Whenever someone tries to convince you that eating breakfast prevents weight gain or that cold weather makes you sick , just send them one of Tyler Vigen’s charts. He graphs strange similarities between seemingly irrelevant statistics, demonstrating that you can find apparent links between all kinds of unrelated events.
Per capita cheese consumption appears to mirror the number accidental deaths due to being tangled in bedsheets. The number of pool drownings rises and falls with the number of films Nicholas Cage has appeared in that year. Tyler has written a book on this phenomenon, called Spurious Correlations.
Still, we can’t help but notice patterns in life, and they aren’t necessarily coincidence. I don’t have any data to back this up, but I’m convinced meditation makes your phone battery last longer.
I’ve tracked this relationship informally over a few years, and I believe there’s a causal effect. Whenever I get away from meditation practice, my phone needs charging earlier in the day. During the summer, I got inconsistent with my practice, and my phone’s battery died really fast. Now that I’m back to two brief sessions a day, I don’t have to charge it until bedtime.
The explanation is pretty simple, but it hints at something more profound going on. A simple usage-tracking app would surely confirm that the more consistently I meditate, the less time I spend dicking with my phone throughout the day.
There are other behavior changes I’m sure are related. I’m eating less junk food, I make fewer dumb purchases, I get out of bed with less fuss, I’m more attracted to work.
Basically, I’ve been much less impulsive. And that’s because regular meditation makes me more mindful throughout the day. Whenever you’re being mindful, the present moment doesn’t seem to need improvement.
This means there are fewer moments that I feel could be improved by pulling out my phone and checking my Twitter. So my phone stays in my pocket, I stay in the moment, and my battery stays green.
When ordinary moments are good enough
When I’m meditating consistently, I simply have fewer impulses to entertain and comfort myself, because ordinary moments feel more than good enough, most of the time. The smart phone is good barometer of this impulse, because it’s used as an instrument of escape much of the time—escape from boredom, escape from making the next decision, escape from troublesome thoughts. It’s a kind of “sure thing”, even though it’s never that great.
Checking a weather app before you go outside is one thing, but checking Instagram for the sixth time in a day is obviously a kind of thoughtless pleasure-hunting that we wouldn’t bother with if we were finding contentment in ordinary moments.
As my practice became consistent again, I noticed signs that a particular kind of confidence had returned. Social anxiety has gone dormant. I look forward to errands. I interrupt myself less while I’m working. I spend little time ruminating and a lot more time moving, doing, finishing things. I find myself enjoying strange details: the hem of my shirtsleeve, the blackness of a tree’s shadow, the orderliness of city blocks, the hum of my fridge.
General insecurity—about the future, about my capabilities, about particular dilemmas in my life—has waned, even though I have more work to do, under greater time constraints, than I did in the Summer. It’s as if a layer of “okayness”, which seems indifferent to day-to-day circumstances, has been laid down on top of my daily routines.
This is a familiar feeling by now, this background sense of assuredness that comes with living mindfully, even though it always sneaks away quietly when I get away from my practice. I’ve known for a long time that life gets easier the more frequently I sit and meditate, but this time the principle behind it is very clear: mindfulness is the opposite of neediness.
The more consistent my practice, even when I’m only sitting a few minutes a day, the fewer of my moments seem to need something added to them, least of all the low-brow thrill one gets from flipping through social media updates on their phone.
Ordinary, unheralded moments—the walk across a parking lot being my favorite example—begin to carry a certain sense of satisfaction that doesn’t depend on outcomes or results. They feel strangely fulfilling in themselves. And because life contains a nearly unlimited supply of these kinds of moments, you can’t help but feel rich.
Mindfulness is a basic respect for the present moment
For those who don’t know quite what meditation is, essentially you are taking a bit of time to sit down and notice what it is like, in detail, to be a human being sitting there. This is more interesting than it sounds, because there’s a lot going on when you pay attention.
Firstly there’s a whole variety of bodily feelings: breathing, pressure, color patterns behind the eyes, tiny aches and twinges, unidentifiable pulsing and tingling, air touching the skin, tongue touching the teeth, joints and muscles all reporting back to you. There are sounds and vibrations in the room around you. On top of these concrete details is an ever-drifting skyscape of thoughts and feelings, desires and urges.
The basic idea is to gently observe some part of this sea of experience, usually the breath at first, and whenever you notice the mind has wandered, you return it back to the present. The most important part is of this attention-paying is to do it mindfully—that is, to simply notice what it is currently like, suspending any intention to change it. What the experience is is more important than what it should be or what you want it to be.
This “observing something without trying to immediately change it” is a new experience for many people, and it’s what’s responsible for that emerging feeling of okayness and confidence. You learn what it’s like to allow a moment to unfold without fearing or hoping it will go a particular way.
This fearing and hoping we attach to many experiences is a kind of visceral neediness—a demand for the present moment to be easier, safer, or more comforting than it actually is. Developing mindfulness means practicing a kind of unconditional courage. You are always willing to experience reality exactly as it is when it arrives.
This is not something we do automatically. We’re highly reactive creatures, still calibrated for the savannah. We can experience a fight-or-flight adrenaline reaction over a dot of mustard on a shirt cuff. Non-reactivity and non-neediness have to be practiced, and there’s no safer and easier a time to do that than when you’re sitting on a cushion in your home for a few minutes.
Think of it as developing a certain respect for the character of the present moment just as it is, the same way we learn to respect a person despite their faults and imperfections. Essentially, your whole life is a progression of such meetings: a moment will present itself, warts and all, and you can either respect and welcome it as the imperfect thing it is, or you can insist that it needs to be better, prettier, more sympathetic to you. And of course, at that moment, it can’t be.
The side-effects of this kind of basic respect appear in unexpected places, and depend on your own personal quirks and hangups. Work ethic improves because you’re willing to work through tough spots and ugly dilemmas. Social interactions improve because you’re willing to accept that you may be judged or misunderstood.
And your phone battery lasts longer, because not many moments make you want to turn away from them and look at a tiny screen instead.
Photos by Joe del Tufo
Introducing Camp Calm
Next month I’m launching a virtual workshop for those who are interested in developing some basic mindfulness skills and want some day-by-day instruction.
You will be able to enroll in mid-December but the course itself will start in the first week of January, because a lot of people are super busy in December.
I hope you join us. No experience necessary! More info here.