It's easy to get lost in the specificity of a career in computer science.
What's the right framework? Which language is the best? Mac vs Windows vs Linux? Tabs vs spaces?!
Unfortunately, the surrounding foundation can sometimes be left untended. How good of a programmer can you really be if you're fraught with anxiety and depression? Or in a less dramatic way, unable to clear mental clutter while making decisions?
Often in the meditation and spiritual communities, meditation is sold as a cure for all mental and physical issues.
It's too easy to go to a "guru" and ask for help in a situation, and the response be "meditate more."
Rather than that, I'd instead try to propose seeing meditation as a structure in which one can build stronger mental tools. While there are numerous personal benefits to it, for the sake of posting this on DEV, I'd rather focus on how meditation can improve your skills as an engineer.
Without a doubt, a good meditation practice can clear out a great deal of the mental chatter that torments the inside of many people's minds.
This includes negative self-talk, constant self-doubt, a layer of suspicious interpretation while communicating, and that general stream of internal voice that never seems to quiet when you want to focus on work.
One of the most important lessons when learning meditation is that you are not your thoughts, a concept made most famous by self-help author Eckhart Tolle.
As an industry founded on thinking this may be a hard pill to swallow, but to maybe loosen your assuredness, watch this video by Neuroscientist and meditation teacher Gary Weber about thoughts:
In essence, quieting your thoughts and relaxing the feeling of ownership over problem solving (and seemingly "higher cognitive functions"), allows for smoother thinking.
While I don't want to focus on the de-stressing aspects of meditation too much, I will at least ask you if taking a small amount of time out of your day is worth providing a reduction in your stress?
What if 10 minutes of meditation reduced your stress by 5%? Would that be worth it?
What about 20 minutes, reducing 20%?
It's just something to keep in mind. Again, this is not a cure-all, but it does help to focus on the fact that a small investment of time can have a noticeable, and not insignificant, return.
It is more than possible to fully immerse yourself in all the various types of meditation practices, find yourself on a week long retreat, and be on the path to full blown enlightenment.
These things are possible, and there are many people pursuing it and experiencing it everyday.
But that does not need to be the goal of your practice. Technically anyone's practice can be whatever they'd like it to be - as long as it's wholesome.
In this article I'll focus on a very basic concentration practice that only needs to last 10 to 15 minutes, and will have a good effect at relaxing the mind.
While it's not required, I will add that personally I have experienced the benefits of moving beyond the beginner level of meditation. Some teachers, like Robert Thurman, would argue that solely doing concentration practice without diving into the deeper practices only achieves temporary gains, as opposed to the massive and life altering changes that happen with a more serious meditation practice.
But for now, we'll happily take the temporary gains for the sake of career betterment.
Let me say this upfront, and I want you to hear this in your head as you get started - you will never ever stop your thoughts as a beginning meditator.
This is by far the loudest feedback I hear from people when they tell me that they've tried meditation but didn't continue their practice.
"I stopped because I couldn't get my thoughts to stop."
Let me reassure you, if you were a meditator for 10 years, and you managed to silence your thoughts, it would be seriously impressive.
This is perhaps born from a Westerner's interpretation of what a process is about - focusing too much on the finish line while losing the joy of the action itself.
Yes, you will have thoughts. Yes, they will drag you away from the nowness you're trying to achieve. Yes, it will be distracting and you can feel frustrated if you focus too much on "I didn't win this meditation round."
There's two things to be aware of:
This is a practice. That means that how you go about it is how you will do it. If you make your practice relaxing and enjoyable, you are practicing relaxation and enjoyment. If your practice is frustrating and unpleasant, you are practicing frustration and unpleasantness. These things will carry into your life because you are practicing them.
Even though "you are not your thoughts", you are also your thoughts.* And any frustration you push towards your thoughts, you're also pushing on yourself. This will have the opposite effect of relieving stress that you're trying to achieve. In the "you are not your thoughts" domain, try to give yourself direction, but don't be cruel, mean, or lacking sympathy to thoughts - as they are yourself in a way. Practice loving yourself and your mind and you will be more loving towards yourself and your mind.
