You want to know who was I before I started meditating six years ago? I was the jerk who leaned on his horn and flipped you off for the most minor of driving offenses. I was the dad at the pre-school gathering who didn’t talk to the other parents because I didn’t want them to know what a loser I was. I was the husband who yelled at his wife over stupid, trivial stuff. Bottom line: I was a depressed, miserable mess.
What saved me? Meditation. I know. I know. You probably think meditation is for granola eating, pot smoking, man bun-wearing hippies. Trust me, I am so NOT that guy. In fact, we’re probably not that different. I struggle with the same everyday challenges most of you do, like paying an ever-growing stack of bills every month and navigating three squabbling kids and a working wife who feels overwhelmed much of the time (bonus points for anybody who can guess where she dumps most of her stress. Hint: it’s a two-letter word that starts with m_).
So how did I get to be that bird-flipping, depressed guy in the first place? I grew up in Southern California, the youngest of six kids. My five siblings were all go-getter type A’s. Worse, my dad was a Type A+ CEO of a big company. Me? I was always a Type B. Growing up I was content with playing my sports, watching my TV shows and studying a moderate amount, at best.
The fact that I always felt I should be a Type A like the rest of my family served as the foundation for a decades long struggle with depression and anxiety and a general feeling in my gut that I never quite measured up. I look back now on my first two years in college and realize that I was more than a little psychologically messed up. The cause was a combination of my congenitally sensitive nature and being thousands of miles from home surrounded by a bunch of neurotic, over-achieving East Coast kids. The low point came when I had a nervous breakdown in December of my freshman year. In hindsight, I should have been hospitalized. The long-term gain would have more than made up for the shame I would have felt. As it was, I soldiered through those years, putting band-aids on wounds that needed psychic surgery.
My first stop after college was Washington, DC, where I worked on Capitol Hill for a couple congressmen. Then, after ten lucrative but soul-trying years as a lobbyist, I decided to chuck it all and move to Hollywood to pursue my dream of being a writer.
After writing a spec script and calling in some Washington chits, I got a job on the writing staff of The West Wing. Talk about beginner’s luck. I was writing for my favorite show and learning the craft from the Babe Ruth of Hollywood writers, Aaron Sorkin. From rubbing elbows with Martin Sheen to being onstage when we won the Emmy for Best Drama Series, I had to pinch myself several times that year to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.
And then, as happens with fairy tales, it all came to an end. The higher-ups decided not to pick up my option for another season. (That’s my weaselly way of saying that I got fired.)
From there, I traveled a slow, torturous path to the depths of Hollywood Hell. Off my West Wing job I got a few more gigs on progressively worse shows, ones you’ve never heard of because they got cancelled so fast. Over the next seven years, I worked on precisely two shows. Yes, I sold a couple pilot scripts during that time, but that didn’t make me remotely enough money to break even.
It’s hard to describe those years because they were shrouded in a thick, depressive fog. I was definitely not a lot of fun to be around. A friend of mine told me the other day that she dreaded calling me back then because she could literally feel my negative energy through the phone. Imagine living with me. Yikes. How my wife survived those dark years I’ll never know. All I can say is kudos to her.
So this is where things stood in late 2012: I was 48 years old, with a wife, two kids under the age of four and a writing career that was circling the toilet. And to top it off, thanks to the 2008 financial crisis my mortgage was underwater. If I had to sum up how I felt in one word it would be hopeless. Bottom line: I needed a break or I was going to break…
And the break came…in the form of meditation.
My sister, an avid meditator, had gotten me to try it a few times in the past but it never took. But my antidepressants weren’t doing the trick and neither was anything else so I figured I’d give it another go.
But this time around I knew I couldn’t just dabble. The stakes were too big. I had to go all in. And that meant devising a plan. A plan that got me to meditate regularly, but that was flexible enough to allow for the fact that I, like most people, am annoyingly, frustratingly human; i.e., easily distracted, undisciplined…You get the drift.
Because the hardest part of developing a meditation practice isn’t the actual meditating. It’s getting used to sitting your butt in the chair until it becomes a habit. Meditation itself is uber simple. All it is is sitting quietly and placing your attention on something happening in the present moment, like your breathing. Then when your mind grabs your attention and throws you into thought, you simply notice that that has happened and bring attention back to your breathing. Can that be difficult at times? Sure. For one reason: The human mind loves to wander. But like anything else, the more you meditate, the better you get at it.
Anyway, armed with my new plan I sat my butt in the chair on January 1, 2013, for day one of my meditation odyssey. This time it took. And I can honestly say that it wasn’t that hard.
Six years and change later I’m still going strong, meditating for fifteen minutes roughly six days a week. And what have I learned over those years? Simply this: There is nothing more beneficial for the mind, body and soul than regular meditation. Why? Because the bulk of most people’s problems stem from constant, injurious, obsessive thinking, a disease for which meditation happens to be the antidote.
As for meditation’s specific benefits, I’m sure many of you have heard of the scientific studies from the likes of Harvard and Stanford showing that meditation helps with depression, anxiety, weight loss, chronic pain, boosting the immune system, improving focus and others, so no need to do a deep dive on that.
Instead, I’m going to relate in a personal way how meditation has made me a better dad, husband, brother, friend, writer and overall human being. It really is that profound.
As I was wondering how to describe this, I got to thinking that, other than me, the biggest beneficiary of my meditation has been my wife. So I thought it would be cool to just ask her straight up what she thinks it’s done for me. I just got off the phone with her and here’s what she said: “You listen to me more. You’re more patient with me and the kids. And a huge thing was it got you focused on your internal world and not so consumed by external success, which is what made you so miserable. You’re just a happier person.”
There have been other benefits, too. First, you’ll be happy to know that I no longer lose it when someone cuts me off in traffic. I stay in the moment and listen to my beautiful eight-year old daughter when she reads to me instead of drifting off and fixating on some DVR’d show I can’t wait to watch. Rather than fuming as I wait forever in a long grocery store line, now I use that time to take some deep breaths and look out the window at the palm trees swaying in the wind. I’m calmer. Less anxious. I’m far more compassionate and less judgmental than I used to be.
In all candor, meditation hasn’t made me perfect. I still lose it from time to time. And when I do, my wife loves nothing more than torturing me with, “Well, I see that meditation thing is really working for ya, huh?” Which of course results in lava exploding out the top of my head and, on a good day, a hearty laugh had by all five minutes later.
The point of writing all this isn’t to give you my happiness rags to riches story. It’s to tell you that if I can do it, you can too. It’s not that hard.
There is one critical thing I need to tell you, though: The science has proven that to realize the transformative benefits of meditation, it needs to be done regularly. Stopping in at a meditation den every week or two isn’t going to cut it. Oh, no! Developing a regular practice is brutal, right? Wrong.
And that’s where I come in. Because remember that plan I devised for my supremely imperfect self? I want you to try it. It’s simple, doable and designed to help regular people, like me, develop a practice. It’s also free. The program is eight-weeks and starts off with meditating for two minutes a day then building gradually from there. Come on, you can do anything for two minutes! Access my plan by signing up below to receive my free articles (like this one). Then I’ll send you, for free, my plan. This is a no-brainer. Do it!
So if you want to worry less, do this. If you want to feel calmer and more peaceful inside, do this. If you want to be a better person, do this. You owe it to yourself. I did and it’s the best decision I’ve ever made.