I started regular mindfulness meditation back in September 2018. I wrote about it in a blog post.
I then provided an update to that in October 2018.
Now that I am a few months on, and have been able to sustain reasonably regular practice (3-5, 10-minute sessions per week) I wanted to share my thoughts and observations.
I do this for anyone who is considering giving mindfulness meditation a try, given that mindfulness meditation is mentioned regularly nowadays in the popular media. It is kind of hard to escape it to be perfectly honest.
I changed apps
When I started my meditation practice, I was using the Smiling Mind app. I found it a reasonable introduction and had started working through the ‘adult’ program (which indicates age only, not level of raunchiness). However I have switched apps now.
I am now using the Waking Up app by Sam Harris. Sam Harris is a ‘neuroscientist, philosopher, and best-selling author’.
The reasons for the change were as follows:
- I was following Sam’s podcast (now called Making Sense) and as a result had heard him speak regularly about his own experiences of meditation, which he has studied intensively for the last 30 years. The fact he was developing an app piqued my interest.
- There is something about the way that Sam describes mindfulness meditation that resonates better with me than the Smiling Mind app. If you think back to teachers/lecturers you liked (or didn’t like), this makes sense. Sometimes the same basic content, taught by two different people, comes across very differently. More specifically, Sam provides greater precision in how he describes the process of mindfulness meditation, which appeals to me.
- Sam’s meditation app is oriented around 10 minute daily meditations, which are all unique. Each meditation has a different focus, or lesson attached. This makes for a wonderful combination of routine ( you only need to find 10 minutes per session) and novelty (you get a new meditation each day). Smiling Mind on the other hand, had different meditations, but they varied widely in length. I found it harder to settle down to regular practice when the length of practice varied.
- Sam’s app also contains other lessons derived from psychology, neuroscience, meditation and philosophy. I found many of these fascinating and their presence sealed the deal for me. He also does Q&A lessons where he responds to the various questions and feedback given to him about the app.
The downside of Sam’s app is the cost, which now is up to $14.99 US dollars a month, which is pricey (at least in comparison to other apps). I got in a little earlier and got it a fair bit cheaper. I do however believe that he is providing significant value for that cost, with daily new meditations and lessons.
Fortunately, Sam provides free access to 5 meditations and 5 of the lessons so you can make a personal determination of whether the content is appropriate for you.
I’ve also heard Sam say on his podcast that if you can’t afford the full amount, to email them and let them know your situation. They can, in many cases, provide reduced fee access.
Note: I am not connected with the app in any way, and don’t get kickbacks for recommending it. I am simply sharing which app I am using.
How am I progressing towards my goals?
In my original post about commencing meditation, I outlined some of my goals; what I wanted to get out of the process. I want to revisit some of these, now that some time has elapsed and I have engaged in 50+ 10-minute meditations. In black is my original goal. In green is my current review of progress.
- I’d like to improve my ability to relax, by using mindfulness exercises during stressful periods. I don’t find mindfulness particularly relaxing although I appreciate the feeling of ‘stillness’ during the meditation. I am not using the meditations to relax, but instead getting to know the inside of my mind.
- I’d like to get better at refocusing my attention when I find my mind wandering or ruminating (which in psychology means getting caught up in one’s distress). This is linked to a broader goal to be more productive in terms of my writing. I would say I have got a little better at focusing my attention. I can stop, close my eyes, open myself up to all components of my consciousness (sounds, sensations, feelings, thoughts) and then having done this, return to the activity that I am trying to focus on.
- I’d like to develop a stronger and more compassionate awareness of my body, in order to tackle symptoms of illness, but also to counteract long-standing issues with negative body image. Meditations that focus on bodily sensations are helping me reframe sensations I had originally labelled as unwanted or indicating a problem. I can see the possibility of this goal being achieved with ongoing practice.
- I’d like to find out if regular meditation practice is associated with greater feelings of transcendence and connection with a greater meaning/purpose. I’ve made other changes in my life that have brought meaning (e.g. thinking specifically about the impacts I want my work to have). So whilst this area of my life has improved, I probably wouldn’t attribute that to the meditation.
- I’d like to use meditation to improve my ability to visualise a better life. Practice to date has been focused on understanding the existing content of my consciousness, rather than constructing new content. Some meditation sessions, which focus on eliciting and then observing different emotional reactions gives me hope that such a goal is possible.
- I’d like to find out if blogging about starting a new habit helps me stick with the habit for longer. I suspect that the self-reflection that is involved in blogging about the experience will be beneficial in me in sustaining the habit at least long enough for me to determine if regular mindfulness practice is beneficial for me. This is definitely the case. The more I write about health and wellbeing for students, but also engage in the concepts myself, the better I get at making positive changes in my life. This post, updating you on my meditation practice, is such an example.
- I spend a lot of time on this blog telling you how to increase your wellbeing, or be a better student. I need to lead by example by showing that I am making investments in my own health and wellbeing. If you see me making efforts to increase my wellbeing or be more productive, then you might not think I am a hypocrite. I believe I am living the various philosophies and ideas that I present on this blog. I wouldn’t find writing about them interesting if I weren’t trying to extract from them lessons for my own life.
- I am hoping that some students might decide to join me on the journey and take up mindfulness practice themselves and we can compare notes over at the Wellbeing for Academic Success FLO topic. The offer is still open – visit https://flo.flinders.edu.au/mod/forum/discuss.php?d=883023
- By blogging about my experiences I hope you will see the ups and downs of trying to establish a new habit and maybe be a little less self-critical about your own efforts. That one is up to you to determine. But I hope me sharing my experiences is helpful.
There are a few key lessons I’ve taken from doing Sam’s app that have really stuck with me.
- Everything that we experience that is of great importance to us (e.g. love, fun, excitement, curiousity) is experienced in consciousness. Whilst we don’t really understand consciousness, it is likely the case that it emerges from activity in the brain. This reinforces the importance of looking after the brain through diet, physical activity, social connection, stress management and constant learning.
- Whether we engage with a topic is highly dependent on the person teaching it to us. Given that my role is to teach concepts of health and wellbeing to Flinders Students, I’ve started reflecting a lot more on how I write, how I do presentations and how I approach my job. I am committed to getting better at this over time.
- I am very firmly convinced that the greatest changes in personal wellbeing (physical, social, psychological, spiritual) come from establishing new habits. For physical wellbeing this is regular exercise. For social wellbeing this is regular quality time with family and friends. In a world of what feels like shrinking amounts of time to get done what we want to do, it is now more important than ever to deliberately allocate regular time to those things that are most important to you.
If you are thinking about taking up meditation or perhaps you are already a regular, the invitation to share your experiences at our FLO topic is open – https://flo.flinders.edu.au/mod/forum/discuss.php?d=883023
Also keep in mind some of the services and programs that we offer that are related such as: