On Meditation

Sat, Oct 9, 2021 12-minute read

For the longest time in my life, I have wanted to learn meditation. People always made it sound so mystical and so powerful, that I wanted to have my share of it too. At least, that’s how the fad for meditation started. I remember trying to meditate as early as my mid-twenties in 2006-2007. My mom could meditate but she never made it sound like anything special. My maternal grandfather was so good at it that we always thought he was asleep sitting. Nope, he wasn’t. Let me share an anecdote to that effect.

In his late eighties, my grandpop had a mild heart attack and was hospitalized for a couple of days. The second day morning, he woke up and went into his meditation routine. The nurse that came to take his vitals (he was in ICU, seated with eyes closed and unresponsive) was a little shocked. His vitals were exceptionally stable but the man is unresponsive. For an 80 yr old patient who just had a heart incident, she didn’t know how to understand this. So she called the doctor. The doctor came and tested a few things for his part and then decided to wait it out. Then much later when my grandpa finished his meditation, they all were relieved to know he was ok.

My life’s goal is to live long. Live long enough to see how this world shapes itself. Given a chance, I will not want to die at all, take a time machine, and go sufficiently into the future to see for myself how this all comes to an end. But I’ll be happy and content to see my eighties and what happens until then 🙂 My grandpop is a major inspiration to the type of person I want to be, He had a lot of shortcomings in terms of his acceptance of things, but the man had exceptional control over his thoughts, actions, and even his words. Someday, I wish I’d inculcate that level of control in my life. My mom always told me that it was his meditation practice that made him who he was. From an extremely short-tempered person that she knew growing up to the calmest Buddha-like personality that I came to know growing up!

Every year or two, I’ll embark on a path to meditation and promptly drop off after one or two failed attempts. I could never get started at all. It was so difficult to sit in a place and focus on breathing, even if only for 10 minutes at a time. I always assumed that the goal is to get rid of all thoughts and have an absolutely clear mind when I sat to focus on breathing. Today, I know I couldn’t have been more wrong. But a decade back, no one really cleared that up for me. Everyone just said: sit down, close your eyes, focus on your breathing, and you will be there. I just interpolated two different things incorrectly and assumed I’d need to get rid of all my thoughts to be able to meditate.

How did I start?

2021 started as a very bad year for me. By March 2021, I was so down and depressed, I couldn’t move myself to do anything. I was binging on Netflix – mindlessly watching stuff I’d usually not watch. I didn’t learn anything, couldn’t focus on my work. Luckily my health was ok, but I was abusing myself with the food I ate to the absolute lack of any exercise, and so on. By May 2021, I had hurt my back so bad that I was bed-ridden for a week or two. I couldn’t just stand up straight. And in the middle of all that mess, I accidentally poked myself in my legs when I was helping my wife with some vegetable cutting. That was it – I literally started crying. It was not that bad a poke, but I guess I was just waiting to burst. It was the absolute lowest point I have experienced in my life. I’ve been down in the dumps a few times in the past. But I’d usually bounce back in 1-2 days and then it’s like nothing ever happened. But this time, I was really considering going to a shrink and getting professional help. I didn’t, though. But you’ll agree that I didn’t make a big mistake for now.

By mid-June, I got into physiotherapy to fix my back. Once the pain subsided, I started bailing myself out of my bad mood. I tried multiple things – I stopped watching TV forcefully, I deleted a bunch of time sink apps on my device and I started reading things that encourage me more: startup stuff. I got in touch with my yoga+ortho doctor back in India and started getting back into a yoga routine to keep my back from acting up again. By early July, I was in better shape, but I still couldn’t focus on anything or even learn anything. That’s what I remembered I had a bunch of books I always wanted to read. I picked the first one off the library and started reading it. It was “Atomic Habits” by James Clear. The book is a life-changer for me. I finished the book in less than two weeks’ time. And started implementing the suggestions in my life. That is easily the single best thing I have done for myself in 38 years of my life. I started by streamlining my time to read a chapter of a book every morning. I scheduled my exercise routine using the same principles too. Within a couple of days, I was able to focus and get some work done too.

Around this time, I had an article open on my phone shared by a techie that I respect and follow on Twitter. The link was open but I never got around to reading it. With a slightly improved outlook, I managed to read that article.

This article turned something in my head and I finally understood what I was getting wrong about meditation. So I decided to try meditation again. Frankly, if not for this tweet, I am not sure I would have gotten on this path at all. I mean, there was another trigger down the line but I owe this tweet big time in terms of its timing alone.

So I did what any millennial, iOS using, lazy techie would do: Headspace. I started with their free version. They get you on a 3-minute meditation practice which is an excellent place to start and build up to 5 minutes or so at the end of 10 days. Incidentally, this sits very well with the atomic habit recommendations: start small – so small that it is not significant enough to put off. When I was considering if I should pay headspace, I remembered another meditation app that I had dabbled with and forgotten: Medito. It is a free app and does just as good work as headspace, if not more. So I downloaded it again and got on their 30-day program. This was the second-best thing I did for myself this year.

