What Happened as I Began Meditating

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If I said you could break your phone addiction, declutter your closets, and enjoy better sleep and more stable moods with just minutes of free meditation a day, would you try it?

I have family members deep into meditation, and had experimented enough to get familiar with different techniques -- but never stuck with a practice. Frustrated after spending money on retreats, mini-vacations, and even indulgent meals to try to "find" or "treat" myself, though, I listened to a friend's suggestion to try again. In addition to cultivating money-saving habits, it helped me find the peace of mind I had been looking for in other, expensive ways.

The word tends to conjure an image of sitting cross-legged on the floor in silence, eyes closed, to quiet the mind and watch thoughts and feelings pass through without getting attached or judging them. The key is to focus on the breath, and keep coming back to the breath when the mind starts to wander (for which some turn to apps for help.) Personally, I find it impossible. But meditations comes in all shapes and sizes.

Other forms include mantra meditation, which might be as simple as "may they/I be happy, healthy, and at ease." Typically you start small with yourself and work out to an extended network of friends, family, strangers, continents, all living beings ... with bonus points for including enemies. Simple tasks such as making and savoring a cup of tea, taking a walk, or gardening can also be meditative. Just two minutes a day is said to produce noticeable effects.

My goal was to draw on what I already knew and incorporate some meditation into my daily routine. I started small, taking time for a daily walk with no headphones and no phone use -- just a quiet walk in the park, observing the world around me and any thoughts in my head. At first it was difficult not to respond emotionally, but after a few days I could just notice them without the same judgment as before. I slowly stepped it up, doing five minutes of daily loving kindness mantra meditation in addition to walks on some days. Even when busy I made sure to find at least two minutes for quiet sitting or mantra meditation, sometimes in the morning, sometimes in the middle of work, before bed as a last resort. After a month, I took stock. The results were not magic, but there were noticeable changes.

I slept better

As an occasional insomniac, I found that sleep came easier, and I didn't wake in the middle of the night. But I also drew on meditation techniques when I had trouble falling asleep. Meditation teacher and author Sharon Salzberg suggests trying to remember if you fall asleep on an in or an out breath; focusing on breathing allows the mind to avoid stressors that tend to flood in just before sleep.

I put my phone down

We reach for phones without even being conscious of it. This seemingly innocuous act keeps us from having recentering moments, free of stimuli. Finding time each day when I wouldn't scroll through never-ending feeds of distraction let me rediscover how to take a moment for myself. It broke the habit and allowed me to reap the benefits that come with the occasional digital detox.

I was in the moment

We all know the feeling of not being able to enjoy a moment because of worries -- something I battled constantly. After just a week of meditating, I acquired the skill of shelving my thoughts for later and being able to enjoy the present, like conversing with loved ones, or enjoying a concert. I was also able to focus more deeply while working. Whatever I was doing, I did more efficiently and enjoyably.

My moods were more stable

Like everyone, I experience ups and downs. I'm a passionate person, which sometimes translates into emotional outbursts, especially with close family and friends. Meditating gave me the tools to stay calm -- especially useful living in New York City. Rather than yell at a driver who almost hit me, I found myself taking a deep breath and letting the tension go. When a friend gave backhanded compliments about my job and appearance, I smiled and shrugged it off. I noticed negative emotions, but was in control and able to let them pass.

I decluttered

Perhaps the most unexpected benefit was the motivation to declutter -- not just my mind, but my physical space. As I became more conscious of my inner life, I paid more attention to my material world and was able to see what was unnecessary. I found myself going through my clothes, my jewelry, even my linen closet to get rid of unused and unwanted items. I was prompted to follow Marie Kondo's program of keeping only things that bring joy, or maybe I just had more time now that I wasn't reaching mindlessly for my phone or watching TV.

I learned that meditating is like any other form of exercise: The more you do it, the better shape you are in. It's great to work up to lifting 100 pounds at the gym, but the real benefit is being able to carry furniture easily up a flight of stairs. Similarly, it's important to work the meditation muscles regularly, so that you are in shape when you need to use them. Starting to meditate when stressed out or can't sleep is like starting to weight train on moving day.

The challenge is that it doesn't get all that much easier. I thought after a few weeks I would be able to go for 20 minutes with a so-called clear mind, but I still find it near impossible to get beyond 10 breaths before thoughts and emotions creep in. This can be challenging for perfectionists; frustratingly, the point is not to be good at it, but rather to keep coming back to the breath, however difficult it is.

My main takeaway was to be consistent, and find time every day, no matter how short. This wasn't as hard as I expected. I spent longer than others some days, but once I got into the routine, it was something I looked forward to -- even craved and relied on. It's one addiction I'm happy to continue indulging.

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