This is the un-cola. This is thinking outside the bun. This is the non-non. This is antimatter, black hole, vacuu-suck, Perri-air kinda stuff.
And it’s powerful enough to make you wonder why the hell you haven’t been doing this simple, teensy thing all along.
Yes, it’s been clinically demonstrated to increase measures of IQ by an average of 23%.
Yes, there’s a compelling argument that it makes you (at least) 10% happier.
Yes, there’s lots of other research showing it brings about a bevy of health and mental benefits like lowered blood pressure and improved mood that are anything but fringe (even if the practice may still be).
And yes, it’s free, anybody can do it, and you can start right now.
But virtually nobody does it. Which, from my perspective, makes it even more powerful.
“What in the shit, FL?” you gasp. “Tell us what it is right now you soulless brute.”
To which I say, “First: Ok; will do. And second: Awww, thanks for noticing.”
Sit Still, Dammit
Right. And so, that’s it.
Well, that’s pretty much most of it. You have to do a couple other little things. But the basic idea is this: If you sit still, eyes closed, while focusing simply on your breathing and actively removing other thoughts from your mind for around 12 to 20 minutes per day, you’ll grow your brain by roughly a fifth.
The thing here, which I’m loathe to mention by name because it carries enough baggage to send a bellhop’s kids to Exeter is this: Meditation.
There’s a Supersize image problem with meditation. It’s vaguely religious. It’s Eastern. It’s avowedly unproductive and anti-active. It’s like trimming a Bonsai tree or seeking satori or unwatching all the YouTube cat videos that have ever littered the net like so much clumping Fresh Step. It’s the kind of thing you conjure up in an association game when someone says “David Carradine.” (For those of you who don’t meditate and have minds as limber as granite, you know David Carradine as the actor from Kill Bill who plays Bill. And who gets killed. (Spoiler alert.))
So, yeah, it’s like that. There’s an image problem. But don’t be fooled. The image is just a mirage.
Meditation – mindfulness meditation, at least, which is what we’re talking about here – is non-religious. It’s only as Eastern as your Nissan Rogue (which, yes, was thought up in the Orient but got bolted and welded together with ‘Merican partsnlabor in Smyrna, Tennessee; local assembly required). And David Carradine only played a monk on TV. (Even though he evidently genuinely liked Thailand. (Too soon?))
Here’s the reality. Mindfulness meditation is nothing more than the active practice of calming your mind. By meditating, you’re slowing your brainwaves. Which is theorized to allow your brain’s physical structures to undertake repair and recuperation that, even in sleep, otherwise aren’t fully executed. Your brain gets repaired, its volumes reorganize to be less monkey-like, and you’re less likely to suffer brain degradation with age.
So mindfulness meditation is analogous to a rest day in your gym routine. Or a breather separating wind sprints up the side of a mountain. Or a pep talk in the corner of the ring from Mick in between rounds.
By giving your brain that much-needed respite – for as little as just 12 minutes a day – you get a payoff bigger than anything you might expect to find in a seedy corner of Bangkok at 4 a.m.
Among other amazing things about meditation, research shows that those who undertake mindfulness meditation improve their “fluid intelligence” by more than 20%.
Fluid intelligence is that whole creativity, novel problem-solving thing that keeps your mind from getting all trapped up like in a bottle. And makes you a genius.
You ever know one of those peeps who’s pretty much always a step ahead, always has a creative approach to surmounting an issue, never seems caught flat-footed? You know a bad hombre like that? Yeah. Well, that bad hombre could be you, bro.
“But, FL, I’m like super busy. I don’t have 15 years to develop a meditation practice in the mountains of Tibet. I need a bigger brain, like, pronto,” you say.
Right, so a study done on undergrad college kids shows that mindfulness meditation practiced for 20 minutes a day for just 4 days (spell it out F-O-U-R days; that’s it) improved on IQ and working memory tasks like “symbol digit modality” (basically a translation task), “fluency” (a creativity task), and processing speed and accuracy by as much as 200%.
Yeah, mamarrachos. Two hundred percent. Participants were more focused and more capable and basically smarter than they’d been four days previously. And they were way better than a control group that listened to books on tape for the same amount of time (which control group didn’t improve much at all).
