The Simple Guide to Meditation


You may be thinking that meditation is too esoteric or requires special training. Those assumptions about meditation are not true. Anyone can learn to meditate. Meditation is remarkably simple in principle. A “guru” does not need to teach you how to do it. You do not need a specially chosen mantra. This article strives to distill meditation to its simplest form. By breaking meditation down in plain English, you will be able to begin a meditation practice.

One of the challenges of meditation is knowing if you are doing it right. Another challenge is trying to describe the process of meditation. There really is a lack of adequate words to describe how to direct your consciousness a certain way, and how to recognize when you achieve a meditative state. And to be honest, no instructor can tell you if you are doing it right because the instructor cannot be in your head.

With practice, you will be able to recognize if you had a good meditation session. So really you learn to meditate by practicing, and you must teach yourself how to improve. In time, you will be able to distinguish nuances in your sessions. It is sort of like learning to tune a musical instrument by ear. At first, you cannot hear the subtle beats caused by two pitches being slightly out of tune. But with practice, you learn to home in on the sound.


Meditation requires a quiet environment. Distracting sounds, especially people talking, can pretty much ruin a meditation session. Even if you can find a private room to meditate, sound can leak through thin doors. That is why I recommend using earbuds and playing some sort of masking sound. A masking sound can be like the sound of the ocean. A good masking sound does not have distinctive audio events. It should be rather monotonous. Nature soundscapes can work well as a masking sound. In-ear earbuds already serve as ear plugs, and when combined with a masking sound, most exterior sounds will be blocked. This will allow you to create a space for meditation without it being a quiet space.

Meditation also requires a gentle signal to tell you when to stop. When you are deep in meditation, perception of time can change a little. If you are thinking about how long you should meditate and when you should be stopping, that thinking can diminish your ability to meditate. A timer with a gentle alarm tone will help solve this problem. You will be able to stop thinking about the duration of your meditation.

A smartphone can provide both noise masking and serve as a timer signal. That is what I do, and I find I can meditate just about anywhere. A timer app can be used to alert you when your session is over. Try to pick a gentle alarm sound. An abrupt alarm sound can shock you out of meditation. That could generate some anxiety about anticipating when the alarm will go off, which again, will prevent you from getting deep into meditation.

You also need to be comfortable while meditating. You need to be comfortable, but not so comfortable that you could fall asleep. I do not recommend laying down. When lying down, there is a good chance you will fall asleep. We have all seen people meditating in the crossed leg lotus position. When first starting out, I do not recommend this position for the simple reason it is uncomfortable. The discomfort will be a distraction. Just sitting in a chair with straight posture and your hands on your thighs will do.

How to Meditate

Close your eyes and take three deep breaths. With each exhale, find excess tension in your muscles and direct focus to relax those muscles.

Continue to breathe deeply and slowly. The depths of your inhales should stabilize to about 75% of your initial deep breaths. Your breathing should be deeper than normal breathing, but not excessively deep. Your breathing rate should also stabilize to be slower than normal breathing. Deep breathing will naturally slow your breathing rate.

Once you are breathing deeply and slowly, direct your mental focus on maintaining the rhythm of your deep breathing. Focus on every aspect of your breathing. Focus on maintaining the same depth of inhale. Focus on the feeling of release and relaxation from the exhale.

As you focus on your breathing, your mind will wander to other thoughts. Once a wandering thought enters your mind, do not let the thought chain into other related thoughts. Instead, just let the thought go without any extra processing or judgement. Return your mind to focus on your breath.

Thoughts will continue to enter your head. This is normal. Each time a thought enters, gently return your mind back to your breath. Continue this until your timer goes out.

Initially, I would start out with a five-minute session. Eventually work up to 15-minute sessions. You should try to meditate once a day. Experiment with a time of day that works. Once you find a good time, stick with that time. You should not try to meditate within 30 minutes after eating. The early process of digestion impacts meditation.

That is all there is to meditating!

Are you Doing it Right?

So, when you focus on something very monotonous like your breathing, your mind enters a different state. It is not asleep, but it also is not the same as normal consciousness. It is like you put your mind into a low power state. When your surface thoughts calm down and quiet, you can start to sense the low-level background noise of your brain. When I start to drift into a meditative state, sometimes random, distant memories can surface. That is when I know my higher-level concision is letting go. You start to become aware of lower level activities that normally are masked by your higher-level consciousness.

