I Tried Meditation As A Skeptic

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Photo: Dardan

For some reason I decided to give meditation a go.

I’m usually not one for spirituality, or even sitting still for that matter, but there was scientific evidence backing the benefits of meditation, so I figured at least I’d come out of this with some sort of benefit.

A quick Google search resulted in a host of alleged superpowers you can gain from this practice, such as increased creativity, larger brain mass, and a drop in anxiety. The last one’s huge for me, as I do tend to fidget more than a hamster on crack sometimes.

For the purpose of self evaluation (and this article), I set out to meditate for 30 days straight. There will be results—no matter how infinitesimal—in one month right? That’s long enough to turn into a habit, but not so short as to totally miss the point.

Getting down to it

So the next thing was to read up on it, and I settled on the common method, which was to simply sit straight and focus on my breath. Then it was off to the realm of mindfulness and cramped legs.

Now, I’m aware of the bad apples in this trade. I’ve even met said people that tout meditation as a panacea to everything: curing cancer (yes, cure, not help with), banishing depression, and even magically straightening spines ridden with scoliosis.

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Want some snake oil with that? Photo: Malvestida Magazine

I’m all for the power of the mind. After all, people like David Goggins do things that push ‘mind over matter’ to a whole new level, but these mindfulness-gurus really do get on my nerves sometimes.

We all know the stereotype, someone with an absent look and a permanent grin plastered on their face, taking three whole seconds to answer a simple question like “What’s your name,” only to come up with “I am not my name. It is just a construct we’ve created.”

Yeah, those types.

So that was where I stood as a skeptic before embarking into this practice. I was getting into it purely for my own benefit (which couldn’t be further from its intended purpose), but heck, I wasn’t in it for the selflessness.

A challenge I had was presenting this experience to you in a readable way, and you should know that, while some entries may read like a journal, they’re actually reconstructions of split-second thoughts in my mind. So without further ado:

Day 1

Daily life: All right, let’s do this. Timer’s set for ten minutes, no one’s home, I’ll get this over quick.

During meditation: Hm, should I have stretched? My back is hurting something fierce. Wait, I’m supposed to be focusing on my breath. Gah, I know I should’ve finished my handwriting practice and Chinese lessons first. I hate leaving things undone while I sit here doing nothing. Why am I doing this again?

Uh oh, I think my leg’s falling asleep. Should I move it? My face is itching too. Hm, I guess I’m allowed to scratch my face if it’s disturbing my concentration, right? How long has it been anyways? It’s gotta be at least eight minutes by now.

Four?! Only four minutes? Wait, is it still considered a session if I open my eyes, or do I have to start over? Damn it I’m not starting over. Okay, breathe. Inhale… exhale.

This sucks.

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My mind has grown aware of the suckage. Photo: Aarón Blanco Tejedor

Day 3

Daily life: Man, I’m not looking forward to today’s practice. At least I’m being smart now by doing my handwriting practice first. I can’t seem to get this letter ‘B’ right, damn it. It’s just one damn letter. How hard can it be?

My handwriting’s so bad that pen companies will probably pay me not to write with their brands. I hate my writing.

During meditation: All right, Google said I should meditate through pain or distractions, so I won’t move this ti — damn it why does it always itch only after I start meditating? Is that you, scumbag brain? Are you trying to make this hard for me?

Okay let’s meditate through it. Inhale… exhale. Fuck it I’m scratching. Aah. I can’t feel my right leg now. Will it fall off? Surely, that won’t happen in ten minutes? Better readjust just in case.

Day 7

Daily life: I hate to admit it, but I’m actually looking forward to today’s session. It might be one of the few times my mind actually calms down during the day. Maybe I could try upping the time to twelve minutes.

During meditation: Hey, I’m actually feeling pretty good tonight! My back isn’t hurting anymore, I can feel myself letting go of bad thoughts easier, I’m calmer. I think I like this. Let’s try sitting a few more minutes past the alarm. Maybe there is something to this after all.

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Is that hope I feel? Photo: Hillie Chan

Day 8

Normal life: I’m feeling pretty good! All my chores are done, I can actually sit for fifteen minutes without moving, and my back feels like it’s getting stronger. I just went for a run too. Surely that’s going to help me feel better. It’s going to be a great session.

During meditation: Fuck, fuck, FUCK. Why did I have to go for that run? My body’s shivering because my muscles are fatigued, and it’s even worse than my first day. The hell is this? When’s the damn alarm going to ring? Am I even sitting right?

I feel like my body’s tilted sideways. Mental peace my ass. I’ve never been more uncomfortable this week. Week rhymes with weak. Am I weak? What the—gah, focus, I need to focus. Inhale… exhale.

Day 15

Normal life: It’s been getting pretty unforgiving lately. It’s as if things are only getting harder. Where are my noob gains?

During meditation: Yup, it’s still hard. More so physically than mentally though. I like it here despite all that. I feel strangely at peace. Is this a placebo?

Day 21

Normal life: It’s weird how that petulant child in the restaurant didn’t seem to bother me much. Past me would’ve wished for the devil to just swoop him away, just so I wouldn’t have to listen to thirty minutes of screaming. Perhaps sitting through that back pain and numb legs is helping me grow comfortable with discomfort.

During meditation: Is fifteen minutes enough? I can handle that fairly easily now. Let’s see how long I can sit past the alarm. Oh wow, it’s been thirty minutes. Sweet.

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You know what they say about knocking and trying. Photo: Anthony Rampersad

Day 30

Normal life: If I have to use a metaphor, it’s as if I’ve stopped resisting the sour feeling in my stomach as the rollercoaster is dropping. Instead, I’m just letting go and enjoying the ride.

My handwriting’s still ugly, but it is what it is. As long as I keep practising, it’ll only get better. Maybe not now, but next time. Who knows when. No point beating myself up over unrealistic expectations. Look at me all zen and shit.

During meditation: Okay fine. I’m looking forward to meditation now. Call it woo-woo, but I’ve started to have a different outlook on life. I’m no Dalai Lama, but I foresee this becoming a permanent part of my routine. I’m glad I gave this a try.

Final thoughts

So after this experiment, I guess it’s safe to say that I’ll be making this a regular thing. I can feel the benefits, however slight they are, and I’ll take whatever I can get.

I was catching up with an ex-colleague the other day, and upon learning about my latest experiment, she asked what my biggest takeaway from this entire experience was.

It took me a few seconds to find the right answer, but all I could come up with was a quote I found on Google when searching for reasons why I‘d outgrown the pain of sitting. I tried recalling the exact words…

“Hello?” she said, waving her hand before my face.

“I guess I’ve learned that ‘pain is unavoidable, but suffering is optional.’”

“Wow,” she said.

“Deep huh?”

“No. You’ve really turned into one of them weird people.”

It’s been three months since I drafted this piece, and I’m proud to say that I’ve continued this practice throughout the entire time. I typically sit for forty minutes now, and I’ve begun incorporating a second fifteen-minute session at night too.

I still haven’t gained any superpowers, but I’m more aware of my thoughts, and maybe that’s the only thing I need.

Stuart is a Malaysian-based writer who’s left travel writing for the world of fiction. His first novel is set to be published in 2021. www.stuartdanker.com

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