I have been meditating for the past three years, every day without missing a single one, for at least 20 minutes per day.
I learned from tons of articles, videos, and books on meditation, of which the authors are commonly recognized gurus, and put what I learned into practice.
The change happened gradually, but it transformed my entire mindset and life.
So I packed all I know, also all you need to know about meditation into this post, along with the insights that I have distilled personally from the 600+ hours of meditation, which are hard to find on google.
This is your meditation all-in-one.
What is meditation anyway, in just one sentence
Meditation is to notice and feel what is going on right now.
That’s it, extremely basic and real, no mysterious religious spiritual woo woo.
But you will see why it’s often spiritual-related later in the post.
The benefits of meditation
- Reduce stress and anxiety
- More peaceful
- More clear-minded
- More in the now
- Increase attention and focus
- Increase productivity and creativity
- More awareness
- Less memory lose
- Lower blood pressure
- Enhance immune system
- Better sleep
You can find these benefits easily on the internet. As someone who tested it out, I can tell you these are all true. But the real effects are way more profound than this, which I will talk about in a minute.
Who is it for and who is doing it
Who is it for. Everyone can meditate, you can benefit from it in one way or another. But if you are the mentally fucked up ones, like me, then congratulations, you have just found the most powerful remedy so far in the world. That’s right, just this simple silly “focus on your breath” thing. It’s 100% natural, give it a try.
Who is doing it. The anxiety and depression bugged worriers, the stress-crushed ones, happiness seekers, spiritual ones, and a lot of famous “successful” people.
“At least 80 percent of the people I have interviewed have some type of daily mindfulness practice” – Tim Ferriss
Some well-known people who meditate:
- Steve Jobs
- Bill Gates
- Ray Dalio
- Will Smith
- Kobe Bryant
- Michael Jordan
- Lady Gaga
- Jennifer Lopez
- Oprah Winfrey
- Arnold Schwarzenegger
- Paul McCartney
- Ellen DeGeneres
- Rick Rubin
- Joe Rogan
- Lilly Singh
The list goes on and on.
Why I started meditating
In a word, I want to change my mindset toward life.
I suffered from depression and anxiety for a long time. On top of that, I was constantly worrying, overthinking, living in the future, trying to control everything and prepare for everything, and always setting the expectation bar way above my head which left me tiptoeing. I felt like drowning underwater while struggling and watching my life passing by like a spectator. I was exhausted and furies.
While my closest friend was not getting higher scores than me on tests, and not making more money, but he just seemed to fully live in the now and enjoy everything. He was happier.
Something must be wrong. And that something is the mindset.
I believe that everybody is seeing and feeling this world differently, just like my friend and me. And that’s all life is about, a mindset. Unfortunately, I was the one on the spectrum who can be dying of thirst in the desert, and when someone hand me a bottle of water, I bitch about it not being icy.
So naturally I searched for remedy. And the word meditation kept popping up.
When I see the list of benefits of meditation, it was like a hungry kid standing in front of a window full of cakes. I want to have that life-transforming experience that I have always dreamed about, which is to feel this world differently. I want to change my mindset.
That’s how the meditation journey started.
My meditation record
I have been meditating every day, for more than 3 years. It’s 20 min to 1 hour each day, normally 20 min on work days, and 1 hour on weekends.
Occasionally I do some long ones, the longest so far is 4.5 hours, non-stop.
I also do frequent daily mindful practices, like mindful eating, walking, listening, body scanning, etc.
Progress of my meditation
Following is the changing history of my meditation, the noticeable milestones as I keep meditating.
- At the beginning, meditation to me is a task with pressure. The moment I sat down on the cushion, I started to think about the goal to quiet my anxiety, to get the 20 min over with. I wanted to control my breath so it was deep and slow. I counted my breath in a hurry to get to 100. My mind kept wandering away to ruminate on the past or worry about the future. And when I realized it, I blamed my mind for it, and got anxious for the couple of minutes that had been “wasted”. Just when I was anxious about being anxious, the damn alarm rang … time is up.