You can focus on anything that is monotonous. It does not have to be your breath, though the breath is the easiest, and I think most effective. You can focus on monotonous sounds, or sensations in your body, or a phrase you repeat in your head. I have tried all of that and keep returning to focusing on my breath.

As I mentioned earlier in this article, there really are no words to describe what a proper meditative state feels like. All I can say is you have to keep practicing. You will develop the skill of knowing the difference.

The Benefits of Meditating

When just starting out meditating, you must take it on faith that you will get better at it, and that there will be some benefit. It will take a few months of practice before you start sensing any benefit. And even if you are a seasoned veteran of meditating, the benefits are subtle. The benefits can turn on so gradually as your practice improves, that you may not notice anything happening. After meditating for six months, stop for a week, and then start back up. When you start back up, you will be able to perceive the benefits.

Meditation will help you feel more relaxed and less stressed, give you better attention and focus, and will help you sleep. Meditation will also help you with self-control to change your behavior. I consider those pretty serious benefits.

I wish you the best of luck on your meditation practice. I do believe if you stick with it, meditation will grow to be an important, valued tool in your life.

Copyright © 2020 by Jeffery Lewis. All rights reserved.
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Why the Documentary “Behind the Curve” is Worth Viewing

Behind the Curve is a 2018 documentary directed by Daniel J. Clark and produced by Delta-V Productions. Behind the Curve has an important message that applies to everyone.

I started watching Behind the Curve on Netflix not really knowing what it was about. Initially, it appeared to be about this movement of people that believe the earth is flat. They call themselves Flat Earthers and they claim to be over a million people strong. I thought “seriously?” and was about to shut it off. But somehow the documentary kept my attention and I never managed to shut it off. In fact, I’m glad I watched it up to the very last second. Not until the very last second did I realize Behind the Curve is brilliant. The ending is awesome.

Behind the Curve is more an introspection of why people commit to belief systems. The Flat Earth movement is just the topic of focus to take an intimate tour of its people and how they came to adopt such a belief. Delta-V Productions should be commended for taking a companionate look at the Flat Earthers. Flat Earthers are an easy target to unleash superior minded criticism. Behind the Curve though lets their voice be heard so the human fallacy of believing something despite evidence to the contrary can be understood.

There are comments from psychologists that talk about how we start to invest part of our identity into the beliefs we hold. The documentary shows how Flat Earthers get a sense of community from going to the conferences, and how their spoke person Mark Sargent feels an obligation to the movement. Behind the Curve is important because everyone can become a Flat Earther so to speak, but just with different beliefs. No one is fully immune. Hopefully Behind the Curve will help you have more empathy when faced with people that see things differently.

Behind the Curve doesn’t really offer tangible solutions to growing belief fractionation spread by the internet, but it is a good start. Behind the Curve is a good representation of how to be compassionate about other people’s beliefs. The documentary takes the time to really listen to these people. I think the best way to bridge fractionation of beliefs is for individuals to practice compassionate listening. This lets the believer feel accepted by the listener. The believer may then see the side of the listener. The listener will also come to understand the believer.

So, check out Behind the Curve, don’t laugh at the Flat Earthers, and watch it to the last second before the credits appear.

Copyright © 2019 by Jeffery Lewis. All rights reserved.
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Why the Oxford Study on Teen Screen Use and Well-Being Should be Discarded

Recently the media is buzzing about a new University of Oxford study that seems to indicate there is no significant association between teen digital technology use and well-being. The study by Amy Orben and Andrew K. Przybylski published in Nature Human Behavior, claims that teens using computers and smartphones are no worse regarding their well-being than teens eating potatoes. We can relax now about teens being on their phones all the time thanks to the findings of what some are calling the most rigorous study to date regarding this subject matter. The study says it has a sample size of over 355,000 teens and used progressive statistical techniques.

Well I seemed a little surprised by the study’s findings, so I decided to take a closer look. Here are the highlights of what I learned about this study.

