Meditation used to seem both really cool yet silly to me. In films and books it is used by martial artists and monks to hone their senses to superhuman levels and achieve a state of metal supremacy. It seemed that with enough meditation these fictional characters could overcome impossible odds with willpower alone. Rock Lee from Naruto, Aang from Avatar: The Last Airbender, and the numerous protagonists from the Chinese martial arts films that I watched as a kid left me impressed with eastern discipline and meditation especially. It made me want to be able to be that strong too.

At the same time there are charlatans that play on these exaggerations of meditation that are portrayed in media. People are fooled into believing meditation will cure their cancer or give them the ability to fly or have super strength. Some claim it is miracle solution to all psychological and medical issues that crop up in life or that it is the key to wealth and success. All of these miss the point of meditation entirely. They stem from a kernel of truth: It can help anxiety, let you feel relaxed, and it can even make you feel like you are flying if you get in the right head-space, but it isn’t a panacea by any stretch of the imagination.

While meditation can’t give me superpowers, I have been noticing some substantial effects during the act itself and some minor day-to-day effects as well. After keeping up an almost daily practice now for two months since November last year I feel calmer, more relaxed, and more perceptive. My day to day anxieties seem easier to deal with. Patience comes more easily to me now and letting go of worries rather ruminating happens more easily.

For my practice I’ve been using Samatha meditation that is practiced by Buddhist monks. This technique is where the meditator focuses on his breath and the sensations of his breath alone. As other thoughts, emotions, or sensations arise naturally the practitioner acknowledges whatever arises and brings focus back to the breath. The goal of this technique is to develop a one-pointed concentration skill (i.e. focus on one thing really well). The technique really is as simple as it sounds, and it results in mental clarity.

For the first month I meditated immediately after I had woken up and made my bed each morning. During the first week I only did 5-10 minutes of this each day, but by the second week I had increased the duration to 15-20 minutes. I have been more or less staying at this duration since. Any longer than this and my legs start to get numb and more than 20 minutes ends up being too much time most mornings. Though occasionally I would try to keep at it for 30 minutes, and once 45 minutes, 15-20 minutes has felt the most effective length for bringing my mind to a focused, calm, and more aware state for the day while not being too long that I try to find reasons to skip doing it at all. It also is important not to set a precise duration, as that can be distracting and unproductive. If I can get away with it I prefer to not set a timer at all, instead I just use a stopwatch to record the duration after I am done meditating. An exception I have to using a timer is when I have a busy schedule and I can only afford X minutes of meditation at maximum. I will set a timer to make sure I don’t meditate too long, but it is not my goal to reach that time.

These past two months have been an interesting and beneficial experiment. While sitting around for 15-20 minutes each morning once seemed impossibly boring to me, now I look forward to it each morning and it is a great excuse to get out of bed since it isn’t physically demanding and wakes me up the right way.