Hello, how are you? Are you still in quarantine? Yes? Me too. I’ve decided to meditate every day for at least 10 minutes as another 30-Day Challenge because it’s a free activity that anyone can do inside in total isolation. In general, I’ve become a fidgety person who is always rushing from one thing to another. I take pride in my ability to critically think and problem-solve quickly, but herein lies my issues. I tend to get swept up into a sea of convoluted thoughts and justify ideas with my brand of logic. I want to try meditation in the hope of becoming more mindful and more observant of what’s happening to me as opposed to projecting what I think is happening.

Plus, there are so many benefits to be reaped from meditation including improved focus, sleep, heart health, reduced blood pressure, stress, and anxiety.

Failing in the Past

I couldn’t adopt meditation before because I didn’t have the willpower nor the right conditions to consistently practice. I’d constantly run into the challenge of fighting off distractions and resisting falling asleep. I’d lie down in some yoga pose, try to empty my mind, and then I’ll find myself taking a nap.

During my backpacking year, I stayed with my filmmaker friend, Yung Lee, who at the time was working monstrous hours on a stressful production out in Windsor, Berkshire. Although he was exhausted, Yung’s bright spirt never faltered. Yung is the kind of person who makes you believe that you can shoot for the stars, land the moon, and then continue go beyond expectations. It’s impossible to ignore his energy. He was using the Headspace App to help him lower his stress levels through guided meditation. If meditation could help me get onto Yung’s level, I wanted in.

Unfortunately, because I was too cheap to invest in a Headspace membership I didn’t stick with it.

Trying Again

Round One… Breathe!

In early June my friend, James Tang serendipitously introduced me to a breathing technique he called “box breathing.” The practice is simple but challenging. Find a spot to sit, close your eyes, then imagine drawing a box with your breath. Inhale for two seconds, hold for two seconds, exhale for two seconds, and a final hold for two seconds. Repeat this process for 10 counts. If a tangent thought enters the mind, greet it with an “ok” and then restart box-counting reps to zero. The session is completed once you’ve counted to 10.

This breathing technique gave me a jumpstart into practicing meditation again. Counting to 10 acted as guidance to avoid falling asleep.

Round Two …Guide Me!

Despite having a technique to practice with, I still found difficulty in meditating regularly. It’s a challenging juggling act to focus on my breath, count to 10, and be open to wandering thoughts! In early July my dear friend, Porter Duong, introduced me to Waking Up by Sam Harris. Like Headspace, Waking Up is a guided meditation app that offers some free meditations, but also requires a membership for full access. I still believed that meditation was a luxury and would rather spend my dollars on boba milk tea instead of another subscription service. However, the app is currently offering free one-year memberships if meditation isn’t within your budget during these Covid-19 times. You simply need to email the app’s support (info@wakingup.com.) I think it speaks volumes on the benefits of meditation if the app’s creator wants to give his product away for free in the name of helping people.

I seized this as a no-excuse opportunity to meditate daily. The app starts new users off with a 28-day introductory course, I followed this program as my outline for my monthly challenge.

What Happened

Week 1

I made it a point to sit up straight while listening to the app. With my historic record of falling asleep, I avoided Shavasana at all costs! I found myself being lost and bored during the first week. Thoughts of “Am I doing this right?”, “Am I thinking too much?”, and “How much longer is 10 minutes?” weaved in and out of my head. I’d try to count to 10 again, but found the process to not only be distracting but also to be going nowhere. Where is my entitled inner peace?!

A portrait of Jay Hawkins I photographed in 2016

Near the end of the week, I reached out to my martial artist friend, Jay Hawkins (who is also a teacher at the White Tiger Schools in Los Angeles), for extra help. Sitting still for me is very difficult. He told me that meditating wasn’t always about watching my thoughts, sometimes it about watching the space between thoughts. I had no clue what he meant, but I remained open.