  1. All data came from three existing datasets. They did not collect the data themselves.
  2. All three datasets collected data using self-reporting surveys. This included questions about technology use and how well they thought they were doing.
  3. The first dataset referred to as YRBS collected data starting from 2007, well before smartphone use became commonplace with teens.
  4. The YRBS dataset simply asked two questions about technology use: did they use electronics, and did they watch TV.
  5. The second dataset referred to as MTF collected data starting from 2008.
  6. The MTF dataset asked a few more questions about technology use. It asked about using social media, weekend TV viewing, and using the internet for news.
  7. The third dataset referred as the MCS study is regarded as the best quality data by the researchers. This dataset though has a sample size of less than 8,000.
  8. The MCS dataset surveyed teens from 13 to 15 years old born September 2000 to January 2001.
  9. The MCS study asked only five questions about technology use. These involved questions about watching TV, playing electronic games, using the internet at home, using social media, and whether they owned a computer. Four of the five questions did try to measure time usage by self-reporting time on a 9-point scale.
  10. There were also other questions for comparison ranging from sleep, eating breakfast, and eating potatoes.

The media is claiming this study to be exhaustive and rigorous. The study did use a slick way of processing data using a technique called Specification Curve Analysis (SCA). This form of analysis crunches the associations in as many pathways as possible and meaningful given computational limits. So that sounds great, but I consider the datasets to be very high level and low quality since the questions are general and only self-reporting surveys were used. In an era where computer use is somewhat ubiquitous, the general nature of the questions (e.g. do you own a computer) leads to noisy datasets. So, a lot of computer time was used for analysis, but as the saying goes, garbage in, garbage out. You cannot squeeze out nuanced truth from very high-level questions, no matter how much you crunch the data.

Aside from the low-quality datasets, this study has a fundamental flaw in its design. The surveys only measure technology use and well-being at a point in time for an individual. This method cannot understand the impact of technology use exposure over the duration of time. The real question to ask is how much technology use over how much time impacts the development and well-being of adolescents. Surveys at a single point in time cannot answer this question. The MCS dataset, which is considered the best dataset of the three, only looks at 13 to 15 years old in the UK. It would have been better to follow these children through middle school, high school, and college, continuing to monitor technology use in much more detail with real measurement on types of content, and then measure real mental health events (not self-assessment from survey).

If you look close at the results of the associations discovered, the nature of the noisy datasets starts to be revealed. As mentioned previously, other questions unrelated to technology use were asked for baseline comparisons. These other associations were compared to technology use. For example, from the MTF dataset, binge-drinking was found to be 8.1 times more a negative impact on well-being than technology use. Bullying is 4.92 times from the MCS dataset. Eating potatoes is 0.86 times which is close to 1 and thus the statement that technology use is as safe as eating potatoes. But looking close at the data, you see that being arrested is 0.96 times. So, you could say that technology use has the same impact on well-being as being arrested. Music has 32.68 times positive impact on well-being. Going to the movies has 11.51 times positive impact. Those numbers for music and movies seem completely off. That is what happens when you have noisy datasets. These association numbers can be all over the place. Getting enough sleep can have as much as a 44.23 times positive impact on well-being. Getting enough sleep was asked by all three datasets. What is interesting is that the associations vary from 1.65 times to 44.23 times for sleep across the three datasets. This again is noisy datasets rearing their ugly head. And if you are a parent of a teen, you know that technology use can impact sleep of adolescents. How then does sleep have such a huge positive impact, but technology use has virtually no impact? Bullying in today’s context is largely taking place on-line. How then does bullying have a 4.92 negative impact, but technology use has very little?

Unfortunately, we need to wait for better research to answer the question of technology use and well-being. In the meantime, if you are a parent of a teen, please use your common sense. Here are some points to consider.

  1. If your teen is playing video games excessively where it impacts his or her sleep, eating habits, socialization, and getting school work done, get professional help for your child. Video game addiction is now recognized by the World Health Organization as a real disorder.
  2. Talk to your child about on-line bullying. If you think your child is being bullied on-line, then you need to help your child deal with that.
  3. Make sure your child does not go to bed with his or her smartphone. Sleep is very important. Teens will communicate via social media all hours of the night if you let them.
  4. Consider using technology that blocks access to porn sites. Boys are viewing a lot of porn and we have no idea the impact this has on their view of women and expectations of normalcy in intimate relationships when they grow up to be men.
  5. Talk to your teen about distracted driving. Put some tangible rules in place about phone use and driving. And as a parental role model, put your phone away when you drive.
  6. Consider eating dinner together as a family and not allowing TV or phones during this time. Your kids will complain at first, but the whole family will come to value this most basic of human bonding experience.
Copyright © 2019 by Jeffery Lewis. All rights reserved.
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Benefits of Running You May Not Have Considered

Everyone knows they should exercise. There is so much scientific evidence to show that exercise is good for your health. Regular exercise can significantly reduce the chance of cardiovascular disease. I would like to talk about some benefits of running that I have personally observed and are not commonly known.

