Meditation for a Skeptic

JD Mason

Close your eyes for just a moment and think about meditation. What’s the first thing that comes to mind? Was it a man dressed in dark red robes sitting cross-legged on a plush pillow in the center of a room adorned with candles and mysterious objects? Perhaps the air smelled of sage, lavender, sandalwood, or frankincense? Was the man floating six inches above the floor? Were there mystical colors swirling around his chakras? Perhaps he was creating doorways to alternate dimensions in the form of bright green circles of light like Marvel’s Doctor Strange? Perhaps all of these are true; perhaps none. After all, people believe stranger things on faith alone.

“Trust, but verify.”

Suzanne Massie

Before I dive into the benefits of meditation and how it helped me, I should tell you a little bit about my why. I have always been an obsessive, anxious person. I’m introspective and sometimes a little introverted. When I am speaking with new people, I am very quiet and reserved. Alternatively, when I speak with friends or coworkers, I am more myself–happy, confident, and maybe a little scary. But what people do not see, is my constant fear and anxiety. Fear of judgment. Fear of failure. Fear of the unknown. I was able to survive with these constant feelings for many years. However, I knew a day would come when I wasn’t able to control them any longer. That day came when I was called upon to present to the company I work for. When I accepted the offer to present on the process of calibrating a specific instrument, I intended on the presentation being a hit–even though I had a specific fear of public speaking–a fear that nearly everyone must face at some point in there lives. I planned for the presentation well and even read some books on public speaking. On the day of the presentation, I tried to keep my anxiety at bay. I kept saying to myself “No one knows this better than you,” and the typical compliment of “You got this!” As I made my way to the front of the room filled with about 25 people, my chest felt heavy and my lungs failed me. I gave myself another round of internal compliments and began speaking. I should say I tried to begin speaking because what came out of my mouth was clearly not controlled by my brain. It sounded more like a machine gun emptying its last round in the magazine. I had a panic attack. So there I was, speaking in front of a crowd of employees who worked for me. How was I supposed to lead and mentor them? I knew that something needed to change and I needed it to change quickly. For this reason, and several others, I knew that I needed to give meditation a try–and as you’ll read below, I’m glad I did.

For as long as I can remember, I have been a skeptic. I trusted no one–not even my parents as a child. I’m not sure how these trust issues developed. Perhaps it is deeply rooted in all eldest siblings. I questioned everything to a fault. Which is why meditation was put into a large, secure box with other things such as religion and politics. However, after listening to years of nagging from my Mother of Dragons, I decided to give it a shot.

Although, taking all this on her word wasn’t an option. “Trust, but Verify”–I had to do my research. I began my research the only way I knew how–audiobooks.

I read Buddhism is True by Robert Wright and enjoyed his take on the modern understanding of evolutionary psychology and how it relates to ancient Buddhist teachings. It is truly amazing the connections that Buddhism makes with human psychology. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to know more about Buddhism.

I also read 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works–A True Story by the news anchor Dan Harris. Dan makes a connection between meditation and anxiety that I truly resonated with. In fact, as the title of his book states, he promises that meditation will make you 10% happier. Dan’s research into the practice was insightful and he brings it all together in an introductory format–great for beginners.

Neither of these books helped me learn how to fly or open doors to alternate universes, and I wasn’t discouraged in my search for the supernatural; however, I was able to learn some great information on the benefits of meditation and the Buddhist teachings.

Another great source of material was found in the form of Podcasts. Tara Brach offers lots of great information and covers a wide range of topics. She also offers guided meditations for those wanting to learn. I highly recommend anyone wanting to know more about Buddhist principles or meditation go listen to her content.

After doing some additional research online, I was ready to begin my meditation practice. At this time, Sarah and I had been watching a show on Netflix about a haunted house, so as I sat there with my eyes closed in the dark room, I was anxiously thinking something unnatural and sinister lurked just beyond my tightly closed eyes.

Needless to say, the first experience was a failure, but I kept at it. After a month of regular practice each morning, I began to experience the benefits that so many others were talking about. No, not the supernatural, although I’m certainly not closed off to that experience, but the relief in anxiety and a general calm throughout my day.

It’s kind of like falling in love. At first, you have no idea who this person is, but as you spend more time with them, listen to them, nurture them, it just happens. One day you wake up and realize that your brain has been rewired. When you reach this, you want to scream it from the rooftops. How could this little secret be buried so long? Why is pharmaceutical grade medication the first thing given to people in a crisis of the mind? Why don’t doctors support meditation? The answers to these questions are deeply-rooted in the culture and belief systems of Western civilization and a Writing for another day.

My dabbling into meditation over the course of the last year has helped my anxiety tremendously, but its also done so much more for me. Meditation has opened my eyes to a new way of being. It has given me the tools to live in each moment, ever present and analytical–always watching, always listening, always analyzing, and leaving fear and anxiety where it belongs, in its metaphorical box with religion and politics. But don’t worry, the seal on the box can be opened, when needed.

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