** Note: If there's anything about spiritual and meditative practices you'll have to be comfortable with its contradictions. I apologize ahead of time to all the hyper-analytical thinkers.*
Let me be upfront - this kind of stuff doesn't matter much. Before listing out the traditional sitting positions, know that what's important is that you're comfortable enough to sit in one of these positions for long periods of time.
Other than that, if you're sitting, it's about good posture. A long back, shoulders high, and stable posture are perfect. If you're laying down, maintain a position where you won't fall asleep (unless you're trying to fall asleep!).
Each foot rests atop the thigh of the opposing leg. This is a very traditional position, but can be very tough on the knees and legs for people who haven't been practicing in this position from a young age.
This is my preferred sitting position. One foot sits atop the other's thigh. Easier on the knees.
The typical way Westerners sit. Totally ok for meditation, make sure to maintain good posture and relaxed arms.
If you are older or have physical limitations, sitting in a chair for your meditation is great. This is also good to remember for anyone who wants to meditate during their commute to work or at a park.
While not ideal, learning how to meditate while laying down can help many people overcome insomnia.
What should I do with my hands?
You may notice some interesting hand positions in meditation statues, often referred to as mudras.
While they have pretty interesting interpretations, one of the easiest is to lay your hands comfortably in your lap. Really it's about making sure your shoulders are relaxed.
While I'm going to focus on concentration practice, there are an endless number of meditation practices out there. My personal favorites tend to be noting practice and self-inquiry. I'll put a list of resources at the end of the post.
But concentration is a great place to start. It has the most immediate "feeling better" results, especially if you take the time to really enjoy your time taking a break from the a noisy world.
Again, and to repeat this over and over and over again, you will not be able to quiet your thoughts. You will get distracted by work dramas, or life issues, or anything else that pops up into your psyche.
But stop seeing these as distractions. Rather, this is about the continual act of observing your thoughts and realizing that they're "over there" and you're "over here."
To take it one step back for a second: A thing observed can never be its observer.
If you are observing your thoughts, you are therefore not them. While meditating remember this dynamic when you get lost in thought, acknowledge your thoughts, and then gently guide yourself to your concentration. This is a great moment to practice patience and be understanding to yourself.
Between that dance, which happens over and over again, set yourself a goal of focusing on the breath exiting your nose.
Try to sense it flowing in and out of your nostrils. See if you can even concentrate strong enough to feel it flowing across your nose hairs.
Next focus on the cyclical rhythm of your breath. Feel it flow out of your nose, then back in. See if you can concentrate on the exact moment when you shift from breathing out to breathing in.
See if you can notice when your breath begins and ends. See if you can sense when it feels like it's "the middle" of your breath.
You can even use a naming convention to it. Something like, "in" and "out" or "start", "middle", and "end".
See if after awhile you can shift from speaking these things in your head, to wordlessly recognizing the same breathing cycle.
If you feel like it's beginning to be hard to focus on your breath, you can try focusing on something else - like your hands resting, your chest breathing, your diaphragm rising and falling, etc.
It's ok to not do this perfectly, and do it in your own way. The most important aspect is attempting to maintain focused on your object of focus, and eventually widening to what's around you.
But first and foremost, just enjoy your sit. Allow thoughts to rise, allow yourself to try (and fail) to concentrate. Be patient with the process, and allow all the hidden benefits discover themselves.
I would recommend Mastering The Core Teachings of The Buddha or The Mind Illuminated for anyone wanting to have an indepth explanation for how to mediate.
- Mastering The Core Teachings of The Buddha by Daniel Ingram - http://integrateddaniel.info/book
- The Mind Illuminated by Culadasa (John Yates) - https://www.amazon.com/Mind-Illuminated-Meditation-Integrating-Mindfulness/dp/1501156985
- Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind by Shunryu Suzuki - https://www.amazon.com/Zen-Mind-Beginners-Informal-Meditation/dp/1590308492
- Brightmind - Shinzen Young meditation app - https://www.brightmind.com/
- Buddhist Geeks - https://www.buddhistgeeks.org/
- Deconstructing Yourself - https://deconstructingyourself.com/