
It judges, evaluates, compares, and then pieces together a narrative and assigns a score for everything you’ve ever done, and ever will do based on your analysis of every situation and every possible outcome.
If you’re anything like me, you’ve been identified with that voice in your head for so long, and so much that you think it’s just you. But it’s not you. It’s an object of your consciousness. It is as fleeting as the sound of a car driving by your house.
You can prove this very quickly by noticing that every single thought you’ve ever had has come and gone. As has every mood, emotion, feeling, worry, joy, pain, and sensation. But you have not come and gone. So what remains when those thoughts and everything else are gone?
This is the question that kept me hooked on meditating, trying to figure out what my mind was up to when I wasn’t paying attention, and more importantly, what it was like when I was.
Let me back up. Before I talk about what I’ve learned from meditation, I think it might be beneficial to explain how I discovered it with a long story that you probably don’t care about.
A year or two ago I was in an incredibly dark place. I had been there for awhile.
This article has nothing to do with how I got there, but it’s important to understand because those feelings and situations I created were the catalyst for me to seek an outlet for my frustrations.
The search and ultimate discovery started something like this:
- Reach out to a friend whom I knew was going to therapy.
- Figure out how insurance works for therapy (if it all).
- Call and email therapists looking for a good match.
It was at this point that I probably should have given up. After all, I had given up at this stage before. Strong, smart people don’t need therapy, I told myself. But this time was different. This was the first time that I had experienced such an acute level of grief and confusion and complete hatred for myself.
So I kept going:
- Do the paperwork, schedule the appointment, go to the place.
- Discuss problems and solutions.
- Rinse and repeat.
This was something, but it wasn’t as helpful as I thought it would be. So I explored complementary activities at the same time as I was going to therapy every other week. Those activities included:
- Start a daily yoga practice.
- Start a daily reading habit.
- Start a daily journaling routine.
- Sell my house.
I know, one of those things is not like the other. The “self-care” items above were exploratory. I had never really done any of those in earnest and was just looking for pieces of driftwood out in the water to hold on to.
The house sale was something I had wanted to do for a couple years, but never really had the next step sketched out very clearly. The house was bought as an investment, so the plan was always to sell it. This just happened to be good timing. I could rent for a bit.
However, over the course of just 12 months, that “I could rent for a bit” turned into this:
- Move again.
- Move again for some reason.
- Move one more time.
I lived out of boxes for most of that year. It wasn’t financially practical, which is a lot of what I try to write about, and so I was not living in line with my values which also irritated me.
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During all of that moving, I had to get a new therapist. There was a little trial and error involved this time but I ended up finding a guy that had sat on multiple meditation retreats. This didn’t register as meaningful at the time.
I learned he had spent time in Tibet studying with monks and gurus learning all sorts of forms of meditation that we’ve still never even discussed. Again, at that time, I did not think these were selling points. They were at best, irrelevant.
Thankfully he was also a licensed psychotherapist with a Masters in Clinical Psychology and decades of actual clinical experience. Other experiences that persuaded me were the facts that he was the Co-founder and Director of The Institute for Psychology & Medicine and wrote a weekly health column in the local newspaper.
I liked that resume more than the first because I don’t consider myself to be spiritual and had never meditated a day in my life. I wanted science. Science always sounds like it will give you a simple answer. Little did I know…
Between my first few conversations with this new therapist, and a random download of an app called Waking Up, I discovered meditation.
This confluence of experiences led to me carving out 10 or 20 minutes every single day to follow along with a guided meditation from the app. On the weekends, I can spend 30 or 60 minutes doing the same.
I also do it more informally and unguided at brief moments during the day without the app.
For most of my practices, I was and often still am, just sitting there lost in thought, not actually meditating.
But gradually I’ve gotten better at reeling myself back in to a state of mindful awareness. And I know I’ve gotten better at it because I can do it more frequently outside of my formal practice as well. Which is what meditation is all about in the first place.
That’s how I discovered meditation. Next week’s post will detail what I’ve learned.
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