So, task, goal, control, rush, judgment, anxious.
- Then gradually I was able to feel the body as a whole, which never happened before, as I rarely put attention inwards to feel my own body.
- Released the constant tension in my chest. I have been anxious for over a decade, but I never realized that I had this constant tension in my chest all day long, all these years, maybe even in my sleep. But since that one meditation during which I noticed this, I started to pay attention to my chest more often. After about one week, it was gone, and never came back again.
- Started to feel good about meditation. This good feeling begins with the gentle movement of my upper body as I breathe. This was about half a year in.
- Mild orgasm in the whole body. About one year into meditation, I started to frequently experience this unexpected mild orgasm in the whole body. Normally when I was sitting, could be watching a video or reading a book, then suddenly all my body was heating up, and all my limbs and fingers were subtly vibrating with this numbing feeling, my head was a little dizzy, I could feel there was energy pumping up and circulating in my whole body.
- Everything in daily life became more vivid and beautiful. Gradually I could feel things in everyday life more, things that had always slid under my eye, such as the leaves on the tree, or my handwriting on the paper. I remember last autumn when I went to the park near my workplace for a walk, for the first time, I noticed all the colors of different trees are so bright and saturated, more vivid than a picture. I was totally in awe and kept saying to myself “how could something as beautiful as this even exist in real life? And how could I never notice this before for all the past years?”
- Learned to SLOW DOWN. This is the single most profound progress in my meditation so far. One day when I was meditating, I suddenly had this realization, that the first step and also the core step towards living in the now, is to SLOW DOWN. It’s the cure for anxiety. When you first try to slow down your mind, you will feel this powerful drag from your anxiety, urging you to keep worrying about the future, as if the moment you slow down and focus on the now, something bad will happen to you. More on this later. Since then, at the beginning of each meditation, I say to myself, “where are you going?” and “slow down”. Try this for yourself, trust me, it’s magic.
- Ride with the breath. I went from trying to deliberately do deep breaths, to just letting it flow at a natural comfortable rate, while I just feel it without controlling it.
- From counting breaths to focusing on the current breath. Just observe it, without thinking about a destination to rush to.
- Critical but unnoticed info or idea will pop up automatically. I had around 10 of these moments during meditation, and each one of them saved my day. For instance, once as I meditate, suddenly a hidden risk with the mutual fund I was about to invest in popped out, and saved me a lot of money.
- Stopped blaming or judging myself when my mind wander away. Because that’s just human biology, the mind of a hardcore monk who has been mediating for ten years also drift. Blaming means not accepting the truth, not self-loving.
- Get into the zone more easily and frequently. About one and a half year in, it has become a strong habit. In the beginning I needed like 10 min to get in the zone, by this point it was almost instantly.
- Start to enjoy meditation. About one and a half year in, it had become an everyday moment that I looked forward to. It just felt so liberating and undisturbed.
Mindset change through meditation
I went into meditation for mindset change, and it gave me that, fully. But it also opened the door to some more profound realizations about life that I have never expected.
Logically, you may already know a lot of the mindsets we should have toward life, such as “live in the now”, “lower your expectation”, “stop caring about what others think”, “worry doesn’t solve the problem, it just waste your time”, etc.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, you are absolutely right. But I just can’t do it.”
What’s the problem here? Well, we human beings are emotional creatures, to logically KNOW something is right only gives you the direction, but doesn’t give you the motivation to go there. To get the motivation, we need to FEEL it.
And the core power of meditation is it can let you FEEL the right mindset.
You will feel your new mindset is so simple and obvious and natural, “why did I worry that much 2 years ago? that’s just silly”.
By the time you feel the mindset, you have done it too.
Here is the major mindset shifts I had through meditation.
1. I slowed down.
Slowing down is the first step to seeing clearly what reality really is. When you are racing in a car, all your focus is on the end of the road. People with anxiety are always on the run, they might be walking outside, but they are constantly racing inside. the problem is, this running is not intended but passively generated out of fear. the fear of missing out, or something bad will happen to hurt us.
