I used to spend most of my waking hours consumed by a whirlwind of distractions from the present moment. My brain’s default setting was thinking random thoughts, or mourning the past, or planning for the future. In moments when my brain went idle, I quickly found myself on my phone with an unlimited supply of stimuli at my fingertips. I felt like I had no control over my brain, that my brain was in control of me.
So last June, I started meditating to see if it would help me regain control. Since then, I’ve spent over 250 sessions trying to still my mind, and I’ve learned a few things:
There’s no point in stressing over things beyond your control. The vast majority of unhappiness stems from trying to control that which is uncontrollable. Ancient Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius understood this – he wrote that, “You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”
Meditation is hard. The first time I tried to sit with a clear head, it was five seconds before I was fighting back against an onslaught of thoughts. Even a year later, I still have sessions where I spent 10 out of 11 minutes lost in my own head.
But it gets a little easier. Every time I catch my thoughts going off the rails and bring myself back to the present, it’s something to celebrate. Viktor Frankl wrote, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response.” Meditation is about expanding that space, little by little.
I still spend most of my waking hours consumed by a whirlwind of distractions. I get swept up in thoughts countless times every day, because that’s how the human brain works. But sometimes, right between stimulus and response, I’m able to catch myself, and those moments make the practice of meditation worth the effort.