The Skeptics Guide To Meditation. Pt. 1

j barbush
7 min readMay 16, 2024

I began guided meditation a few years ago. It was a way for me to settle the busy mind.

At first, I resisted. It was suggested by my wife and honestly, it was a chore. I’d often forget. I just could not settle the mind, and the thoughts seemed to pile up, and it got me even more frustrated. The suggestions from the meditation to “watch the thoughts come and go” were lost on me. At that point I realized, I was not ready.

I was a skeptic.

Sometime later, I thought I would try again. At first, it was a way for me to help myself. So I can deal with some of the issues of life, like politics, the world, losing my job, dog and both parents in a 3-year span. I remembered the promise of meditation, and knew it was a way to quiet the mind against all these things that were fighting for attention inside my head, yet were out of my control.

After a few months of daily meditation, I had a revelation. I may have started doing this to heal myself, but the benefits were beyond that. I was benefitting my wife, my family, my friends, the people who were driving on PCH next to me, and my co-workers.

It changed me. For the better.

Because what meditation teaches you is that everything begins with you. If you remember nothing from this article, remember that. Because In order to have a loving relationship, you need to learn to love yourself. In order to be kind and generous, you need to be kind and generous to yourself. In order to forgive and let go, you need to be able to do that with yourself.

See where this is going?

Be Kind To Yourself

Here’s a quick example. If a friend drops a plate of food in your house, you tell them, “Don’t worry about it. It’s cool. Let’s get you another plate.” We are kind to our friend, and really, a spilled plate is a small inconvenience with the quicker, picker-upper.

Now, let’s turn the tables, and this time, we spill the plate. Many tend to be a bit harder on our own self. We get angry, frustrated, and it takes a bit to let it go. Fuck, why do we always mess up, we think.

See the difference?

In relationships, that also applies. The things I disliked about myself, I disliked about others. The things I resisted in myself, I resisted in others. That became a revelation, and although I didn’t really understand that until I was in my early 50’s, I realized that some people never understand that at all. They go through life wound up, stressed, focusing on things that the narrative of life says are important, but really aren’t. They wait to pounce, get angry about how others are living their life who may have a different set of values. They focus on this because it is much easier to find faults in others, than to be at peace with their own self.

So, I dropped the bullshit storylines, forgave people, and learned to have a relationship with myself that I could be proud of. It wasn’t easy. It took time, patience and most of all acceptance. To date, I’ve meditated 12,000 minutes, and I am still a student.

Smaller, Slower, Stronger

Through meditation and the mindfulness it enables, I learned to make my world smaller and quieter. I control things that I can control, and accept those that are out of my hands. It takes work, but it does come with a sense of freedom.

Because, as much as people want to talk about freedom, it really doesn’t exist outside, until it exists inside. Until you drop the persona, tribe mentality and the ego, you cannot accomplish that. Acceptance begins with an open mind. If not, anger and outrage become center stage and impatience is a daily occurrence.

Real freedom transcends our self-imposed limitations. It’s about embracing every moment with fresh eyes, confronting challenges that test our core beliefs, and exploring the unfamiliar. To think beyond our upbringing, and not feel like each decision is a foregone conclusion based on where we worship, the color of our state, skin or our political affiliation.

Meditation Unlocks A Closed Mind

Freedom is the willingness to set aside past notions and view the world through a different lens, a wider aperture. One that embraces each moment as something new, not something preconceived.

Unlocking this form of liberation starts with open-mindedness. And that is something meditation can provide. It’s about acknowledging that we may not always be right, daring to see the world differently. By being brave enough to challenge our convictions, we open doors to empathy, understanding, and shared freedom.

Navigating this journey takes persistence — setting aside the vast collection of experiences that make up our character might feel challenging. It’s possible to believe we’ve reached a state of complete understanding, our minds steadfast in their convictions. Yet, keep in mind that we’re perpetually in flux. We aren’t static beings; instead, we’re dynamic and continuously evolving. New experiences and unexplored horizons are forever unfolding. Our growth lies in adapting alongside these changes rather than resenting the forward path of the world around us.

Start Where You Are

I never believed I would be writing these words. Yet, I know how much it has helped me, and wanted to help others. But all I can do is offer the match, and the promise of a fire. It is up to you to take the steps, blow on it, stoke it, keep the wood going and enjoy the warmth. Think about it. How often do you take the time to enjoy things? How often do you think about your mental health the way you probably do with your physical health? It’s important to drop the stigma and treat yourself as you would like others to treat you.

The way I look at it, meditation is the gym for your mind. It’s working out the biggest “muscle” in your body, and getting your mind in shape to take on whatever life throws at you.

Think Big. Start Small.

Wondering where to start? Try Headspace. They offer a 7-day free trial. But the full membership which is about $60/year is well worth it. Start with the beginner courses. They are only 11 minutes a day. Do them at night if that helps. Pledge some time for that, and when you are done, be done. Close your apps and enjoy the stillness of the mind that meditation provides. You will feel more at ease, and get better sleep.

Now, some of my favorite courses are kindness, dealing with anxiety, creativity, relationships, happiness. I have taken each course several times and get something new out of it each time. Andy and Dora are some of my favorite teachers, and each offers their own take on the material.

From there, you can go to silent or even Progressive Muscle Relaxation, where you tense and relax muscle groups if you like. But remember, meditation is not a competition. Go where you feel the best. Because wherever and however your journey takes you, it is ok. Meditation is the path to open the mind to happiness and a better understanding of yourself and others. It will make you more patient, more loving, more open and more kind, to yourself and others. Your relationships will improve and so will your understanding of the world.

So, as we begin to embrace the joys that meditation can bring, let’s pledge to remain teachable and embrace the power of an open mind, not just for ourselves, but for the collective freedom of all. Only then, can we all be truly free.

Truly experience joy.

If you’ve read this far, you have a good chance of continuing. And if you find it’s not for you the first time, stick with it. That resistance is all part of the process. Getting to know our mind after taking it for granted for our entire life can be a bit daunting and exhausting. But one day it will click.

In the simplest of forms meditation is just showing us how to be more aware and teachable. As we commit to understanding, it doesn’t feel like a chore, but a treat. One that you look forward to each and every day. It changes your perspective. It lightens your load. It helps you let go of the past and not trip about the future. It is a gift. And one that I hope you will accept.

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j barbush

Co-Founder Cast Iron LA agency. Webby Judge. Satirist. Contributor to FastToCreate, AdWeek, HuffPo, Digiday and others. I fight fire with humor. www.castiron.la