When you are running toward the wrong destination, what do you do? you hit the break. Slow down, stop the car, check the route and map, then restart for another direction. After I slowed down, I realize that 80 percent of what I have been doing is useless and should not have been done in the first place. Now I do everything more slowly, no matter it’s walking, eating, or solving a problem. My mind has never been clearer, and it feels amazing.
2. I became more productive.
It seems counter-intuitive, especially after I just said I slowed down. but the essence of productivity is actually not to do more and do it faster, while multitasking, but to do less and do it slower, one at a time. the less here means the several important things. most people who are always busy and seem productive actually spend most of their time doing the wrong things, doing one thing repeatedly, and being fire rescuers who bounce around and plug holes. whoever has managed a project or simply prepared a party, will know that to solve a problem, the most important part is not the doing process itself, but researching, planning, making the right move, foreseeing risks and avoiding rework.
And that’s why less is more.
3. I live in the now more.
Meditation is a practice to focus on the present, the single breath you are having right now. Why this “living in the now” thing is a major happiness source? Because happiness doesn’t come from having more, but from appreciating what you already had. The future will not be better than now from a happiness perspective, no matter what you will achieve in the future. The future you can have millions of dollars or fans, but you live in each second, and 99% of these seconds will be just as mundane or boring as your life now. Really let this sink in. So to become happier, we only have one choice, which is to get more joy out of this mundane 99%.
Are you happier now than your child self when he/she had no money, no internet, no iPhone, and no girlfriend?
4. I worry less about the future.
Meditation forces us to slow down, and slowing down is also the process of letting go of the worry about the future. I feel more and more that I am enough, this life I am having right now is already beautiful enough.
5. I developed more acceptance towards life and myself.
My mind will wander away, there will be good days when I can be fully in the zone the whole meditate session, or bad days when I spent 25 out of 30 minutes cursing the asshole who cut me off. That’s just how it is, and it will continue to be like that even 20 years later when I am already a meditation pro.
Why acceptance is another cornerstone of happiness? from an egoistic perspective, there is “you” and the “outside world”, generally speaking, happiness comes from the outside world offering something that meets our needs, such as all the needs in Maslow’s Hierarchy. But the outside world works on its own rules, it gives no fuck about what you want. Let’s hear it again, “the world gives no fuck about what you want, period“.
So to get what you want, denying, crying, laying on the ground and screaming just won’t work, it’s like yelling “1+1 must equal 3, my life depends on it” and hope the whole world change for you. You have to accept reality first, and on the basic foundation of that, you learn how the world works, then you get what you want by playing by its rules.
6. I started to lower my expectation.
I didn’t just lower it, I lowered it to the ground.
Low expectation is another cornerstone of happiness. Why? let’s continue the “world meets your needs” model we just talked about. If your needs are always high, they will be hard to meet, so you will be upset. Simple like this.
Instead, when I wake up every day expecting shit to go wrong, life just instantly becomes lighter and brighter. Remember, the default mod that the world works is it is always going in a million directions, and going your way is just a coincidence.
7. I started to discard perfectionism.
Meditation tells me I am not perfect, I am just this flawed being. And it’s okay. I realized that the so called “perfectionism” is actually insecurity. You are so afraid of fucking up, so you either collect every information before you do something, or you don’t start at all.
“If I could get that extra one point on my test, then mom won’t kick my ass”.
That’s it, that’s basically where your “perfectionism” came from.
8. I stopped trying to control everything.
Just like I learned to stop controlling my breath, meditation taught me to accept what I can’t control, which is basically all of the outside world. Surprise. To control the world is to predict the future, and there are millions of parameters in this “world online” game of which the correlation we don’t know. This again leads to the acceptance problem we just talked about.
8. I developed more self-love.
All these years I have been beating myself up, “why could you even fail at this simple a task?”. But as I feel my body more and more during meditation, I started to realize that I am just this little kid who is hurt and needs a hug, especially from myself. And that brought tears to my face.
