Becoming 10% Happier: A Continuing Journey of Meditation

Solopreneur Sanity

When people ask me if I meditate, I say yes. What I mean: sometimes, I spend some quality time with my Calm app. What I don’t mean: I meditate every day. I meditate for an hour. I sit without a single thought entering my mind the whole time. I am super interested in a week-long silent meditation retreat (right now, that sounds like hell, but never say never, right?).

It all started in Matagalpa, Nicaragua. In November of 2014, I had been traveling for two months and had landed in the relatively random town of Matagalpa (in terms of the backpacker scene or lack thereof), surrounded by mountains and a group of friends that felt like family.

I happened to read a funny and insightful book, called 10% Happier, by Dan Harris about his public meltdown on TV and consequent search for…something. Huge spoiler alert, but Dan’s search for happiness and inner peace and all that jazz takes him through conversations with gurus like Eckhart Tolle and Deepak Chopra — and the eventual “answer” for him is: meditation. (Did you see that coming?)

I already felt more than 10% happier than I had before starting to travel, but I figured an extra 10% wouldn’t hurt, so I convinced my homestay sister (hey, Nina!) to meditate with me. We put on the Calm app in my little homestay room and got busy meditating for a grand total of five minutes.

And it was…nice. I didn’t stop thinking. I didn’t have a transcendental moment. But it was nice. For the next week or so, Nina and I would read 10% Happier out loud and then meditate. To this day, it still feels like one of those moments in life, but particularly in travel, where something is so simple but feels so joyful. (Seriously, I can’t think of a more fitting, less cheesy word than that.)  

Since then, I’ve meditated here and there — more so in the past few months. I won’t go into all of the benefits (health-wise and emotionally), but here’s my take: why not try it (and keep trying, if need be?). What do you have to lose? How could you NOT get at least some small benefit from being still for a few minutes per day?

Sometimes when I’m meditating, I get a really bad itch, so I scratch it. Sometimes I jolt back to my meditation and realize I had gone down some random rabbit hole in my brain, Alice in Wonderland style. Sometimes I hear the bus driver yelling “Guate! Guate!” over the sound of the rain on my app. Occasionally, my stomach is grumbling so loud that I can’t focus. And sometimes I think “Wow, I’m seriously a terrible meditator. I suck at this.” But you know what? Then I laugh and keep trying.

When I talk to other people about meditation (which is happening increasingly — law of attraction, perhaps?), I hear a lot of the same concerns, dismissals, and questions.

I’m a very active/busy/thinking person so I can’t do it.

Um, trust me, you do not want to climb into my brain. It’s a mess in there. I think all.of.the.time. Reading The Power of Now showed me that — against all of our instincts — non-stop thinking is not healthy or productive. It keeps us entangled in a web of endless thought loops that keep us from productive forward motion. If you are too active or full of thoughts to meditate, that might be exactly why you should meditate.

I can’t NOT think.

That being said, the goal is not to stop thinking. It’s to realize your thoughts, acknowledge them (like “clouds passing in the sky,” according to one of my guided meditations), and try to bring yourself back to the present and your body. A friend said to me, “I don’t believe it’s possible to think about nothing” and I agree, for the most part — in my experience, it’s about finding 1) the pauses in the thinking and 2) the path your mind goes off on its own frequently if it’s not watched carefully (like a small child).

I don’t have time.

Did you find time to shower or Facebook stalk or watch The Good Wife or complain about how little time you have? Then you have two minutes to spare. Start there (and end there, if you want). My favorite meditation quote says “Meditate for 20 minutes. Unless you don’t have time. Then meditate for an hour.” While I don’t think you need to meditate for an hour (I can barely do 15 minutes), keep in mind that it’s the moments when you feel like you have the least time that you probably need self-care the most.

I’ve tried it before and didn’t like it.

I’ve tried a boatload of things that didn’t stick — until they did. Ever dabbled in working out or eating healthy or keeping your house clean and failed time and again, only to have it click one day or gradually fall into place? Just because it hasn’t happened doesn’t mean it won’t. And, most likely, you’re telling yourself a bunch of the things above, right? Time to acknowledge that it’s hard but keep trying anyway (even if you miss a day…or five).

I don’t need to meditate, I do xyz for meditation (go to the gym, read, skydive, etc.)

I think it’s awesome to have things that get you “in the zone.” I feel that way about lifting weights and cooking. But, in my humble opinion, those things aren’t meditation for a few reasons: 1) they aren’t focused on stillness, which I think is one of the most important parts of meditation and 2) often they require very specific circumstances (money, a certain location, a specific time of year), whereas meditation can be done anywhere and anytime.

Work that meditation muscle, sista

In summary, a quick note: I’ve been harping on this day in and day out but wanted to reiterate it after a conversation with my sister (hello, dear sister) — the brain is a muscle, so view it like any other muscle. You don’t try to do 100-pound bicep curls right away and then quit because you can’t, right? You start small and work your way up, knowing it will take time.

When in your entire life have you gotten better at something except by doing it? Meditation is no different.

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Cristina Roman is the Founder and Co-Head Honcho of One Woman Shop (the awesome site you’re on right now). When she’s not working on One Woman Shop, she takes salsa classes, listens to NPR podcasts, drinks too much coffee, and explores her stomping grounds of Antigua, Guatemala. Find her on and over on her personal blog.

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