I was in a meeting the other day, and the whole time, I could hear the tap tap tap of fingertips on a phone screen.
As you can probably imagine, it got pretty distracting. Finally, we asked what the tapper what she was doing. She replied that it was her mindfulness app.
Cue the eye rolls.
We were annoyed, but not entirely shocked — after all, it’s hard to read anything about wellness online without coming across a list of the best meditation apps. But these apps miss the point of what meditation is, especially if you’re spending 15 out of every 20 minutes thinking about your to-do list.
If you’re tapping your way to enlightenment, you’re never going to get there.
Meditation isn’t a silver bullet. Instead, you should think of it as an operating system that informs how you interact with the world around you. When meditation is practiced correctly over a period of time, mindfulness will become your natural state of being.
Anything less is a waste of time. Here’s why:
Meditation is not chill pill.
The problem with our culture today is we want quick fixes — like selling sugar cereal to kids to get them out the door in the morning.
This same instant gratification mindset has extended to our attitudes towards wellness. “Just double click this app and you’ll be zen,” the marketers say. So you buy into all this app crap, check it off your to-do list, and then get distracted by the next shiny object.
Eventually, you’ve been roasted in the bug zapper of day-to-day stress with nothing to show for it.
Meditation is not like popping an Advil. It’s a lifelong practice that you must nurture every day. Here’s how:
Observe your thoughts as they come and go. When you attach judgment to thoughts or cling to past memories, you suffer. But when you passively observe emotions, you can gradually change your state of mind by scanning the body for feelings and sensations. When discomfort arises, breathe into it. Instead of zoning out, turn the light of awareness on what’s present and concrete.
When practiced effectively, meditation teaches you to hone in on your reality for maximum productivity and wellbeing.
One good, intentional breath is better than 100 minutes of distracted meditation.
When I was a kid I wanted to be a Jedi.
Lightsabers aside, I thought they were cool because they calm their minds and separate themselves from their emotional impulses. Of course, Star Wars is just fiction. But later on, when I went to study with the Taoist monks, I discovered the eternal truth at the heart of meditation.
The Jedi ideals of being in touch with the world around you — the force — and learning how to quiet my thoughts were real, and I was completely hooked.
I also realized there’s nothing subtle about meditation. Once you calm your mind and step out of the noise for a few seconds, you feel that sense of eternal peace and stillness — that’s your essential self, your true nature. You start to understand how crazy the world is, and how crazy you’ve been your whole life. You realize your decisions have mostly come from a place of duress and panic.
But you also begin to understand it doesn’t have to be that way — you can actually make wise decisions and ask bigger questions about the meaning of life.
There are a few ways to get there.
Going out into nature helps. Isolating yourself from artificial light at nights is also useful. But learning how to ride your breath into stillness — that’s where the magic is. Practice diaphragmatic breathing, which is done by contracting the diaphragm and expanding the belly slowly as you inhale, to maximize your oxygen intake and calm the central nervous system.
Once you get the hang of it, you’ll understand the immense power of one intentional breath.
Practice makes perfect.
I’ve watched countless lives transformed by meditation.
When taken seriously, meditation can alleviate depression, stop migraines, cure diabetes, and even put cancer into remission — its benefits are limitless. But five minutes of haphazard meditation on an app isn’t going to offset the chaos. Becoming mindful takes work. It requires a ton of practice.
There’s a four-count breathing meditation I recommend to people of all levels of meditation experiment. It’s essentially a repetitive practice of counting the breath and pausing between the inflow and outflow. When you catch yourself drifting off (and you will), simply return to the breath and keep going.
It might take weeks or even years to master, but life is long. And if you put in the work, you will feel better. Mindfulness is the gift that keeps on giving.
No app required.