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Big Ideas

Should I Meditate?

It's time to wake up to your life. A look at the subtle yet dynamic benefits of meditation on creativity and productivity.

I was peripherally interested in the idea of meditation for a long time before actually sitting down and trying it. The thing that finally pushed me over the edge to start practicing was meditation’s practical implications: its potential impact on creativity and productivity. A few years ago I read the book Train Your Mind Change Your Brain by Sharon Begley, which explores the link between neuroscience and meditation. I found the implications for creativity, focused attention, self-mastery and productivity to be fascinating. It turns out that the brain, once thought to be fixed in its stubborn ways, is quite malleable. In fact, your brain is ready for a lot more than you give it credit for. (Just ask any monk.)So in 2010, after my 3rd child was born and I was feeling the need for some real cosmic balance, I figured why not turn my casual curiosity about neuroplasticity into decisive action? I had heard that meditation would make me calm, focused, happier and healthier. So I sat down and started breathing.

What I found was not at all what I expected, yet exactly what I expected. I can say that, within reason, that I am more calm, focused, happier and healthier. (I think my wife would agree.) But with meditation those things are a byproduct, not a destination. Conversely the daily practice of meditation has proven itself at times to be guilt-ridden, frustrating and stressful – adjectives we don’t normally associate with the blissed-out pop culture picture of meditation.

It turns out that the brain, once thought to be fixed in its stubborn ways, is quite malleable.

The positives of meditation are subtle yet dynamic. Any kind of mindfulness training is really about life and death: It’s about waking up to your own life as it is, right now. Is there anything more urgent than that?

If you’re interested in meditation there’s only one thing to do: Sit down and start breathing. But if you need a little more push, here are some tips on starting a meditation practice:

1. Get someone to show you the ropes. Go to a class. (I walked in off the street to a zen center in my town.) There is a proper way to sit and breathe, and a technique for focusing the wandering mind. It helps to learn it from someone who has been doing this for a long time, preferably within a lineage that is a few thousand years old.

2. Establish a routine. Many people meditate in the morning when they wake up, or at night before bed. The big thing is making it a regular part of your day. You can start by sitting for just a few minutes. In the beginning, it’s feels very difficult to be still.  Work your way up 20-30 minutes, or more. But remember, meditation is all about consistency; it’s much better to do 5 minutes each day than an hour once a week.

3. Don’t expect anything to happen. While it is certainly possible that you will find yourself feeling or acting differently after meditating, usually it’s just… nothing. In the beginning this can be disappointing, especially if you’re expecting lightning bolts. With proper practice and consistency those subtle changes will come, and they will likely exceed your greatest expectations.

4. Can’t stop thinking? It’s your heart’s job to beat and it’s your brain’s job to think. That’s what it’s there for. Don’t try to empty your mind of all thought. Instead, whenever your mind drifts, gently bring it back to your breath (or mantra or counting or whatever it is you’re focusing on.) The ability to redirect your thoughts and to not dwell on them is what meditation is all about it.

5. Find a community. As with any new habit, it’s helpful to find a group to keep you accountable and motivated, ask questions, provide perspective when you’re in a rut, and to share your successes. Ask around, or start with one of the many directories on the web.

Productivity is not the goal, nor is enlightenment. The goal is to sit down and breathe. That’s it.

What’s Your Take?Have you developed a meditation practice? Did it change your perspective?

Scott McDowell takes the risk out of hiring your management team. He’s also a DJ at WFMU. Follow Scott @mcd_owell.
Comments (30)
  • Cathy Presland

    I agree, just a couple of minutes a day can really clear your head for what’s ahead. best done mornign and evening but often i only manage mornings!

  • Elwin Fernandez

    I took up meditation about 2 months ago,and, I’ve had moments of extreme frustration when it comes to sitting down even for a few minutes! I suppose the entire point is self mastery and pushing through your comfort zone.

  • Asami Koike

    Thanks for the article.  I have found that meditation eliminates blocks in my creativity by creating clarity and focus in the mind.  It helps me to sort through all the junk that’s clouding what I’m really trying to express and it gives me the strength to cultivate that message in a creative form (music).  I access meditation through a physical Hatha yoga practice and recommend that avenue for anyone that has a twitchy, noisy mind like me.

  • Srinivas Rao

    Very thought provoking read. As you probably gathered from my gravatar, I’m an avidf surfer. I’ve found that surfing is hands down the biggest thing that fuels my creativity. I always come out of the water with new ideas. In many ways it’s a form meditation because you’re forced to go into a state of complete presence when you ride waves. 

  • Scott McDowell


  • jeffshattuck

    Excellent post. I suffered a severe traumatic brain injury about six years ago and started meditating as part of my therapy. At the moment, I’m off the wagon as I adjust to working full-time again, but I plan to start up again. I used to meditate twice a day, 20 minutes each time, and while I do not believe I ever truly focused my mind, I am confident that the effort helped my mood, my creativity and my overall health.

