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5 Lessons I Learned from the 30 Day Meditation Challenge

I tried the 30 day Meditation challenge using the Waking Up. Here are 5 lessons learned from the challenge.

Meditation is good for Nothing. That’s why you do it.

Amir Motlagh

The idea of meditation has always confused me. Being an Atheist (This is my bible!) as well as a rationalist person, I thought of it as another woo-woo thing. Woo-Woo is basically “ideas or methods that are based on false beliefs or imaginary things, rather than reason or scientific knowledge”. Early this year, I was backpacking through North India and I met many people who had life-changing experiences with meditation. I also saw multiple scams where westerners were lured into this whole spirituality trap in the name of meditation.

I had struggled with a bit of anxiety and restlessness ever since I quit my job last year. I had received suggestions from many people to try meditation, but I was over-sceptical considering the scent of spirituality it had. But then I happened to read a Twitter thread by Naval Ravikant. Naval is someone who I admire a lot and his ideas and philosophies resonate a lot with me. To be honest, the only reason I tried meditation was that I read about it from someone like Naval (I’m working on trying to be more open about things).

Since I was new to meditation, I needed some starting point. I tried multiple apps like Calm, Headspace but nothing worked for me. I discovered an app called Waking Up by Sam Harris, after reading his book Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion. Even though I’m having mixed thoughts towards the idea of new atheism and the ideas in his books, I decided to give the app a try.

30 day meditation challenge
Source: Minimal Shades | Twitter

The plan was to try the 28-day introductory course in the app and 2 daily meditations for a total of 30 days and then see how it goes. I started the challenge on the 15th of May 2021 and decided to scribble my thoughts every day in a journal. These 30 days were amazing for me and opened up new perspectives. I could see changes in my everyday life due to this 10 – 20 min spent every day. I’m now comfortable in doing my own style of meditation and defining my own process. At times, I use the daily meditation option in the Waking Up app, but most days it’s just me sitting quietly listening to my mind. Meditation is now a part of my routine just like working out. Based on my experience I have penned down my own conclusions and observations on Meditation below:

Meditation is not Spiritual but Fasting for the mind.

As Naval has said, Meditation is the art of doing nothing. It is nothing but switching off your mind. While meditating you cut off from the outside noise and focus just on yourself. You don’t need gurus or chakras or buddhas or kundalinis or anything bogus to do meditation. It is good to have an app like Waking Up to get started, but if you have a strong desire to start, you can start by focusing on yourself. The whole idea of meditation takes us into altered states of consciousness doesn’t make sense to me. I felt relaxed and calm after meditation, that doesn’t mean anything spiritual. I feel the same trance when I’m involved in something I like. I felt the same while I was photographing dogs in the alleys of Varanasi or doing gardening at home. I feel the same when I go for a hike in nature and I’m lost in my own mind.

Meditation is a skill

Just like any other skill you are trying to learn, it takes consistent practice to get comfortable with meditation. It is more like exercising a muscle you have never worked out before. It takes time to calm your mind and do nothing. Doing a 60 min meditation is easier than doing a 30 min meditation as it takes some time to get rid of thoughts in your mind. Meditation is not something you do for a challenge or do seasonally. It is something to be practised at least for 30 minutes daily as part of your routine. Since it’s a skill to learn, it’s better to start with guided meditation using an app or video. Once you feel that you’re comfortable, experiment with the process and define your own style of meditation.

Being Mindful

I have realized that I’m more mindful after I started doing meditation. I have these self pause moments throughout the day before speaking or analyzing things. I often think about why I’m doing a particular activity before starting it. I have started to notice the small things in my backyard, like the spider web behind my house or the crazy moss patterns on the wall. Being mindful throughout the day has been the most positive impact by practising meditation to me. I enjoy the small pauses of self-reflection and often wonder why I’m engaging in some actions. When it comes to photography, I believe I have a better eye for photography now. I can see crazy abstract patterns or stories or ideas which I never noticed before in everyday life. In fact, last day I was thinking of doing a project on Rust after seeing the rust pieces of metal around the home. I even spent some time looking at the patterns of rust in different objects.

It’s all about You

There is no good or bad method. It’s not about reciting mantras or focusing on the breath. It is a form of self-examination where you explore yourself sitting quietly without any disturbance. There is no perfect style of meditation. It’s all about discovering what works for you. What I do is I start with a focus on breath and let my mind do nothing. I let the mind wander and do nothing. I don’t resist or reject anything, I just let my mind choose the trail. I often feel grateful for the things I have in life during these sessions.

The Science

As per my research, there is no solid scientific proof of the benefits of meditation. There have been some studies in controlled study groups which has shown some positive results. But results were not conclusive and was no better than existing treatments. I’m in no position to comment about the science of meditation. For me, it’s more like a way of calming things down and start the day fresh. You can read more about the science of meditation here. Also, I happen to read an article on how mindfulness caused nervous breakdown for a practising meditator.