How’s that for some bad hombre action?
Your Happiness Is Showing
Dan Harris has probably done more to shunt mindfulness meditation into the mainstream of American consciousness than any other righteous hombre, and certainly more than any other newscaster.
You know Dan from the teebee morning shows. And perhaps also from his book entitled 10% Happier. The book outlines Dan’s experience with meditation, which he credits for saving him from sundry issues. And which he compellingly argues has made him at least 10% happier.
I normally don’t really dig books like Dan’s, but I read it a couple years ago when it first published, and I can genuinely recommend it as a touching and informative read. It’s deeply researched and appropriately skeptical and uplifting and insightful and funny, and it chronicles a surprisingly impactful experience to learn from.
And, yes, everything you might ever want to know about meditation is neatly and concisely discussed.
And, yes, from my own meditation practice, I think it’s fair to say that a sustainable 10% bump in happiness is a fair, if conservative, estimate of the impact of daily sessions.
Why does meditation have an impact on happiness?
My feeling is that a continued meditation practice strengthens the mental muscles that help keep you “in the moment.” I suspect that it’s a little different for everybody, but I perceive a direct link between the practice of actively focusing my mind on the present (i.e., my breathing) during meditation and the default mode of passively focusing my mind on what’s happening during the other parts of my dia.
As a result I’m not doing that thing where I’m looking forward and checking the rearview and trying not to miss what’s right in front of me in a continuous frantic loop like I’m driving a getaway car with David Carradine in the back seat covered in partially clumped Fresh Step. Instead, I’m more likely to just be doing what I’m doing. To hell with David Carradine. And by doing that, I’m much more likely to enjoy those discrete moments that comprise each day and not be distracted by other crap.
From the very same study conducted on undergrads mentioned above is a superawesome passage that outlines how those peeps were instructed to meditate. And it’s a very nice and succinct description of “how to” for mindfulness meditation, and it goes a little something like this:
“…participants were instructed to relax, with their eyes closed, and to simply focus on the flow of their breath occurring at tip of their nose. If a random thought arose, they were told to passively notice and acknowledge the thought and to simply let ‘it’ go, by bringing the attention back to the sensations of the breath. In subsequent sessions, participants worked on developing mindfulness skills. For example, in sessions 2 and 3, subjects were taught to focus on the full breath, that is, to focus on the sensations of the breath from the nostrils to the abdomen and back. Participants were also taught to notice and focus on any sensations that arose in the body, and to simply acknowledge those feelings and then to return their attention back to their breath.”
So, yeah, that’s how you do it. Focus on the breath.
During my sessions I sit in a comfortable but hard chair in a quiet room, straight-backed, with my hands loose in my lap. I set my stopwatch countdown timer. And I go to it.
Yes, it can be hard to do it sometimes. Yep, I’m occasionally distracted. Yes, there are days when I have to scratch my nose. Sure, sometimes there’s a sound from somewhere that breaks my concentration. Yeah, I don’t really feel like doing it every once in a while.
But it’s a practice, so that stuff’s ok. And, really, that’s kind of the point: To acknowledge those interruptions and distractions and to then move back to the breath. Because that’s what life is like: Interrupted, distracted, but requiring that you don’t get bogged down by it all and instead stay on track.
Plus, as your practice develops, those difficulties and distractions diminish (both in meditation and in real life). You get better at meditation with practice, and likewise the benefits from meditation grow as your practice improves.
“But I’m sooooo busy, FL! There’s just noooo way I’ll be able to carve 12 minutes out of my superbizyimportante schedule. Let alone 20!” you say.
To which I reply: “Don’t kid yourself. You ain’t that importante. You got 12 minutes. Or 20. And, besides, this sort of thing’s an investment in yourself. Think of each meditation minute as getting stored in a bank where it’ll compound with interest. Because here’s the deal: Meditation unlocks your brain’s capabilities, making you more powerful and productive and creative and resilient. If you make some room now for 12 to 20 minutes a day you’ll get paid back – very soon – with interest.”
And so there you go, Kung Fu kids.
Now what are you waiting for? Don’t you want to be smarter and better and happier?
Get after it!
Luchadores, please tell me why you don’t/can’t/won’t meditate! I heart excuses and whining!