9. I become more practical.
I put “Clam down and keep it real” on my wallpaper for a long time. I had always been this worrying, denying, idealistic person before meditating. I refuse to accept reality, not even calm down and give it a closer look. This again leads to the acceptance mindset we just talked about. But as I meditate more, I find reality actually gives me this solid sense of security, and as I deal with real world problem more, I become even more secure and confident.
10. I see more fundamental truths of life.
When I calmed down, I started to see that 80 percent of what’s going on in this world is noise, noise that someone else created and injected into your mind to get something out of you. For instance consumerism and social media.
11. I have more awareness.
To solve a problem, we first need to acknowledge the problem, and to acknowledge a problem, we first need to know there IS one. Awareness is the foundation of all self-improvement. It is the foundation of the cornerstones we talked about such as acceptance and expectation. More on this later.
12. Realized that body-wise, everyone is just stinky flesh.
Under Kim Kardashian’s shiny $10000 dress is a smelly slimy pussy. Joe Biden’s wrinkles are no prettier than my grandfather’s. Maybe this is just a natural realization as we age, but I started to find people’s mind way sexier than their appearance.
These are the major mindset shifts I had due to meditation. I’ll be thrilled to achieve even one of them, but I was blessed with them all.
How does meditation really work, in one sentence
By observing what is going on right now, you gradually find that reality is not as bad as you thought, then you accept it, then you feel good about it, then you start to love it and love yourself, then you lived happily ever after.
Sounds Stockholm-Syndromely weird, but I promise, life is not a robber.
Why it’s something as “boring” and simple as breath that works
At this point, you might already have the answer to this question. Although simple and “boring”, meditation is actually ticking all the boxes of the right mindset to live a happier life.
For every happiness related mindset, there is a corresponding practice in meditation. This is what I call the Meditation Mindset Map.
See? Simple yet not simple. As you meditate, you will find this more and more true.
Why meditation is often spiritually related
There are two main reasons.
First, the origin of meditation.
Meditation has been practiced for thousands of years. It originated from Indian religions such as Jainism, Buddhism, and Hinduism. So it’s born with that mark. Also later when meditation was spread to the West in the 1960s, it was mainly due to many Asian spiritual teachers taking refuge in Western countries.
Second, the truth of our world.
As we said, meditation is the process of seeing reality as it is. at the beginning (this period could last for 10 years), you just slow down and start to notice what’s really going on in this physical world. But if you meditate long enough, you will start to understand this world on a non-physical level. you could have some sensations that are normally generated by psychedelics, and you might literally SEE the truth of why Buddhism says our world is empty, there is no “you”, who we really are, and why we are all interconnected with other creatures.
Simple but magical.
And don’t worry, the truth doesn’t hurt.
Things you should know before meditating
- Meditation is a practice. it’s like physical exercise
- You might feel it’s boring in the beginning
- You might feel it’s a task you have to pull through in the beginning
- Your mind wanders all the time, and it’s totally out of your control
- Meditation isn’t turning off thoughts, but just being aware of them
- There will be good days and bad days
- It takes some time to give you positive feedback
- Consistency is the core
- Change will happen gradually, not overnight
- The return is enormous and life-changing
Set your expectations accordingly.
And don’t judge your meditation practice. As long as you sit down on the seat, it’s a good meditation.
How to meditate (breath meditation)
About instructors: you don’t need an instructor, you can do it on your own.
About time: any time is okay, I do it in the morning. but at the same time is better as it’s easier to form a habit.
About duration: 1/5/10/20/30/60/more minutes are all okay, when you just start out, you could start at 1 or 5 minutes, again because it’s easier to form a habit this way, as you will have that sense of achievement (I’m nailing it!) and identity (I’m a meditator!).
- Place. Find a place with the least distraction.
- Timer. Set a timer for the duration you want.
- Sit. On a cushion or in a chair, suit yourself. straight back, relaxed. ignore all the other cross-legged lotus sitting, finger crossing, incense burning shit, totally unnecessary.
