There are myriad ways to misunderstand meditation. People often associate the practice with haunting chants, candle-lit temples, burning incense, and other such eccentricities. Now don’t get me wrong, if you want to sit full lotus in a copper-walled room and clear your mind to the dulcet strains of traditional Tao meditation music, you go for it. But meditation need not be some oddity you never consider as a potential part of your everyday life.
And listen, let us clear one thing up: do you think meditation isn’t manly? Because apparently some men do. But… have you seen the Bruce Lee Classic Enter the Dragon? You know that scene where he has just beaten the hell out of fifty, sixty guys, and suddenly finds himself trapped between solid steel doors? Well does Bruce start clawing at the doors or panicking or crying for help? No. He immediately sits down and begins to meditate… on how he will destroy another few score foes foolish enough to face him.
But of course meditation isn’t actually tied to martial arts. It’s not tied to yoga. It doesn’t have to be associated with Buddhism. It doesn’t have any intrinsic association with any religion, creed, or even any set method of practice. All meditation boils down to is spending time living entirely in a present moment, absent of thoughts/concerns/desires relating to the future or past. That said… it’s goddamned hard to to that effectively. It takes practice to keep your thoughts from edging back in and robbing you that peaceful, empty moment that would otherwise have brought renewed calm, energy, and optimism. And the more stressful your career, relationships, and life in general, the more you need that calm, mister. So… how can a man practice meditation (and still feel manly)?
Good news: lots of different ways!
If a few thoughts keep nagging away at your larger thinking, you need to confront them in one of two ways: first, take all the life steps to just deal with them. Easy, right? Unless you’re concerned about career/money/marriage/or any other BIG issue; chances are you’re not going to get that satisfaction anytime soon. So instead practice 20 – 3o minutes of daily mindfulness and spend time with those thoughts out of your head. You’ll find that clearing them for a while helps reduce their overall potency, and makes you better able to act as the man you want to be.
To practice mindful meditation, rather than clearing your mind of all thoughts (which is far from easy and may take years of dedication), simply choose one basic thought on which to dwell. And not something like “How can I finish the Peterson Project before the fiscal year wraps up?” No, you need to think more about something like: “breathe in… exhale… breathe in… exhale.” Or maybe try picturing rain falling onto a stream, focusing on the sound your mind creates. Pick a word and repeat it slowly in your mind (“Ohm” is always a good choice). Just pick one simple thing on which to focus and let that focus fill your thinking. Each time other thoughts slip in, slowly ease them back out and return to the breathing/rain/ohm/etc.
(And no, that’s not a technical term… this is a primer, people!)
For starters, yes, yoga or tai chi are the best known ways to practice active meditation and that’s true because arguably… they are the best. But if for any reason you don’t want to take up one of these ancient and revered Eastern practices (not manly enough, ey?), then just get out there and get some exercise. But not by doing reps on the bench, and not by rock climbing. You need to pick an activity at which you are already competent and comfortable and which requires very little active attention (like for example making sure you don’t miss a handhold and plummet to your death). Choose an even-paced jog or hike, a walk or bike ride through a quiet area, or any repetitive activity which you can safely and easily enjoy for a chunk of time (rowing is a good one as another example, but it’s a bit less spur-of-the-moment for most of us). Focus on your body as you repeat the steps of the activity in a sort of “narration mantra.” For example: “My legs are strong and carry me forward” or “I am moving along the trail.” Ideally eventually even theses thoughts will fade, but it’s better to have a mantra than a cacophony of thoughts.
Perhaps the best part about this mentally active type of meditation is that it can be undertaken anywhere, even places with noise and distraction once you have practiced it. Just think of a setting (and this is different than “imagining,” for you don’t necessarily want or need anything to happen in this setting, you just want to see it and be in it) on which you can focus for a while. It could be your own home or it could be the switchbacks leading up to the Mount Whitney Trail Crest or it could be a place or landscape you let your mind create; the important thing is that you visualize yourself fully there, and fully away from your actual present surroundings. Then move through the space, whether down a road, toward an object, or aimlessly through rooms or among the trees. Try not to think of anything but what your mind’s eye is seeing, and keep up this imagined wandering for at least 15 or 20 minutes. (Chances are, you’ll end up spotting something you didn’t even know you were looking for.)
Yes, There’s an App for That
If your foray into self-guided meditation is proving to be a failed expedition, or if you simply want to leave it to the experts right from the get-go, try the Headspace app. It’s free to try, cheap to stick with, and the more than three million people who have used it can’t be wrong, right? (Wrong, they can be wrong, but in this case they’re right.) The app offers a basic, step-by-step approach to learning the basics of meditation and then helps you to deepen your practice over time. And all you need is your smartphone (or tablet), a pair of headphones, and as little as ten minutes of free time.
Talk to a Yogi
Talk to a yogi. Go to a temple. Meet a certified meditation teacher. Any method you use to approach meditation that helps you learn the art is a fine choice. And as mediation helps you be your best you, it’s a fine choice for any man.