Starting a Meditation Practice by Polly McGee
I’m often asked about my meditation practice. It’s been one of my key tools in changing my neural pathways, re building reaction, and enabling me to be more present, more focused, and more compassionate. I advocate these as leadership goals, but many people have a very false idea that meditation needs a quiet mind and a still body. Nope. Not neither. For many of us who are A type personalities in big, fast moving jobs, it’s easy to see why this feels unattainable. Why even bother?
Because life is better with a mind that can be settled, a mind that can be transformed from pain to joy. Period. The good news is that meditation is simply a learned experience, and it takes time, but not a lot of time, and can be done every day until it is in the bones and you feel amazing. Where to begin? It all started for me with an app.
A hallmark of a good app for me is primarily one I use. If it makes it to the front of my phone, its good. If it makes it to the features bar, it’s gold. Since 2016 I’ve been a raving advocate for Insight Timer. I love it, LOVE IT, and while tech is only as good as the lazy distracted human who is remembering to use it, this app has been a key partner in stabilising and refining my meditation practice.
It all started in May 2016 with a recommendation for meditation app Insight Timer. I downloaded and was instantly hooked. What Insight Timer does, and it does many actual functions, is give you a mechanism to track progress while also setting up an environment conductive to meditate. If you want bells and silence, all there for you, if you want guided meditation of every flavour and length under the sun, similarly available.
I wanted both these things, and I also was intrinsically rewarded by the little accumulation of stars under my profile that rewarded me for the continuation of my practice. It’s not very zen to feel pride for longitudinal effort, and many more evolved meditators than me have turned off the star function in their apps to simply be in the present. But I’m still loving the present that has a lot of stars on it and the feeling I’m doing something good. Don’t judge me.
As alluded to before though, the app only works if you use it. Something about being connected to millions of other meditators each time I sat down for a session gave me a massive invisible community to connect to. If I wanted more than a nebulous mass of meditators, I could join a specific interest group within the app, or send a shout out to anyone to celebrate their meditation or get support. Somehow, this community means wherever I am, I connect when I meditate and am greater than the sum of my parts.
I think the key element of the practice is that I do it every day. I have wanted to bring some consistency into what I do for a long time. By creating a non negotiable daily action, and being held to account by a little digital gold star, I am accountable and I have to say willing in the work. Meditation makes you feel good. When you feel great they elevate you, when you feel shit, they soothe and centre you and bring you back. I began to look for chances to meditate, grabbing little snatches throughout the day. I also reached for meditation when issues came up, or I needed support, or was trying to solve a problem or deal with a gnarly moment at work. The neural pathway clearly got a little groove in it, and so did I. There were definitely days in the year where the last thing I wanted to do was my meditation session. And I could have simply said f-this and not done it. But I didn’t. And that in itself is the clue to the power of meditation as a practice. You know you can say no, but you also know that the real work happens when you simply observe your ego having a little tanty, and do it anyway.
There is a saying in ayurvedic medicine that, roughly paraphrased, first comes bitter then comes sweet. This basically means that anything that is to deliver a lasting happiness has to have some hard work and sacrifice at the outset. Sweet first always leads to bitter later, and in a world where we are gorging on instant gratification and quick fixes, it is very satisfying to be part of something where the end game is far in the distance. The bitter is still bitter, but it is an acquired taste. I’m over 1000 consecutive days of meditation in now, and it absolutely has changed my life. Enlightenment isn’t happening any day soon (or is it!) but I’m looking at the stars.