Medicine is taken regularly to keep you in the “therapeutic window” of that medication. Too little, and it becomes ineffective; too much, and you risk side effects. This zone is when you get all the benefits with minimal side effects.
I will use coffee to illustrate this point as it contains a bitter white powder that most people are familiar with: caffeine. Caffeine is used to increase alertness, focus and decrease fatigue. Too little caffeine is ineffective, leaving you just as tired as before, while too much caffeine gives you the jitters.
In a perfect world, the curve representing the therapeutic window of coffee would be something like this:
In reality, it is absorbed much faster and eliminated slower than in this illustration. Furthermore, knowing how much coffee you should drink is difficult, often leading to jitters due to overconsumption.
Optimally, you should drink small cups of coffee throughout the day, tapering off early to avoid disrupting your sleep. Alternatively, a cold shower in the morning and meditation can give you a similar boost to the day without adverse side effects.
Learning balance through meditation
Regular sitting meditation teaches discipline by requiring you to stay focused for extended periods. Curiosity is the cure to fatigue; any fatigue that caffeine can fight can be fought with sufficient curiosity.
Meditation is a balancing act between a relaxed and active mind. Your mind should be sufficiently relaxed to enter the meditative state and active enough to prevent you from getting sleepy. Mastering this skill means gaining absolute control of your mind.
While mastery is reserved for those devoting their lives to the practice, competence in the skill will still significantly improve your ability to focus. However, even gaining a basic level of competence will require some level of discipline and consistency.
Consistency is key to getting into the “therapeutic zone” of meditation, where you obtain a greater ability to focus and fight cravings, among other things. The difficulty is that these benefits are invisible to those that meditate regularly – only becoming noticeable when a session is missed.
Skipping meditation day
While the goal is to meditate every day – life happens – and, likely, you will periodically miss a day. Don’t stress about it; instead, notice what happens. Meditation is like a blanket in summer; it’s nice to have it. Even though you can live without it, you will want it if you feel cold. In the case of meditation, you will want it when your mind is turbulent.
Once you meditate daily, you will feel it when you miss a day, your mind will be more turbulent, and you will feel agitated. Just like if you have not had your morning cup of coffee yet, the sudden disappearance of it will affect you.
Where meditation differentiates from coffee is that there are things you can do to minimize the symptoms of withdrawal. Being mindful and noticing the turbulence in your mind can be helpful even when you don’t have time to dedicate to sitting practice. These disciplines – developed during sitting practice – can be applied to your everyday life.
Becoming mindful of your situation will help you stay on track until you have a chance to sit for meditation. In his book The Attention Revolution, B. Alan Wallace says about meditation:
“It isn’t a miracle drug designed to provide temporary relief within minutes. It’s a path to greater and greater sanity, and for that, we have to be patient and persevering.”B. Alan Wallace
Mindfulness throughout the day
In addition to dedicated practice, find time to focus on your breath throughout the day. Developing this habit when you have meditated will ensure that you fall back on it when you inevitably miss a session.
If you feel like reaching for your phone or crave a chocolate bar, spend a few moments focused on your breath and see how you feel afterwards. It’s easy to forget to focus on the breath and get flustered but try.
After a busy day at work, I was flustered, and my coach Ana O suggested we start with a meditation. We were on a time limit, so I was surprised by the suggestion but went along. I am happy I did; rather than taking away from our session, the meditation improved it by helping me to focus and address what was necessary.
Start by doing
One crucial benefit of meditation is the power it grants you to fight your cravings. Conversely, this skill can quickly dissolve when you stop meditating. While habits can be created, they can never be completely destroyed – only changed.
Being attentive, as previously discussed, will help prevent bad habits from creeping into your life. Even with attention, they may come back; keeping them out is about persistence.
As Jeff Haden outlined in his book The Motivation Myth, motivation is, you guessed it, a myth. The only way to get motivated is to start by doing. This blog may not inspire you to meditate, but meditating will.
As you practice regularly, the effects of meditation will compound until you crave the calm it brings when you miss it. An “if-then” plan can help you avoid falling into Mark Manson’s The Feedback loop from Hell. Walter Mischel’s described “if-then” plans in his book The Marshmallow test as a predecided response to a stimulus.
An example relevant to this blog would be: if you don’t have time for meditation, you might have enough for a mindful coffee. Focusing all your attention on a coffee can help you retain some benefits of meditating as the coffee becomes your object of attention.
Let’s call it a: coffee meditation. If both meditation and coffee are good, imagine how good they are together. The warmth from the cup, the high from the caffeine and the aromas you have learned to love will give you a euphoric start to the day.
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