On November 4th, I began a 30 day Meditation Experiment. What follows is a day-by-day account of how it went. If you just want the summary, skip down to the bottom.
Day 1: I found a random 10 minute long guided meditation video on YouTube and gave it a try. I don’t know if I have enough experience to judge the quality of the guidance, but it was decently relaxing, at least. A couple of times I realized my thoughts had drifted and I brought them back to the present, which I think is what I’m supposed to be doing. So, I’ll count it a win.
Day 2: I downloaded the Head Space app and then promptly deleted it when it required me to create an account to even use it. I then downloaded the Calm app and discovered they have the same problem. At that point, I sighed and gave in, creating an account, then started their 7 day free trial set of meditations. Day 1 was about 10 minutes focused on breathing
Day 3: Did the 2nd day of “Calm” and thought it was pretty good. Mainly focused on bringing myself back to the present moment after my thoughts have drifted away. My wife got home right as I was finishing and said I seemed very “Zen”, so I take that as meaning there may at least be some short-term benefits from the practice?
Day 4: Sat on the couch with my dog and did the 3rd day of “Calm” which involved a full scan of the body to remain in the present without getting distracted by thoughts of the past or future. Felt nicely relaxed after.
Day 5: Made it all the way to bedtime before I realized I hadn’t done this yet for the day. Close call! Had a good session and also looked into the bedtime stories in the Calm app which seemed interesting, may give those a try at some point. One interesting thing during the session is my mind wandered to some pleasant memories from childhood that I had totally forgotten about. Interesting to see where the brain goes when it’s not just obsessing about things.
Day 6: Another day of the calm app, generally positive, nothing much to report.
Day 7: Another near miss, I was in bed getting ready to fall asleep when I realized I had forgotten to do the day’s meditation. So, I used the calm app, but I think it was a mistake to do it lying in bed with the lights off. My brain kept drifting off significantly more than it did in prior sessions and I found myself actually completely forgetting that I was even supposed to be meditating. It was only the occasional speaking from the app that would snap me out of it, rather than my own awareness. Probably won’t make this mistake again.
Day 8: Finished up the 7 day trial program of calm. For this one I sat cross-legged on the floor and my back was actually nagging me the whole time that it didn’t like sitting up straight. I took this as a sign that I’ve been too reliant on chairs and couches and it was a neat experiment to block out the muscle fatigue while focusing on the practice.
Day 9: Although I may return to Calm later, I thought I’d try Tara Brach’s guided meditations, since I’ve seen them highly recommended from multiple sources. The first one was very calming and nice. I’ll try a few more and see how they go.
Day 10: Returned to Calm rather quickly, but mainly because the app was the most convenient option at the time. That said, I tried the “Gratitude” set they have and really loved it. Taking a few minutes to think through all of the things I’m grateful for was actually overwhelming with a sense of joy. Since gratitude is one of my main goals along with meditation, I’m glad there was an option that combined both.
Day 11: Since I knew I’d be needing to work for an hour or two after the session, I tried a guided meditation related to “Focus”. This got especially interesting/ironic when my dog decided to lay across my arm and start chewing on her bone. Good practice for tuning out distractions I guess?
Day 12: Not much to report for this day, successfully got my session in though.
Day 13: Did my meditation and then did a flexibility routine that I had been meaning to try. Mind and body practice! #winning
Day 14-16: Busy weekend meant I didn’t get to write down my thoughts for each session, but I still was able to get the meditations in each day, which is the important part. Still mostly using the Calm app, not because I’m totally enamored, but mainly because of the convenience of just popping it open on my phone.
Day 17: First time trying mediation while at work. I closed my office door (thank goodness we don’t have an open office plan) and laid down on the floor for 10 minutes. Ended up being great and I felt very refreshed afterwards!
Day 18: Did another session in the office with my door closed. Despite feeling a bit distracted, it was again a nice way to get away from the computer for a bit and reset.
