As much as I’d like it to be, my mind is anything but serene. I love the idea of wandering through wildflower meadows, dressed in flowing linen, with a winsome smile and a mind purely focused on the gentle movement of the clouds.
But what I have is the equivalent of watching a bag of live eels, whilst sitting in a moving shopping trolley, listening to Motzart and Thrash Metal at the same time, and trying to catch popcorn (salted) in my mouth that is being thrown from different directions, with force.
Not what you would call a ‘Pooh Stick on the River of Life’. More a floundering rodent caught in the rapids.
Meditation seemed like the obvious tool to calm my chaotic brain and lever some much needed space into my day.
The problem was I was shit at it. I would either only become aware that I’d fallen asleep when my own snores woke me up, or I’d end up so fustrated and even more stressed than when I started because I had a seemingly total inability to ’empty my mind’.
This is where Box Breathing became a huge gain for me. Focusing on the metre of my breath gave me another focus and massively helped calm my mind. It is still the most accessible form of mindful meditation I know with loads of beneficial carry overs. It is my go to recommendation to all those new to breathwork and mindfulness.
Maybe it’s from my years as a Personal Trainer, but I have the ability to count things in my head whilst doing other activities like talking; it’s both a blessing and a curse. This has led to me never really being 100% focused on my breath counts, and so I recognised the need to go deeper into another kind of meditation practice.
Enter Nishkam Karma Yoga Meditation.
Rolls off the tongue doesn’t it? Other names for this are Vedic meditation, mantra meditation and Transendental Meditation (TM). I first came across it in the form of Trancendental Meditation when I started listening to the Beatles more ‘cosmic’ stuff. They really championed it at the end of the 60’s. I think I wrongly dismissed it as an acid driven fad of the hippie generation.
More recently I kept coming across it, in a big part, due to the writings and interviews by Tim Ferriss. It seemed that just about every top performer, high achiever and superstar athlete credited TM as a major tool in their arsenal of excellence. So I delved a bit deeper.
It turns out that when TM came to the UK, it originally used the Sanskrit title of Nishkam Karma Yoga, sometimes translated to ‘the self-less path of action’ or “union attained by action hardly taken.” As an inherently ‘lazy’ person, this was starting to sound good. TM is basically a branded form of Nishkam Karma Yoga, or Vedic meditation. It was also well out of my budget. See this article to find out more about the origins of TM.
This was when I found the work of Emily Fletcher and her book Stress Less, Accomplish More.
Now I’m the first to admit that when it comes to self-help I can be a bit ‘judgey’, and initially the whole premise totally turned me off. But time and time again people I looked up to and respected kept mentioning it, so I gave it a try.
And the results? I meditate everyday, without fail.
So what changed? It was when Emily Fletcher shared the secrets of meditation that has been hidden from scholars and seekers alike for millennia. And I’m going to share them with you, so gather round.
Secret No. 1 – You can’t do it wrong. It’s so simple even I can do it, and I’ll give a brief description in a moment. Other than 2 minor caveats, you can’t do it wrong because there are no ‘wrong’ outcomes.
Secret No. 2 – Clearing your mind is no more possible than stopping your heart beating. This is a big one for me. For years I felt like I was failing because of the constant mental interruptions charging through my mind. What I have come to realise is that this is okay. When I realise my mind has diverted from the task of meditating, I acknowledge the thoughts and return to my mantra.
Secret No. 3 – Failure doesn’t exist. Every time a thought came unheralded into my noggin it felt like I’d failed again. Now when I realise that my mind has drifted it signals a victory. You see the whole point of mindfulness is to be, well, mindful, to realise what my thoughts are doing, not to beat them into submission. So every time that realisation of drifting thoughts occurs, that’s me being mindful of my thoughts. And that’s kind of the point. With this in mind, even my most frenetic of meditation sessions is a win.
Secrest No. 4 – Discomfort is not a pre-requisite. If bending yourself into a human pretzel, having numb buttocks, and doing weird shit with your hands is your thing then have at it. For the rest of us comfort, but not too much comfort, is our ally. This too was a game changer for me; the realisation that I can sit in a chair rather than on the floor, that I could scratch that itch rather than endure and try to ignore it, and that if I opened my eyes for a second I wouldn’t have ruined the session.