I completed the program and continued to do 15-minute meditations every day. My day-to-day life had already improved by leaps and bounds. I wouldn’t say I had a clear mind or that I got less anxious. I wasn’t brooding, I wasn’t down, I was able to focus and get my work done. I could finish the modules I had started learning in early 2020! I could spend time with my son without upsetting him. I generally could appreciate the things I had in my life – especially my wife that put up with me through all this when it is not exactly easy at her job or managing the kid, the kitchen, and the house when am almost contributing nothing!

How did it Improve?

It was all very good. Am already quite grateful for what I have achieved. I was just hoping that clarity will get bestowed upon me miraculously if I just stay the course. I finally have a practice that I don’t intend to let go of. I just might be able to get my grandpop’s calmness, at least in my golden years. But if there is one thing I know about myself, it is that I cannot settle for most things. I need to push through or turn back. The status quo is something I cannot take for an extended period of time. Perhaps, this is one of the things meditation should fix in the years to come 🙂

I stumbled upon Joe Rogan’s interview with Naval Ravikant. Now I’ve heard Joe Rogan experience on and off, multiple times. And I’ve read essential Naval Ravikant multiple times too.

But I’ve never heard them both in the same place :-). The interview is a fabulous way to experience two hours of your life.

There are many things to take away from there, but the one that I took away the most was Naval’s meditation practice and his thoughts around it. Specifically, he mentions that for meditation to work its magic, you need to spend at least an hour each time you sit down to meditate. And that it might be sufficient to meditate once or twice a week. Thirdly, how the entire idea is to go over your entire life and address all the things you had ignored and bottled up over the course of your life – doing which, you could experience absolute clarity in your present life. If you read the first article I shared earlier, you’d see how Naval kind of reiterates a similar thought. Now I have tonnes of respect for Naval, even if I don’t fully agree or understand everything he says. I’d at least not disagree with him.

So thanks to Naval and this podcast episode, I started to shoot for hour-long meditations. I haven’t gotten here, but for almost a month now, I do 30-minute meditations every day. Well, not every day but most days. And it has gotten so much better now. Every time I sit for a 30-minute session, I experience at least a few minutes of absolute peace and silence – I don’t hear anything from outside, am not thinking anything, and I feel super happy and blissful. It’s just a few moments and usually just before the finishing bell. On the other hand, I don’t really know how long these moments last. But that’s also the point. It doesn’t matter. The experience is worth the time spent to get there. And it has improved my overall clarity by a tonne.

I still get anxious about things, I still get upset over things, but am far calmer than I have ever been. I am able to talk to my mom and dad, without screaming at them for doing something I didn’t want them to! Frankly, it is not that I don’t want them to do something, it’s just that I get super anxious as I am quite far away from them! I can counsel my sister and help her out with things without getting emotional or worried. I spend a tonne of my time with my kid and don’t ever get annoyed with him. I think these are huge improvements for just a 40-50 day practice. I don’t know if it needs to get better than this. But I’ll definitely move to hour-long sessions very soon – if only to experience longer moments of peace and silence within the practice.

What Changed?

My dad believed in all forms of astrology and sunk a lot of money in it. Growing up, that was the only topic I fought him over. He always said the same thing:

You’ll never understand why I feel this way. Hopefully, you’ll never need to feel this way. But when things get so rough, you just want to try everything that promises a bailout. – my dad

I didn’t connect with his answers until very recently. No, I don’t spend into astrology or predictions of a bright future. But I think I know how he felt when his businesses faltered and he had to keep up appearances. Growing up, our house was one of the few that owned a four-wheeler in our place. Today I understand the pressure of having to keep that up.

A mentor of mine is going through a terrible time in his personal life. There isn’t much I can do to help him. Frankly, this meditation is probably the only reason I am able to talk to him without breaking down. And that is very important to me. My mentor is facing the whole situation in a brave and upfront manner. I cannot break down and pull him with me!

We recently lost a dear friend to Covid. He was probably a couple of years older than me. If not for the above rehab, I am sure I’d have had an incident that I couldn’t recover from. Just the thought, sends a couple of chills down my spine.

Like Steve Job’s quote, you cannot always connect the dots looking forward. You can only connect them looking backward. So you just have to trust that the dots will connect themselves in just the right manner and go forward with your life. For me, this practice and just the way these events aligned themselves is proof to trust that the dots will connect themselves. I am learning to trust that.

There is a long way to go. But I see differences already. I definitely haven’t arrived but I like that I am far calmer, less worried about my future, and able to enjoy the good things in life without wondering if I’d have time for other things. I love it already.