“Dedicating some time to meditation is a meaningful expression of caring for yourself that can help you move through the mire of feeling unworthy of recovery. As your mind grows quieter and more spacious, you can begin to see self-defeating thought patterns for what they are, and open up to other, more positive options.” – Sharon Salzberg
Rarely does a day go by when I don’t come across someone or something extolling the virtues of meditation. Whether it’s a news article, a post on Facebook, or a comment made by a yoga teacher, meditation has become the panacea in our modern times. The promises are persuasive, from interior riches to exterior wealth, brighter skin to sharper minds. It’s widely encouraged to meditate anywhere from fifteen minutes twice a day to a solid hour in the morning. Journals, blogs, magazines, and practices are dedicated exclusively to demonstrating the plentiful benefits it offers. And the types available—guided, transcendent, effortless presence, Vipassana, Taoist, Buddhist, Hindu—can leave a wisdom-thirsty soul quenched.
At first I was a cynic when it came to the realm of meditation. Seriously? I thought. Closing your eyes and calming the mind actually works? Skeptical but curious, I set out to see if the claims were true. Day by day, I increased the number of minutes I meditated—which felt like seconds made of molasses at first—and learned, through time, the utter, unambiguous rewards of shutting off the noise: Energy. Enthusiasm. Relief. Clarity.
Meditation works by removing the layers of inner resistance our ego seems to have a ball creating for us—everything from greed and envy to self-doubt and shame. These layers of resistance work like any barrier: They effectively hinder us from sustaining happiness. And under such resistance, we tend to seek out conflict over contentment.
The more one meditates, the more one begins to discover that fear, judgements, and distance from our authentic selves are mere constructs of our minds—minds that are often on overdrive. Recent research reflects this: It was found that most of the time, we breathe in either the flight-or-fight mode, or both. Chemically, this means that we’re depriving ourselves of the serotonin that’s naturally available to us. Mentally, this means that we are forever frazzled—or just about to flee.
To achieve the benefits of meditation, however, requires patience, practice, and discipline—and in our instant-gratification culture, these requirements seem foreign to many (myself included). For some, learning to meditate, and practicing it with devotion, can be tedious, or feel forced upon. Yet science has proved that for the brain to become accustomed to any routine takes at least forty consecutive days of repeating the action. Compare it to wind-surfing, if you will: It may take up to three seasons to learn water-starting—the process by which the sail is automatically lifted by the wind—but until then, one has to spend several months hauling up the sail by sheer strength and effort.
I’m convinced that if meditation were easy, we’d observe people walking around all day feeling great, in blissful states of love and gratitude. The fact is, it’s much harder than one may think—and the majority of people would rather rely on a quick fix.
And so, while I practiced—while I exerted patience, and while I was determined and disciplined—I found myself frustrated with meditation at times. The constant barrage of its gifts only aggravated me more. If the ultimate goals of meditation are enlightenment, ease, and positivity, I thought, how can we obtain the same results when we can’t quiet our minds, or have the luxury of a stretch of silence? Do other paths to peace and joy exist?
Hours of research and days of sorry attempts later, I came up with five simple steps that lead to the same satisfaction I’ve found after a rejuvenating meditation. Here they are:
Smile when you wake up. Yes, smile—and yes, it’s that simple. Research concludes that smiling diminishes stress, lowers blood pressure, and promotes optimism and enthusiasm. Consider it a cup of coffee for your whole being.
2. Visualize the day
Next, sit quietly and envision how your day will find unfold and place a positive potential outcome to every event, person, and task you will face throughout. Apprehensive about meeting with your anxious, resentful client? Make a promise to yourself that you will act as an “observer” to their troubles during your hour together but won’t let their grievances drag you down. Unhappy about a chore or a difficult email you have to send? Consider the rewards when it’s finished, or the sense of relief you’ll feel the moment you hit “send.” Anticipating unpleasant moments and deciding beforehand how you will react allows you the comfort you need to go about your day with calm and grace.
3. Pick a kind act
Choose one nice thing you will do for someone else before the day comes to a close. It could be as simple as taking your colleague out to coffee, or as grand as planning your daughter’s surprise birthday party. Whatever it might be, make a commitment to yourself that you’ll perform this act with love and selflessness.
4. Let go of yesterday
Let go of the negativity of yesterday. Time moves forward, not back, and focusing on the unsavory events or feelings you harbored the day before will keep you in one place. Breathe in the new, breathe out the old. Now: Repeat.
5. Live in the moment
Be present—and, while you’re there, contemplate simplicity. Ever glance at a child and see them thoroughly, delightedly engaged with the intricacies of a dragonfly? Or with the humble of act of staring up at the sky? Take a cue from our youngsters: That genuine smile on their face is the result of living entirely in the moment.
Which brings us back to step one: Smile. It’s the first footfall to take on your way to serenity and feeling great.
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Author: Lauretta Zucchetti
Lauretta Zucchetti, a former award-winning executive at Apple and Xerox, has a number of brag-worthy stamps on her passport and a set of drums in her office. Her work has been featured on Scary Mommy, The Shriver Report, Literary Mama, and in NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH SO HELP ME GOD. An author, life coach, and motivational speaker, she splits her time between Italy and San Francisco.