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The Journal

As I had mentioned earlier, meditation is all about you. When I did the 30-Day Meditation Challenge, I decided to keep a small journal of my notes every day after meditating. I wrote these while doing the Introductory course in the Waking Up app. The thoughts are random, doesn’t make sense and are never to be followed. Ignore all the advice on the internet about meditation, including this article. It’s all about you and you have to discover it.

#1
Tried focusing on the visual field with closed eyes. Patterns were unique and very realistic. In some patterns, I could see so many details. There were moments where I got lost in thoughts but I came back. I feel like I’m good at visualizing?

#2
Noticed thoughts. Went to the root of those thoughts. Tried observing the visual field behind the eyes. Tried to look at the subject which was looking. Also tried observing the head which was looking with open eyes.

#3
Tried to understand that the visual field, thoughts, sensations all happen in consciousness. Tried to look for the head which was watching. Also explored the concept of where is consciousness.

#4
Tried exploring how I could make the present moment better. I realized that my mind was restless and explored the root cause of it.

#5
Concentrating breath has become easy. I look forward to meditating every day. I’m trying to find the route cause of the thought. Still cannot find the space plain of consciousness. Thought: My mind also has an impact on others.

#6
Breath concentration improved. Not bothered by sounds. But still getting lost in thoughts. Trying to be more mindful throughout the day. I can see small changes in my life. Trying to pay attention to thought

#7
Tried to concentrate on the thought/uneasiness/feeling. It’s hard but doable. Explored the root causes behind jealousy and self-doubt. Some stress or uneasiness in the back of my head felt better after the session. Thought: Trying to feel where the emotion is.

#8
Started Mental Noting: Counting breaths. Could do up to 60. Less distracted today. More relaxed. Thoughts are occurring less. Less bothered by the distractions around. Need to work on relaxing a bit more while counting.

#9
Sensations of body and sound felt like they occurred in the same space. Outside noise doesn’t matter anymore. Felt an elevated feeling when everything was in the same space. Mental note: Breath counting has become much effortless and can do up to 150+. Every day I’m looking forward to meditating.

#10
Feeling a bit stressed. I realized it is at the top head may be due to mediation. Outside noise doesn’t bother me at all. Maybe I’ll try to do it again today. Thought: The thought of getting disturbed itself is a sensation.

#11
Feeling more light. Light/Vision as consciousness was a bit difficult to grasp. But feeling a head high. Felt much lighter today. Could imagine a smoothie bottle with lemonade and straw. It felt so real that I even moved the lip to check whether the straw was there

#12
Feeling again light. Amazed by the thought experiment. Introduced a good and bad thought. Observed them. Paid attention to them. Couldn’t really distinguish them but felt different. But they were really a sensation in consciousness. It was really some energy in the body.

#13
Feeling a bit restless due to multiple thoughts in my head. Should have done meditation early. Could easily observe the breath. Could follow thoughts a bit as well. Planning to do another session today to bring more clarity.

#14
Challenging day. Hard trouble concentrating. Slightly understood the difference between attention and consciousness

#15
Getting much relaxed. Introduced mood today. Sounds and sensation were all in consciousness or space

#16
Very very relaxed. Trying to focus on the root cause of thoughts. Easily lost in the trance.

#17
Tried the exercise for feeling inside the head. Opened and closed my eyes to realize that everything happens in the same space. Still in search of the feeling of I.

#18
Trouble concentrating with eyes open. I can trackback to the feeling of body sensations and thoughts. I prefer focusing on my breath.

#19
Tried Meta Meditation today. Felt happy about her. Happy about other people’s achievements. The well-wishing had a profound effect on my consciousness.

#20
Tried to focus on an unpleasant thought which was bothering me and caused a head weight. Weirdly it vanished away when I paid attention.

#21
Gazed into the vastness of space behind eyelids. Forced a thought and an object into the consciousness. Couldn’t control the thoughts, but they come and go.

#22
Observed thoughts, sensations in mind. Head still disturbed due to some other reasons. Might try 30 min meditation. Reiterated on the purpose of doing it.

#23
Meditation is affecting my life positively. Explored the sense of myself/I today

#24
Tried to introduce unpleasant emotions into the meditation. But weird but felt okay.

#25
Introduced again a negative emotion. Felt the root cause of it.

#26
Introduced a smile into consciousness. Tried to be mindful when I felt restless. I was having huge mental friction to call someone and wish them but decided to call them after the session and wish. Mindful of how I love people around me. I texted few people I have been avoiding after the session. Feels positive.

#27
Introduced Subject-Object exercise. Tried to observe the subject itself while meditating on the snap of a finger. Found it hard to observe the self.

#28
Pause before doing things. Tried investigating thoughts, why it happened. It’s not about avoiding thoughts but being aware of them

#29
Focused on the breath. Felt more peaceful. The goal of meditation is not to become a good meditator. The goal is to explore the moment which was always there.

#30
Reached a point where I prefer doing my own meditation without the time constraint. I was lost in nothing and was interrupted by the end of 20 min meditation narration. Maybe I should try myself.

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