  • Christine

    nice post.  meditation can take many forms.  i find it happens more easily for me during a workout.  i have an active mind monkey.  when i sit still and breathe the mind monkey throws a few jedi tricks at me and my moments of brilliant insight come in the form of a vision of ERMA BOMBECK’s name in animated 50 story high gold glittery all caps text.. still trying to figure out what the universe was trying to tell me with that one :O)

  • Devin

    I know you’re advocating real classes and instruction, but got any online tutorials/books that are good for people who’re interested in starting a little meditation?

  • raph

    great post! I experimented with zazen and vipasana meditations, but just sittong an breathing is too direct and hard for me. So after experimenting with a system called silva mind control, t
    That’s great, but was boring me, i found some of oshos active meditations great. They really quieted my mind and left me feeling fresh and alive.

  • Alice Allan

    I started with this audio course from Insight Meditation Centre – changed my life: http://www.insightmeditationce

  • Stuart Thomas

    There’s a great ‘Meditation Movement’ happening at Headspace – to read more about them click here:

  • Shawn Tuttle

    SoundsTrue offers a sampler of 21 exercises so you can try out different types.  

    Having had a somewhat regular sit-my-butt-down-in-the-corner practice for a few years, I’m of the impression that it should be taught in elementary schools. I can’t begin to imagine how different my life would have played out if I had this tool for the last 30 years. I’m much more grounded and generally cheerful for it.

  • Darya Zabelina

    Greetings. I have been a meditation practitioner, as well as a creativity researcher for many years, and truly appreciate this post. One of our research projects specifically addressed whether meditation benefits creativity (it does). You can find the article on my website at under Publications tab.

  • amorita

    Nice one, Scott, I’ve been curious about this topic for a while myself and have been experimenting here and there. There _is_ a good argument for doing it regularly, for sure (I just need to get disciplined about it!)… 

    Just one thing: I want to know more about your struggles/finding it stressful etc. Would you elaborate on them?

  • Scott McDowell

    With any routine you have to work at it and dedicate yourself to it, and the disappointment of letting days slide by makes me feel guilty and anxious, and then it’s even harder to get going. Starting over, rededicating yourself, again and again. Then, too, just getting going is what it’s all about!

  • Scott McDowell

    Susan Piver’s writing on meditation is practical and full of wisdom and honesty.

    Also, check out the meditation instructions from Zen Mountain Monastery:

  • amorita

    Yep, I’m with you; it’s all too familiar;) You’re right though—it’s all about getting going, then and again.

  • Yury Vershinin

    great post scott. got into meditation after reading about zen and Jobs. I am that guy that will do anything over the web if it gives me more time to sit on my butt. so I came across this web-site.

    basically you get daily recorded talks, and man it sounds like it’s never going to work, but somehow it does for me. also, I might have sounded like an advert there. but seriously, check it out… 

  • cristina

    Great post indeed. My thing is Sahaja Meditation, I met it almost 20 years ago and it still amazes me. It can be learned in a group (free classes) or online (for free as well). Did it change my perspective? Totally. But then again isn’t this a thing life itself does anyway .

  • Dmitri

    I am about to try. But it kind of turns me off that there is no goal. Presumably I am conditioned by Western society to be goal-oriented. I do wish people shared their way of dealing with this problem of lacking a goal, because it really kind of turns me off and I can’t quite get at it. Thanks for the article though! Dmitri

  • Sean Trani

    it’s ok to have a goal. you just need to be ok with not getting there, or letting go of the actual goal if it becomes your focus. i started to calm down my mind be less arrogant more peaceful person, that was my goal. it has helped me improve in those areas and more. very grateful and very grateful for audio dharma podcasts! 

  • Mike Hogan

    I agree with all you’ve written Scott, and I would add point 6: “Treat it as a long term project”, and doubly emphasise point 1.  I’ve been meditating seriously for 10 years.  I’m a programmer, and my clearest thoughts come during or after meditation.  For anybody who needs a little prod to get going, this video from my teacher will hopefully get you there: 

  • Philippe

    I do it several times a week. To me, it’s an essential. 

  • 'ö-Dzin Tridral

    This is a clear simple introduction to meditation. Thank you particularly for encouraging people to start with just a few minutes and practice regularly.

    There’s lots of good information available. Here are a couple from the tradition to which I belong. ‘Relaxing into Meditation’: , eMail meditation course:

  • Valerie Lang

    A couple corny metaphors:

    Watch the whole movie or skip to the end?
    Listen to the whole song or skip to the end? Read the whole book or read the last chapter?

    Ever hang out with friends just for company, or is there always a goal?

    Life is taking place now, in the current time, not at at the very end.

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