A few days ago, in a post called, “Leave the Law Behind” I discussed the “4 S’s”—Security, Status, Sorrow and Sloth—issues that I believe pose barriers that make it more difficult for us to leave the law. Today, I want to talk about a powerful tool to help us overcome the 4 S’s, meditation.
When a colleague of mine first brought up meditation to me back when I was practicing law, I was more than a little skeptical. If you’re like me, you are fairly empirical in your thinking and not crazy about ideas that are too touchy freely or “spiritual”. But having read widely and having practiced meditation over the last two years, I can tell you that there is an emerging scientific consensus that it does have measurable benefits, and from personal experience, it has helped me a great deal in overcoming my depression and my other various mental struggles. I also still use it to help me surmount the 4 S’s every day.
So What Is Meditation
Meditation has been around for thousands of years and there are thousands of years worth of writing on it, so it may seem a tall order to describe it in a single paragraph. But it’s actually a fairly simple way of dealing with a complex problem. Most of us are thinkers. We tend to ruminate, that is, chase thoughts around in our minds. As natural problem solvers, we tend to obsess over problems even after we may have worked them out to their terminal point. Meditation allows us to focus on the present moment, and in so doing, it helps us let go of all of those thoughts that are tormenting us. It doesn’t stop us from thinking, but it does help us to acknowledge a particular thought, let it go, and move on with our day. The result is a mind more at peace with itself and more capable of acting in the moment.
How to Meditate
Now here comes the really simple part. All you really have to do is close your eyes, breathe, and pay attention to your breathing. The easiest way to do this is to count your breaths. The idea is that if you’re focusing on your breathing, you can’t also be compulsively thinking about whatever problem is tormenting you in the moment.
For example. Let’s say it’s open season for health insurance registration, and I’m trying to sign my family up for a plan. I have a budget, but I also have to factor in my family’s specific medical needs. To complicate matters further, I’m moving from New York to Florida during the open enrollment period, and I do not want to experience any lapses in coverage. As an instinctive problem solver, my pattern would be to go online, research my available options, learn the regulations surrounding the exchanges, and then obsess over my choices and the procedures for selecting them—over and over and over. Everything but the obsession is normal and healthy, so, after I’ve done the appropriate research and put together a plan of action, to cut off the obsession, I might close my eyes, breathe in and out, and start to count my breaths. As I count each breath, I naturally stop obsessing about health insurance because my mind can’t do two things at once (and neither can yours). Of course, my obsessive thoughts about health insurance will try to creep their way back in, and from time to time, I’ll be distracted from counting my breaths as my thoughts come and go, but while I’m meditating, as soon as I become aware of the intrusive thought, I simply forgive myself and go back to counting my breaths.
Meditation does not bring about instant results. The benefits are cumulative. But if you do it every day for ten minutes a day over a period of several months, you should become less obsessive and more relaxed
Meditation and the 4 S’s
I find meditation especially helpful with the 4 S’s because these are exactly the sorts of issues that we tend to obsess over whenever we contemplate a career move. By meditating, we can gain control over intrusive thoughts about our job security, our social status and the range of negative emotions that may come with contemplating a career change. I have also found that calming my mind helps me to overcome procrastination and focus on moving forward with the many tasks that are necessary for me to move forward with my life.
Where to Start
There are a wide variety of books on meditation, but I think the best way to start is with an app you can use on your smartphone or tablet. A good app will teach you the broad principles of meditation, and guide you through specific exercises. It just breaks everything down into an easily accessible format.
Of the apps I have used, my favorite is “Headspace”, which is available for both iOS and Android. I enjoy it simply because, as a personal preference, I click with the presenter. Also, I find his animations humorous and instructive. I will write more detailed reviews of applications and books that I have enjoyed in later posts. Meanwhile, try Headspace and let me know what you think in the comments. Please also let me know if you have ever tried meditation in any form, and whether it has worked for you.