Lately I’ve been meditating. Not on anything in particular, when I can help it, but rather practicing the art of meditation.
I recently became a 25-year-old and it hit hard. Older people tell me to stop worrying and embrace my relative youth. Younger people tell me they can’t wait to be 25. But I hate it. Not only because it’s a year closer to death but because it feels like a decisive cut off point between me and my childhood. At 24 you can just about claim that you’re a kid, with no right to have a foothold in the world. But then midnight strikes, the birthday balloons deflate and you’re left with the world asking, sincerely, ‘What have you got to show for yourself?’
On top of that, I recently moved cities, jobs and uprooted myself entirely. As a result, I’ve spent the last few weeks mostly in my own company, attempting to build a life around myself, sandcastle-like, without much wet sand.
Whether aging worries you or not, there comes a time in life when self-care goes from being an ironic joke to a necessity, and so it was that I discovered meditation.
I know next to nothing about the culture around meditation, or any sort of mental self-help techniques. I did sense a stigma around it, a sort of suspicion that I was being tricked into looking silly. A feeling that it would be on the recommended list for customers who also bought yoga lessons and dreamcatchers. But on a day in which I either felt experimental or particularly stressed out, why not give it a go?
I’m about as skeptical as they come. Ghosts? Pah. Homeopathy? Babble. Gods? Don’t even try it. So I went into it cynically, unconvinced that I wouldn’t just be wasting ten minutes listening to a voice telling me to breathe. But I’m not unwilling to try new experiences, so I gave myself to it.
Having done it for a few months, I am surprised to say that it has helped me order my thoughts, but even more surprised that it has had a secondary benefit. It’s helped my writing and my productivity in the form of short-term bursts of energy. The app I use requires me to sit for ten minutes at a time each day, close my eyes, and take in the sounds and feelings around me and from my body. This helps take stock of how I am feeling, certainly. More usefully, while relaxing my mind it reminds me that even 10 minutes is a significant chunk of time in one’s day when it’s used correctly.
And this brings me back to the beginning. Twenty-five is not old, but it is, at anyone’s most hopeful guess, 25 percent of the way through. Only another cycle until you’re fifty, some have told me. I hate to complain and risk the wrath of older people (and, indeed, younger people going through any sort of genuine trauma) more justified to this anxiety, but the fear is hitting me nonetheless. Ten minutes taken away from my day to clear my thoughts is 10 minutes of work I could be doing to further my career and speed up the whole fame-making, millionaire future I have coming. The guilt of losing this time, even for something as important as mental self-care, is a delicious feeling, because as soon as my eyes are open again, I work twice as fast for twice as long to keep that guilt at bay.
This is no magic or sage wisdom, just a hack of my primate brain, force-flooding it with the desire to create something beneficial against a made-up deadline.
The benefits of a clear mind stretch far beyond selfish motivational tools. The brief calm that comes from deliberately taking a chunk of your day to disengage with the world and engage with the lump of meat you inexplicably are is important, especially in this stressful era we live in. It reminds you of what is important. It gives you the space to understand what it is you want to do next.
So I suggest you give it a go, if not to improve your work ethic, then to allow your brain to take a presumably well-earned break. That is, unless you’re under 25, in which case, quit complaining, you have nothing to worry about.
Josh King received his MFA from Adelphi University in New York, and now lives in the UK. His fiction has been published in BlazeVOX magazine and The Matador Review, and he divides his time between writing articles, plays and drawing comics.