This all sounds great, Glenn, but how do we do it? Firstly I’d recommend getting the book. But for those who want a quick lowdown, here it is.
It’s a mantra based meditation. A mantra is a word or a phrase that is repeated aloud or in our case silently. Mantras appear to have a huge amount of secrecy surrounding them. You are often given them, usually a Sanskrit word, by a guru and told never to reveal it. This is where the sceptic in me gets triggered.
Basically, it is a 1-3 syllable sound that has no definite emotional meaning to you, so no baggage is carried with it. If it is in a language you don’t understand, or a made up word, this obviously counts. In the book it is suggested you use the word ‘ONE’, as the meaning could take many forms.
Unlike Superted (pretentious tw@!), I am going to tell you my ‘secret magic word’. It’s the Welsh/Cornish word AWEN. It means flowing spirit or inspiration and is much loved by the Druids. I split it into it’s 3 vowel sounds AHHH-OOO-ENNN. You could just as easily choose a world like ‘satchel’ – SAT-CHEL. Say it long enough and anything sounds weird and loses its meaning. And if you really want a Sanskrit mantra word then you can google one, there are many resources available.
Okay you’ve got your mantra, lets begin.
Begin by sitting in a chair where your back is supported but your neck is free to move, and make sure you won’t be disturbed for the next 20 minutes or so. Now close your eyes. (Well, read the rest of this blog first, then shut your eyes. Obvs.)
The session is split into 3 part – Mindfulness, Meditation, and Manifesting.
Mindfulness consist of 1-2 minutes where we check in with all our senses. What can I hear? What can I feel? What can I see? (yes I know you have your eyes closed, go with it.) What can I smell? What can I taste? I then take 3 deep breaths then move on to the meditation.
With your eyes closed start repeating you mantra silently in a way that feels good to you. You’ll repeat this over and over again for 13-14 minutes (totalling 15 minutes). Any time your mind slips onto something else just take a breath and return to the mantra. That’s it.
Now I mentioned 2 caveats earlier. The first is that you can’t use your mantra like a sledgehammer to beat your subconscious into submission. Let whatever happens happen. Go with it and gently use your mantra to bring back the focus.
The second is the flip side to the first. You can’t allow yourself the time allocated for meditation to contemplate other things, like the tax return, and ignore your mantra all together.
Now Emily Fletcher recommends NOT using an alarm but to follow your intuition on the timing. Have a watch or clock nearby and if you are unsure, take a peek. If you are really concerned about falling asleep and missing the school run, then set an alarm for 25 minutes later, so as to not be shocked out of what might be an exquisitely calm state.
At the end of the 15 minutes you can move onto the manifest aspect of the session. Start with thinking about 3 things you are grateful for. After this, picture yourself in a scene that you really would love to bring about, and really feel it. Doing the job you always wanted, walking around the home you’d love to build, that kind of thing. Get intentional about what you want your life to look like.
Gently open your eyes and prepare to smash your day in a calm, stress free, clear-thinking way.
The book recommends doing this pretty soon after waking and then again later in the day for optimal effect. That’s just 2% of your day.
So why meditate?
For me it creates a space in my day, a kind of mental reboot. Even when my brain is bouncing around like a box of frogs, I come out of the meditation feeling refreshed.
When I don’t get my morning session in I really feel it. I am more easily triggered and my anxiety can sometimes feel more intense.
I’m not alone in these experiences either. Other benefits from meditation reported anecdotally and scientifically are:
- Better sleep
- Reducing stress, anxiety, and depression (one study).
- Improves cognition and creativity (Taiwanese study).
- Boosting productivity due to changes in brain structure.
- Reducing migraines.
- Improves ADHD.
- Lowers blood pressure.
And there are many more studies that show the huge benefits of meditation. So if you’ve ever had an inkling to give it a go, there is no time like the present. What have you got to lose other than 1% of your day. The return on investment could be huge.
Good luck, Wildlings.