“Doing Nothing” is Good for You
Meditation has many benefits, but many people struggle to get started because they feel that meditation feels like you are sitting around “wasting” time. This is because a primary goal of meditation is to stop doing other things, so you end up doing nothing… or that’s how it can feel.
But there is a critically important distinction between sitting around wasting time by watching television… and taking, say, 15 minutes to give your brain a break entirely.
Writing in MIndful magazine, Christine Carter observes:
“Our brains benefit when we waste time… When we let our minds go…to daydream, to wander…an area of our brain turns on that’s responsible for creative insight. And our best work comes from those creative insights—the ones that happen in the shower!”
Jon Kabat-Zinn is author of Wherever You Go There You Are, a 1994 book on mindfulness that has gone on to sell over 750,000 copies. He says, “Meditation is the only intentional, systematic human activity which at bottom is about not trying to improve yourself or get anywhere else, but simply to realize where you already are.”
In other words, meditation is less about achieving a certain goal - stress reduction, for example - and more about gaining the perspective to have an accurate perception of your situation. In this way, once you realize just how stressed out you are, and why, you will then be better able to turn things around.
When you meditate, you let go of daily concerns and activities. But you aren’t just wasting time. To the contrary, you are giving your mind and body valuable time. Here’s what Kabat-Zinn says...
“To let go means to give up coercing, resisting, or struggling, in exchange for something more powerful and wholesome which comes out of allowing things to be as they are without getting caught up in your attraction to or rejection of them, in the intrinsic stickiness of wanting, of liking and disliking.”
There are many ways to accomplish this, from taking a meditation class to simply finding a quiet spot in your house and being silent for 10, 20 or even 30 minutes.
The National Institute of Health reports that most types of meditation have four elements in common:
1. A quiet location with as few distractions as possible
2. A specific, comfortable posture: sitting, lying down, walking, or in other positions
3. A focus of attention, such as a specially chosen word or set of words, an object, or the sensations of the breath
4. An open attitude in which you let distractions come and go naturally without judging them
If you are tempted to meditate, but unsure how to get started, try this simple exercise from Max Strom, author of A Life Worth Breathing. It’s called Three-Minute Breath:
Set a timer for three minutes and breathe as slowly and consistently as you can. Count each breath, and don’t pause for more than two seconds between your inhale and exhale. Your goal is to comfortably take as few breaths as possible. Most people take between six and 30 breaths the first time, but as you practice this number will go down.
I love this exercise because it only requires a three-minute commitment, but if you do it for a week, you will experience firsthand the benefits of meditation. After a total of just 21 minutes of investment, you will be able to see that the time you devote to meditation will be immensely valuable to you.
Image: Andres Nieto Porras/Flickr