What is Meditation & What Can It Do For Me?
I have a ridiculously low shame-tolerance. In other words, I really care what strangers think of me. I asked my partner of 7 years about this with no context and she instantly confirmed it.
I’m going to borrow an extremely relatable John Mulaney joke to explain what I mean.
When my wife walks down the street, she does not care at all what anyone thinks of her in any situation. She’s my hero. When I walk down the street, I need everybody, all day long, to like me so much. It’s exhausting. My wife said that walking around with me is like walking around with someone who is running for the Mayor of Nothing.
I might as well be running for the Mayor of Nothing when I’m out in public. Everything I do is motivated in part by not inconveniencing others and presenting myself as “normal” as possible. It’s exhausting. How, then, did I recently find myself sitting on a public park bench, eyes closed, and meditating for 20 minutes as dozens of strangers walked past me? A month ago, you could not have paid me $100 to do that. The Mayor of Nothing doesn’t sit around and meditate in public parks. So what changed?
I accidentally started learning about meditation.
I had always dismissed meditation as fairly ridiculous. In my type-A brain, I ranked it alongside astrological signs and tarot card readings. But while researching yoga, I ran across a fascinating 2011 Harvard study about meditation. It took people who had never meditated before and had them do short, daily meditations. Then the researchers scanned their brains and found that the grey matter in areas associated with well-being and compassion grew while areas associated with stress shrank.
In other words, meditation literally changes your brain for the better.
That was enough to pique my interest in this topic that I had never considered trying for myself. I happened to be reading for my THING that month, so I picked up a book called 10% Happier that introduced me to the world of meditation through the eyes of Good Morning America and Nightline anchor Dan Harris, who was equally skeptical of meditation for much of his life. Even after becoming an advocate for meditation, he understands why the idea of meditation turns people off to the practice.
Meditation suffers from a towering PR problem, largely because its most prominent proponents talk as if they have a perpetual pan flute accompaniment. If you can get past the cultural baggage, though, what you’ll find is that meditation is simply exercise for your brain.
Afraid of Heights Dan Harris
News Anchor Dan Harris
Forgot Your Birthday Dan Harris
Harris' book made a very compelling case for that argument. He provides this totally non-scientific but helpful diagram in his book.
More good stuff and less bad stuff. I figured I could get on board for that. So when a new month rolled around, I made meditation my next THING.
During that month, I figured out that meditation doesn’t involve all of the weird stuff I thought it would. I didn’t have to sit cross-legged on the ground, hum, or repeat a mantra over and over. Harris explains that “the word ‘meditation’ is a little bit like the word ‘sports’; there are hundreds of varieties.” The type of meditation I learned is called “mindfulness meditation” and, as promised, it’s simply exercise for your brain.
"Everyone wants to live longer, but meditation is a way to feel like you've lived longer. You are present for more moments of your life, and thereby you are living longer"
Cooper and Kabat-Zinn actually met for a wonderful conversation about mindfulness meditation in 2018. Click here to watch it.
In Level 1 I’ll explain everything I learned during my first month of meditation and give you all of the guidance and resources you need to get started today.