I've only been meditating for a year, and there have been definite benefits—I’m calmer in stressful situations, I'm happier in general, and I feel like I've been kinder to the people in my life.
All things I'd hoped would happen to me when I began. But there have been benefits to meditation that I never could have predicted. Strangely, now that I'm into embracing the present moment, I'm not into predicting the future too much these days. Nevertheless, here are the unexpected times meditation has helped me.
I once lived in New York City, a place where impatience is a virtue. The city offers a fantastic cornucopia of things to be impatient about, in addition to great restaurants and Broadway shows. The subway is always late, the guy in front of you at the bagel shop can't seem to pick a cream cheese flavor to save his life, and forget about getting into that new restaurant without waiting at least an hour. I associate living in New York with a feeling of always being upset about waiting. Since I began practicing meditation, waiting in line isn't something to be endured. It's something that happens. All that's required of me is to be present. If I feel a complainy-type thought come into my head, I’m in a place where I recognize the thought and let it go. I try not to judge my thoughts, but sometimes I laugh because I almost can't believe this sort of thing used to bug me. There's plenty I can do while the old guy in front of me at the supermarket writes a check. Unrelated: people still write checks in 2016? Instead of focusing on my annoyance, I can follow my breath and take in what's going on around me. There's nothing required of me other than to be there.
I have a job where I sit at a desk all day. You probably sit in front of a computer all day, too. Or stand, if you have one of those fancy desks. Regardless, being at a desk and waiting for a creative solution to come along feels a little like staring up at the sky on a sunny day and waiting for rain to fall—a helpless pursuit. I used to think that the best you could do is sit at the desk and wait for rain. But completing the Headspace 30-day pack on creativity changed my mind about its nature. I remember Andy encouraging me to go through a 30-second visualization exercise that seemed to open up my mind to the millions of ideas that are possible. It's a great way to start the creative process. It sure beats staring at a blinking cursor on an empty PowerPoint doc.
I write about food and drink for a living, so sometimes I don't eat because I'm hungry, I eat because I need to turn in 1000 words on the best frozen veggie burgers in the supermarket. It forces me to pay attention to what I'm eating, because I'm eventually going to write about it. While it isn't always pleasurable (some veggie burgers aren’t what you'd call edible), it's decent practice in eating mindfully. But even though I'm more attuned to mindful eating than your average person, listening to the eating exercise on Headspace helped remind me that eating doesn't have to solely be a time when you shovel food into your face while typing. It can be way more pleasurable. I'm writing this while in a coffeeshop; I just bought a ginger scone and sat down. I had a few bites of it and thought it was tasty, but didn't think much of it. Then I listened to the eating exercise again, where Andy walked me through the eating experience. Almost magically, the scone got a million times better. When Andy suggested I look at the food I was eating, for the first time I noticed it had ginger chunks inside and a dusting of sugar on top. The second I put it in my mouth again, the scone somehow got flakier. Did someone replace my old scone with this new, better tasting one? Unlikely. Focusing on the bite you're currently taking and not immediately going for another bite before you finish the first is a powerful act. Eating mindfully has the potential to make even a boring scone feel like a revelation.