I have been running since 2006. I began running because I wanted to start some form of exercise. My motivation was primarily for health benefits. I picked running as my form of exercise for its simplistic elegance. All you need to run is a good pair of shoes, you can do it just about anywhere, and you don’t need an expensive gym membership to just run. Running appealed to me because the time to prepare is short. You can change into your running outfit and step outside to run very quickly. I know my nature. If there is a large preparation time to do something, like having to drive to the gym, the chances of me sustaining the habit is lower.

So with the reasoning that running would benefit my health and is so simple, I literally just started running around my neighborhood without any knowledge of what I was doing. Slowly, I started to pick up some knowledge about running. I got better shoes, and I learned about injury prevention. But to this day, I would not consider myself a serious, competitive runner. I run about 10 miles a week at a relaxed pace. I keep running because I love it. In fact, health is no longer the primary motivation. Health is like a bonus motivation now. What keeps me running are these other benefits I have observed.

I have observed that running will enhance my mood. I feel great when I run regularly. I feel best right after my run, and this feeling will last for hours, and even days after the run. When I get back from a run, my love for my family increases dramatically. This can sometimes be funny. I want to hug my family when I get back, but they refuse because I am all sweaty. When I run, I also seem to have more energy overall. I feel more enthusiastic about doing things.

This testimonial observation of enhanced mood is now backed by science. The American Psychiatric Association is now including exercise as a treatment recommendation for major depressive disorder. Studies have shown this connection between mood and exercise.

I have observed that running will enhance my mental performance. When I run regularly, I can think more clearly, and solve problems faster. This is a great benefit since my occupation is purely intellectual. I can perform better at my job. But improved mental function helps with my personal life as well. Running gives my brain a small turbo boost.

This testimonial observation of enhanced mental performance is also backed by science. This connection between improved mental performance and exercise began surfacing in the early 2000s. Now, there are tons of studies to prove the connection. But I don’t need studies to know this. If you are a reasonably self-aware person, you will notice improved mental performance after about two months of running.

I have observed that running will enhance my sex drive. When I run, sex is on my mind more. This is beneficial for my relationship with my wife. Having sex more often makes us feel closer.

Again, this testimonial observation of enhanced sex drive is backed by studies. But again, I don’t really care about the studies so much. I care more about what I observe personally. But you might care about the studies to know if my personal observation is likely to be something you will observe. Thanks to the internet, you can easily find studies that back the connection between exercise and sex drive. I personally don’t put too much weight in any one study since a lot of them are very selective about what they look at, and are constrained by small sample size due to budget limits. Try it. That is the best way to know for you personally.

One thing I have observed as NOT being a benefit of running is weight loss. Unfortunately, I think a lot of people will exercise for this very reason. I have not noticed a connection between my running and losing weight. Running seems to help me maintain my weight though. I am less likely to gain weight when running regularly. When it comes to exercise for weight loss, you need to do the math. It takes about 3,500 calories to burn a pound of fat. When you run a mile, you burn around 100 to 125 calories, depending on your weight. So if your goal is to lose one pound a week from running, you would have to run about 31 miles a week! If you ran a 10 minute mile pace, that would require over five hours of running a week. Unfortunately, since the human body is so efficient, running becomes too time consuming to be a practical means to weight loss. If you have hours to run a week, then your experience may be different from mine. But for me, my week of running can easily be offset calorie wise just by having a piece of cake.

So I hope the benefits of enhanced mood, mental performance, and sex drive will motivate you to get out there and run. Anyone can run, but it will not be fun at first. I started to notice these bonus benefits after about two months of running. Sometimes I can take a break from running. When I come back to it, I notice the return of these benefits. That helps reinforce for me how important it is to run. Sometimes when I feel like I have so much going on, I try to step back and think about what running is doing for me. That helps me prioritize and make the time to run.

I hope this has motivated you to start running. I would get advice on fitting shoes, replace your shoes every 500 miles, and don’t run on consecutive days (for injury prevention). Running is such a simple and natural form of exercise that it is mainly common sense. Good luck!

Copyright © 2013 by Jeffery Lewis. All rights reserved.

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