The Meditation Experiment: Two Months
This is an experiment to see what would happen if I consistently meditated for two hours per day, once roughly every twelve hours. I wrote an update after one month, and it’s now been over two months since I started the experiment.
I am an engineer and a scientist, and I will be the first to list the experimental limitations. This experiment has only one participant and there is no control group. I cannot replicate myself in an almost identical parallel universe, and make the second copy not meditate. This is not a large double-blinded, placebo-controlled, randomized trial. This is just me, and this is my personal experience.
I have practiced vipassana meditation as taught by S. N. Goenka for a total of two hours in each 24-hour period, sometimes two hours in a row, sometimes two non-contiguous hours in the afternoon, but mostly one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening. My wife, Cindy, has joined me for many of these meditation sessions.
I’ll give you a nutshell summary of how I have been meditating. I sit still with my eyes closed and repeatedly pass my attention carefully and attentively over as much of the surface and interior volume of my body as possible, paying attention to whatever sensations I find, and attempting to react as little as possible to whatever I experience. Self-awareness and equanimity develop symbiotically. According to Goenka, this is a process of surveying the unconscious mind at increasingly deep levels, annealing it, and training it to be non-reactive.
I’m less reactive
I can feel the gap between stimulus and response widening. It’s now very rare that I get triggered and emotionally hi-jacked. This has led to Cindy and I having almost no arguments. When one of us does get triggered, the other person does not fall into the cycle of hurt and attack. I am much more able to feel hurt and to not react.
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” — Victor Frankl
I’m more creative and productive
I used to wake in the morning and think of various things I needed to do with trepidation. I would avoid things that seemed emotionally challenging. I have noticed that I now feel enthusiastic about these same things. I remember that I need to do something, and now I find that I also want to do that thing. I have much more enthusiasm for what I need to do.
I have also noticed that there is a cycle of meditation and engagement. During a meditation session, a better or simpler way of doing something will occur to me. This leads to me enthusiastically engaging with life between meditation sessions. I’ll often then get stuck as some point, and my productivity and creativity will slow down again. That stuckness doesn’t last through the next meditation session, in which I invariably get unstuck.
I’m more socially confident
Being enneagram type three, I have a tendency to be extremely self-conscious, concerned with what others think of me. Over the past month, I have noticed a marked reduction in the amount of self-consciousness I have in social situations. My attention is more inside my body looking out, rather than outside my body looking in. This has enabled me to be more relaxed and gregarious in social situations. The more self-aware you are, the less self-conscious you will be. Paradoxically, I have been more effective at professional networking because I am less focused on presenting what I imagine to be a desirable image, enabling my authentic self to be experienced more directly.
The more self-aware you are, the less self-conscious you will be.
I’m more grateful and less anxious
Positive psychology researchers have shown that the purposeful practice of gratitude increases health and happiness. People write lists of what they are grateful for. I have not been doing this since the beginning of the experiment, but I have noticed that I find myself spontaneously very feeling grateful, and for the most subtle, inexplicable things. For example, a while back, as a passenger in our car, I looked at the side of Cindy’s face and something about the way the light reflected from it filled me with contentment and gratitude. I often feel grateful for, and content with, what is present in any given moment.
Also, the massive reduction in anxiety that I felt in the first month has continued. I experience almost no anxiety.
“The ability to be in the present moment is a major component of mental wellness.” — Abraham Maslow
I’m more self-aware
I am able to be concurrently aware of both my cognitive and emotional responses to a situation in a new way. One example of this was when I was looking at the children’s book called The Giving Tree at a friend’s house. I noticed that I had a critical judgement of the behavior of the tree in the book as being overly-giving and “co-dependent,” while at the same time being aware of the beauty and value of selfless giving.
The effects of substances on my body and mind are easier to detect. For example, I drank coffee one day at about five in the afternoon, and I started to experience a marked increase in the tension in my body, and I started to experience anxiety.
I have become more aware of the psychological pain that drives even subtly violent words and actions, and the pain that I cause myself when I am harmful to other people. This has led to me being more gentle with other people, while at the same time having stronger and healthier boundaries to protect myself from harm.
As I experience the subtleties of my own suffering from moment to moment, I have become more humble and compassionate for others. I carry less of a story that I am special or extraordinary, while at the same time being more passionate about taking bold action in my life. I am more able to understand and not take personally behavior from others that could appear hurtful or harmful.
When negative or pessimistic thoughts come, I am able to notice them, show them an appropriate amount of respect, and then let them go. This is in stark contrast to the more usual pattern of getting caught up in negative cycles of thoughts and feelings that are associated with anxiety and depression.
Lastly, I have been able to remember my dreams much more than I used to.