“Meditation brings wisdom; lack of meditation leaves ignorance. Know well what leads you forward and what hold you back, and choose the path that leads to wisdom.” ~Buddha
Last week I had the honor of lunching with my friend new friend Meng, whose Google business card reads “Jolly Good Fellow.” We met at a Project Happiness event, and I was taken by his warmth and kindness.
A practicing Buddhist, Meng was one of the first engineers at Google. He now runs Google University’s School of Personal Growth, when he’s not taking pictures with luminaries and celebrities.
Meng has a plan to create world peace by making meditation accessible to the masses. Through meditating you can reduce your stress, create a clearer mental state, and develop a heightened sense of compassion.
Still, it's not a widely adopted practice. He believes people would be more likely to embrace meditation if it were considered a science, like medicine, as opposed to a spiritual practice; and if it became widely accepted as integral to our overall health and well-being, like exercise.
Though many people have written about the benefits of meditation, it’s not yet aligned with our lives like fitness is. Your workplace may offer you a gym membership or even access to a gym on site, but odds are meditation isn’t part of your benefits package.
The key to bringing meditation to the mainstream, according to Meng, is highlighting how it can improve your emotional intelligence.
Emotional intelligence, or EI, refers to your ability to recognize, evaluate, and manage emotions.
It helps you understand your feelings and regulate them so you can use them to your benefit, not your detriment. EI also helps you empathize with people, since you can recognize their emotions and communicate with them effectively.
Psychologist and New York Times science writer Daniel Goleman cemented the connection between EI and success with his book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ.
According to Goleman, 67 percent of the competencies required for effective leadership are emotional, including vision, adaptability, empathy, optimism, and self awareness.
I can see why Meng believes people would be more interested in meditation if they understood how it could help them become more effective and successful.
Our society values professional growth far more than personal development. However, the latter often influences the former. When you’re happy, clear-headed, and open-minded, you’re more creative and you work better with other people.
Weighing this against all the other benefits of meditation—physical, psychological, and spiritual—I’ve decided to commit to a consistent practice. I practice yoga four times weekly but I don’t meditate very often. If you’re anything like me, you may also find it hard to sit still and quiet your mind.
You may even feel resistant to trying. It’s clear that it’s well worth it to push through the resistance, not just for you and me, but for the people around us.
I’ve come up with five ideas to make meditating a little easier.
I’m assuming you already know the basics: set a consistent meditation routine, find a quiet space, start with just five minutes and gradually increase. From there, I recommend:
1. Write things down before you meditate.
As soon as I sit down to meditate I start thinking about everything that happened in my day, everything I need to do later, and everything I could or should be doing right then. Thinking about these things almost feels urgent, like I’m solving something by doing it.
It helps me to take a few minutes before meditating to write down whatever is on my mind, stream-of-consciousness-style. If I start thinking about any of that while meditating, I remind myself I can access it all in my notes when I’m done clearing my head—when I’ll be more effective in utilizing that information.
2. Do it your way.
You may have a vision in your head of what meditation looks like: sit with crossed legs on a pillow, listen to chanting music, light aromatherapy oils. None of that is required. The only way to make meditation a consistent practice is to create a ritual you enjoy.
If you feel like lying down, lie down (though you’re more apt to fall asleep this way). If you feel like being outside, go out. All that matters is that you’re eventually able to find a sense of quiet and stillness within. Figure out what makes you relaxed and go with it.
3. Use the Google Earth method of mindfulness.
I only gave it this name after visiting Google last week. (There was a partially enclosed unit that allowed you step into the virtual globe.) With Google Earth, you can start high above the terrain and then narrow onto a specific city, a specific street, a specific building.
I do the same thing before I meditate to ground myself in my environment. I start by noticing the biggest details, like the paintings on the wall, and then move my focus from smaller to smallest, like a single fiber in my carpet. This level of mindfulness helps me stay present when I close my eyes.
3. Concentrate on any one thing.
Conventional wisdom dictates you should focus on your breath, but I’m not always able to think only about breathing. It helps me to choose one peaceful image to keep in my mind—something still, like the ocean or a sleeping baby.
Another idea is to create a vision that represents your main incentive for meditating and then focus on that. This will kill two birds with one stone: help you focus, and remind you why you’re doing it.
4. Breathe into different parts of your body.
Your mind may wander when you’re meditating. Our minds are used to assessing, problem solving, worrying, and planning, among a host of other busy mental activities. If it happens, try not to judge it. Instead, bring your attention back to your body by breathing into different parts.
Picture your breath filling your feet as you inhale and leaving as you exhale. Then move to your ankles, and then your calves, and then your knees, until you get all the way up to your head. By the time you get through that many breaths, your mind will have slowed down at least a little.
5. Create a mental emotion box.
We usually feel and act on emotions almost simultaneously, often responding to one emotion with another. It’s easy to do this when you meditate. You start feeling agitated and then feel frustrated for feeling agitated. And before you know it, you’re stressed out over your anti-stress practice.
When you start feeling something, recognize it, label it, and place it in a mental box. Then come back to your breath or that image you created before. And with this, the effort to recognize emotions, we are back where we started.
Meditation isn’t yet a mainstream idea, but it should be. When you’re less stressed, more present, and more emotionally intelligent, you’re better able to create the life you want—in a way that paves a path for peace all around you.