Day 19: Thanksgiving! I probably should have taken more time to do a gratitude related session, but given that I was fairly busy with the day, this ended up being a relatively quick one focused on breathing and letting go of random thoughts.
Day 20: Since I’ve been mostly doing 10 minute sessions, I thought I’d try a 20 minute one from Tara Brach. This is my second time trying her and I’ve seen her recommended all over the place, but I’m not sure the style is for me. I do enjoy the little chime at the end to close out the session, very pleasant.
Day 21: In the spirit of mixing it up further, I thought I’d try a mantra based meditation for the first time. I’m….not sure I was doing this right. Planning to do a bit more research on this style and try again.
Day 22: Did a basic mindfulness meditation session. Spent some time thinking about how unusual it is to just observe without judgement, as I’m meant to be practicing. I feel like I default to having positive or negative feelings about every thought or event in my life, so it really takes some practice to try to passively observe and let go. That said, it certainly seems like a beneficial skill.
Day 23 & 24: These were both attempts at meditating with zero guidance, I just set aside 10 minutes and went for it. I had to laugh here in realizing just how many of my sessions have contended with my dog as a distraction. Often it’s whining if I don’t pet her while I’m meditating, but this time it was her falling asleep against my leg and then twitching crazily while dreaming. Hard to concentrate while trying not to laugh!
Day 25: Oh man, this was a close one. I just barely remembered at the end of the day and got my session in before falling asleep. This one was nice because it emphasized how the practice of letting thoughts go and returning to a focus on the breath isn’t just an end in itself. Getting good at this also means we get better at controlling our thoughts in our daily lives. It closed with a quote I’d like to remember: “The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.”
Day 26: Not much to report today. I got it done, but was generally distracted and it probably wasn’t my best effort. Oh well.
Day 27: Got this one done at work in anticipation of having no time in the evening and definitely glad I did that, I wouldn’t have gotten it in otherwise. I tried to sit nice and straight against a wall and discovered I really need to work on my posture because just a few minutes in and my back muscles were not happy with the forced position. Ended up being very distracting…
Day 28: Good session today, felt nice and calm after.
Day 29: Another super close call, remembered as I was getting ready to sleep. I really should learn the lesson here that it’s better to do the meditation early in the day and not procrastinate or I run the risk of forgetting all about it. Fortunately, my perfect record was not ruined.
Day 30: Final day! Ended on a high note with an excellent session that left me feeling very relaxed when beforehand I had been feeling a bit anxious. Glad to have made it through all 30 days successfully!
Well, I made it through. I’m pretty happy with myself for sticking with it every day. I think this challenge has reiterated the power in an all-or-nothing approach sometimes. When I plan to do something partially, I usually end up losing steam and quitting, but when it’s a full commitment, I often find it easier to stick with. For example, going out with friends and thinking “I’ll just have a couple of drinks” is a surefire way to end up tossing that plan out the window and waking up with a hangover. If, on the other hand, I tell myself I will have no drinks, it’s suddenly somehow easier to stick with. There’s no wiggle room and it becomes pass/fail, so ending with a “pass” is more likely.
Moving on from that musing, I think the meditation itself was pretty excellent. I don’t think I’m a fundamentally different person, and there were certainly sessions where I didn’t get a lot out of it, but I can confidently say that I find value in the practice of meditating. That’s enough for me. I’m also confident that more practice will lead to better sessions more consistently and better results overall.
Despite my success, I am glad to no longer feel obligated to meditate. It’s a little frustrating, especially at the end of the day, to feel like I must get it done. It’ll be nice to now be able to meditate specifically because I want to, rather than feeling like I have to.
I don’t think I’m going to stick to doing it every day, but absolutely want to keep it going regularly and continue trying to improve in my ‘practice’. It’ll be interesting to see if the lack of a hardline, pass/fail approach ends up with me gradually falling out of the habit or if I’m able to ease off the gas a little bit, but still maintain consistency in the long-term. I’ll report back down the line on how it’s going.