- Say. Say to yourself “slow down”.
- Breath. Put your attention on any point of the breath as you want – nose, chest, abdomen, or the overall movement. Breathe in whatever way you feel comfortable. feel each breath without rushing.
- Mind drift. When you notice your mind drifts away, just label it as “thoughts”, “emotion”, “feeling”, “sensation”, or other labels that you like, with no judgment. then gently refocus on breathing. that awareness itself is a sign that you are making progress, be gentle with yourself.
That’s it. You might see some variations elsewhere, but this is the universal method, and it’s also how I do it and it works well.
- What if we get emotional? We are so used to giving our minds all kinds of stuff on the outside to chase, it’s normal that all kinds of emotions might emerge once we slow down and shift focus inside. just say “emotion”, and go on.
- What if part of our body feels itchy or numb or uncomfortable? The same: notice it, label it as “sensation”, then try shifting your focus on that part, and see if it goes away (normally it does). if it doesn’t, then just scratch that itch, and return to our breath.
Other types of meditation
Meditation is a mindful practice, and we can literally be mindful of anything we do, not only breathe. In addition to the basic breath meditation, there are also common meditations like body scan, mindful walking, mindful eating, visualization, Loving kindness, the S.T.O.P. meditation, or retreats.
1. Body Scan Meditation
Focus on the sensation of your body instead of breathing.
- Timer. Set a timer.
- Sit or lie down
- Quick scan. Identify the parts of your body that seem tense.
- Full scan. From the head down, one inch at a time, spend about 20 seconds noticing how each body part feels, then move on to the next. Release any tension you feel. At first, it might seem as if you don’t feel anything at all. But as you practice you will feel more.
- Just feel, don’t judge.
2. Mindful walking and eating
Replace the breath with the sensation of your walking or the smell and taste of the food.
The key is again, to slow down.
Try deliberately eating slowly the next meal, you will feel anxious, but being home.
Replace the breath with an image that you imagine in your head as the object of focus.
4. Loving kindness meditation
We direct positive energy first to ourselves, and then as a ripple effect, to people who are close to us, then to strangers (Tara Brach, not word for word). This helps us release negative feelings. You can check this video for instructions.
5. The S.T.O.P. meditation
The S.T.O.P. meditation is a quick meditation you can use anywhere anytime. It stands for: stop what you’re doing, take a breath, observe without judgment, and proceed.
Retreats are basically long-form meditations, normally practiced with a group of people. A retreat could last from one day to one month, normally totally off-grid, with no talking the whole time. it’s a combination of all the meditation types we just talked about, like breath meditation, mindful walking, mindful eating, body scanning, etc.
Common obstacles and what to do
The 3 main reasons why people can’t stick to meditation:
- Don’t have a solid motivation for meditation
- It’s “boring” at the beginning
- It takes a comparatively long time (could be months) to make noticeable changes or give you positive feedback
Which are precisely against the rules of forming a habit.
How to deal with these obstacles:
Time. You can meditate at any time in the day, but a fixed time (say everyday at 8 am) will be easier to form a habit.
Duration. Start short, even 1 minute a day counts. for most beginners, it’s better not to do 20+ minutes, then end up being fidgety all the time. this will make meditation a stressful thing, 2 rounds later you’ll be saying “this shit sucks” and give it up. We can slowly increase our time once we feel comfortable.
Determination. Give it six weeks and stick to it, before making your decision to continue or not. If we miss a day or two, it’s okay, just pick up where we left off.
Apps, books, websites
There are some apps that help us do guided meditations. These apps can be helpful, especially when getting started.
Once we’re familiar with the practice, we can just meditate on our own, as the voice of the instructor is itself a form of distraction.
Here I only recommend one, because I know from my own experience that too many books are just stressful, and I will end up reading non of them.
Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach
Sit down, and take that breath.
Which part do you resonate with? Please let me know in the comments. I’d also love to hear your thoughts on meditation, or any suggestions.
If you are also interested in mindset and anxiety, like me, then you could check out these two articles: