Reaching Zero

26th October 2019


There are times when I question my own existence, the reason for being alive. At other times, I am frustrated (or feeling useless) enough that, in-spite of having a ton of stuff to do, I am unable to lift a finger. Then there are times when simply lying on the bed feels like a chore. I wanted to rid myself of these nasty moods before they become a real problem. I had heard somewhere that “meditation” can help. I decided to give it a shot. This post outlines my journey following the various methods of meditations and how I arrived at one that serves me best.

Learnings

Initially, I had no idea where to start. Over the course of a couple of weeks, after reading several online texts and using 4-5 meditation apps on my phone, I had a rough outline of some basic meditation techniques with different areas of focus:

The one where you focus on your thoughts

The main output of this technique is to separate yourself from your mind. Yeah, quite a revolutionary way to see yourself, isn’t it?

What it means is that thoughts come and go. The major function of your mind is to think, and it does nothing but that when it has nothing else to do. YOU are not your thoughts. Watch as they come and go. Try to figure out where they spring from. Get to the root cause of the matter. This process usually gets you to your basic needs as an individual. Why you want or feel or think what you do. At the very least, forgiving yourself for thoughts is an impossibly liberating feeling.

The one where you focus on body parts

This technique tries to get you to completely relax. Stress builds up both in our mind and body. In case of the latter, it is manifested in forms of stiff postures or unwieldy positions. It is hard to explain unless you actually know it or do it.

Quite simply, just focus your attention on each body part like the top of your head, lips, shoulders, fingers, etc. I found quite a difference in knowing and seeing. At the very least, when I focus on my shoulders, I feel the stiffness still in them and immediately loosen them. On some rare occasion, I am so relaxed that I feel the weight of my body; which I hope isn’t because of the excess fat I am gathering daily, but that is a matter for another time.

The one where you focus on your breath

Do I even need to explain how to do this?

I believe the aim of this method is to getting your mind under control. Our consciousness and beliefs have a tremendous influence on our body (yes, physically; not to mention the decisions we make and actions we take). For me though, the goal was to get rid of the turbulent winds in my heart. This technique seemed like the trump card I needed.

The one where you focus on your imagination

A bit exacting for those without an active imagination, I first saw this technique from the app that tried to make me get rid of (to quote the woman’s voice guiding me “let go of”) the negative vibes in my body. First, she made me imagine all the dark clouds of stress and anger swirling inside me; then as I did a long inhale and held the air within, I imagined all the dark cloud loosening their hold on my bones and tendons; finally, as I exhaled, I emitted the stuff outside.

I must clarify though, that I live an unusually stress-free life. Besides the thoughts I mentioned before, minor worries of finance & future, and mood swings contingent of the human condition and external factors, I am relatively happy most of the time. Which is to say I cannot attest to how effective this method was when I tried it.

One thing I did notice over the several tries I did, is that trying to imagine stuff in detail requires the whole of your attention with pin-point focus for an extended period of time. Imagine trying to think up a different architecture (or process) for your last project. Takes a while, eh?

Application

Most of the articles and apps recommended combining different methods one after another in a single session. For example, there was one 20-minute session where I started off with focusing on my body parts, then focusing on internal and external sounds (going from my heartbeat to the sound of vehicles outside; wait, should I have made a separate technique for this?), eventually focusing on my breaths (and ignoring various thoughts), finally ending up with ejecting stress from my body.

Oh, I should also mention, that my image of “meditation” was a (sadhu-type) guy sitting cross-legged under a large tree. I had unconsciously attached “sitting” with “meditation”. I wasn’t able to do that for a long (perhaps due to my inherent laziness - which I am also working out through meditation :p). You can meditate in any position you feel comfortable in. I meditate before going to sleep. This serves the dual purpose of allowing me to meditate at my most comfortable, and also not needing to worry about falling asleep.

While I dutifully tried to go through each method, sometimes with the help of an app or sometimes of my own will, I felt something lacking. I wasn’t feeling pumped to actually do it. Sure, there were benefits, but the activity wasn’t rewarding in itself.

Break-through

After several trials and errors, I stumbled upon a wonderful technique. I do not know where I got this idea from (I am almost inclined to call this my own invention; however, if you find a source of this, please let me know). Here is what I do -

  1. Get comfortable (as I mentioned, I meditate just before sleeping)
  2. Start counting backwords with each breath

That is all. Well, sort of.

For the first time I did this, I started off from 100. I easily reached till 0. I was not satisfied at all. Next day I went for - wait for it… 500; thinking it was near impossible to coherently count 500 numbers backwords without missing a single one in my sleepy state. However, I underestimated my excitement and eventually reached zero. (I may have missed some, but reaching zero dwarfed me not counting a few digits)

Was it easy? Hell no. Was it worth it? Hell yes! The pride you feel after completing a difficult task that even you doubt ever accomplishing yourself is without compare.

Did I follow through? Well, no. I couldn’t stay as excited every night. In the following week that I tried reaching zero, I may have managed it again for one more time. I usually ended up falling asleep at 200s or 300s. The following week, I reach on average at 100s. There was a time when I reached the 50s and was bitter the next day for not completing it - making a promise to myself that I would do better today. After 3 weeks, for some insignificant reason that I do not remember, I stopped. That was over a month ago. I started again last week. This time I’m going for 1000. I have already reached zero once on 10 days but I average around 400 to 600s (not counting that one).

Did it help? ABSOLUTELY. The random downer thoughts still come, but get this - I almost immediately let them out. That is a big win in my book. Another thing I noticed is that I, more often that not, follow thorough with the decisions and tasks I set for myself (although I’m a long way off from proper discipline). There might be some other effects as well, who knows? I’m happy with these enough that I’ll continue with the practice.

Need more elaborations on what exactly I do? Sure, here is the break-down of what I currently follow for 1000 numbers.

  1. For the first hundred (1000 to 900) -> I try to get completely relaxed (using body scans)
  2. For the next hundred (899 -> 800) -> I get to monitor my thoughts (trying to reduce the number of missed counts)
  3. For the rest -> I imagine each number (for every hundred set) in some way (like 567 made of smoke) in my minds eye.

Of course, I always ensure that I do not miss the count. But I do. I have missed 10s several times. Sometimes I unknowingly jump backward and forward by 50s and 80s. It will happen to you too - It is okay. Part of the process. Take it in your stride.

Also, one great side effect is that I can actually feel myself falling asleep. Well, again, it is hard to explain; I’ll try nonetheless. You see, normally before falling asleep, your mind goes through tons of visuals. Past events, future possibilities, what ifs, so on. But you can identify each visual, more or less, by certain event(s). However, as you fall asleep, these visuals become more random, more abstract. Something like a dream. While I am meditating, I keep these random visuals to a minimum, but pretty soon as I near zero, I start getting these random visuals that I cannot identify. This is a thin window of time when your consciousness is merging with the sleeplike state. While this does not actually provide day-to-day help in any way, I still find it exhilarating to experience.

Finally, I must add that I am no expert in meditation. A month of experiments under my belt is no claim to glory. I write this post not to educate you, but trying to share my experience, hoping you’d go and have your own (and share it as well). Here’s to all of us Reaching Zero. Also, Happy Diwali!