I was also curious about the mala beads that Jay wore as a bracelet on his wrist. A mala is a string of 108 beads with one guru bead at its head. The beads are used as a tool to help the mind focus on meditation, you hold them in your right hand and drape the beads between the middle and index finger. Then, you move through the beads while focusing on the breath or reciting a mantra.

Week 2

My experience with meditation started to shift this week. Lingering thoughts of “what am I supposed to be experiencing?” still drifted in and out, but I accepted them as part of the process. I also started to notice physical sensations. I’d feel a tingling sensation in the area right between my eyebrows and on occasion, I’d leave each session feeling lightheaded. I can only assume that something with my breathing had changed during this week.

I’ve benefitted from the use of mala beads. They simultaneously serve as a visual reminder to breathe and reduce the mental exertion needed to count my breaths.

I’ve started looking forward to my meditation sessions.

Week 3

I Meditated Every Day for 30 Days

Something odd occurred this week. The physical sensations became more prominent. Because I’m currently living in an apartment with three other roommates, I’ll listen to a guided meditation over Bluetooth headphones. During one session I noticed that a rhythmic thumping, it was my heartbeat. I’ve never heard my heart before, it’s loud! Although, I must say that the amplification of sounds may be caused by my recent switch to Jabra Elite Active 75t True Wireless Bluetooth Earbuds (my first-generation Apple Airpods died during this week.) In another instance, a notification went off on my phone and out of nowhere, I felt a jolt throughout my entire body. It was as if lightning struck my left side and the energy traveled everywhere. I noticed the physical and biochemical sensation of a dopamine kick. This observation made me realize how much power my phone held over me. 

The cell phone interruption happened again during the week and again I felt a jolt from the center of my chest. Instead of feeling crazed from the sensation I mentally just said “that’s nice, I see you and will deal with you later.” Since Week 3, I now switch my phone to Do Not Disturb mode before meditating.

Week 4

Meditation has become an intangible space for me to venture into my thoughts. If you grew up in the 90s watching anime, I’d equate this to entering the Hyperbolic Time Chamber (Room of Spirit and Time (精神と時の部屋 Seishin to Toki no Heya)) from Dragon Ball Z. In the anime, one second in the real world equals six minutes in the time chamber. The characters could train strenuously in a short amount of time. This is what meditation is for me. It’s a place where I can explore and return feeling accomplished and at peace. Whenever I noticed the slightest tingling of stress or anxiety creeping up during the day I’ll step away from my work computer and go meditate.

I want to also note that meditation allows me to be at peace with my present circumstances. I’m aware of all the things that are happening and I have less of a compulsion to try to control them.

Bonus Week

I Meditated Every Day for 30 Days

I took a social-distanced camping trip around the time when I was finishing up the introductory course of the Waking Up app. Being away from civilization and cell phone reception, I challenged myself to meditate without the help of the app. I sat down on a rock on top of a hill and proceeded to move through my mala beads while doing breathwork. I patiently welcomed any thought that wanted to visit me.

Perhaps due to a combination of being calm and being out in nature, I fell deep into meditation. In my head I visually saw things and understood my internal turmoil. I know, I sound crazy.

Conclusion

I Meditated Every Day for 30 Days

Meditation was not an easy habit for me to build. I needed a shelter-in-place ordinance, guidance from four different friends, and a self-imposed challenge to embrace it. I’m happy that I followed through because meditation is now a favorite form of self-care.

It’s been about two weeks since I wrapped up this challenge and I’m still making time to meditate. The greatest benefit that I’ve attained from meditation is a deeper sense of awareness and the ability to let go of the idea that if I work harder/smarter I could influence the outcome of things. Some times things just happen and it’s okay. Maintaining a calm, neutral state just allows me to better flow with life.

What I LikedWhat I Didn’t Like
Slowing down my racing mindThe amount of mental willpower it took to get started
Being at peace with my inner thoughtsThe amount of time it took to witness effects
Becoming aware of my physiologyNoticing my bad posture (going to start a 30-day Yoga challenge now)
The deeper sense of calm I feel on the day to day
It’s free and I can do it while isolated in my tiny apartment

References

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