Lessons from one month of meditation

Meditation is a lot like going to the toilet before there were mobile phones. Remember when all of your best ideas would come to you in the waste closet? In my recent, short-sample-sized, novice experience, meditation proves that when your brain cannot do multiple things at once, when it is given the space and permission to settle down, it is very powerful.

(I think the person who came up with the term “waste closet” needs some quiet time to think!)

This post will be a little different, I am one month into my meditation journey and I am going to structure things in a way that uses this article to help me unpack and decide whether I should pay for the Headspace app.

Meditation is a lot like going to the toilet before there were mobile phones.

After installing and setting up the app initially I was sent several emails advertising their 40% off sale, this brought the annual subscription price down to just US$58. Which using today’s exchange rate is equivalent to around eight thousand bloody Aussie dollars!

Headspace has been my choice of guided meditation app. It has been an eye-opening journey with my eyes closed. (Credit: Headspace website)

It is not a lot of money, I appreciate that. I just have this weird moral resistance to paying for apps. It is something I need to get over. I’m like that tradie who starts bragging about how he has never had to advertise to get work. He (or she) can’t very well start now! I have never bought an app or succumb to any in-app purchases, not even for Clash Royale.

Should I purchase the full version of Headspace?

To measure the potential value of the paid subscription I figured I should look back over my first month of using the free version. What did that look like?

Week One

I had no idea where things might lead. I experienced some new thoughts and feelings and started to journal them, which I think went against the grain of meditation’s purpose. But I was a rookie, that’s me and I did not know any better. I did feel different after five or ten minutes of quiet time to myself concentrating on my breathing, but I feel as though that would be the case regardless of using app, if I ever got around to allocating the time. I supposed that was the point, friendly reminders and motivations to be consistent with setting aside a small part of your everyday. It is the “gamification” of the process that provided the true value in the early stages. The cute pics, well polished video advice and the addiction-generating features like badges and streaks were not unlike Call of Duty even if the content was.

Headspace content: Basics sessions 1 to 5, female voice. Video tips Getting started and Changing perspective.

Focusing my brain, reigning it in or even setting it free is absolutely bizarre.

Week Two

My meditation time was getting kind of… cool. During week two I felt as though I was getting a little bit better at the techniques, which makes sense. As the app explains meditation is a skill like anything else, it takes practice. The brain is a muscle like any other, it needs building. By this point I found myself somewhat disappointed when the ten minute sessions came to an end. I wanted more, I was just getting going. It is not as though I was solving all of my personal problems or that I was suddenly a much better bloke, nevertheless I do believe the process allowed for an improved start to my work day.

Headspace content: Basics sessions 6 to 10, female voice. Video tips Remember the blue sky and Accepting the mind.

Balance, a key concept during my early days of a new meditation mindset. (Credit: Downunder Dad)

Week Three

With the full ten sessions of Basics completed I was keen to keep meditating regularly, for free if possible. So I switched it over from the female voice to the male and ran through the second half of the Basics course again. Incidentally the male voice, which is that of co-founder Andy Puddicombe, I would grow to prefer in my ears. Nothing against the female voice artist of course. In fact, here is an interesting one for you, if you know who she is please contact me to let me know. I could not find that information anywhere online, it was a little weird. Week three was also the time when I built up the courage to try meditating with my kids. One weekend afternoon I pitched the idea to my eight-year-old son who was completely disinterested until he realised it was an app. He had a half-assed try but could not sit still at all. I gave up on him shortly thereafter, he is obviously eternally doomed. My five-year-old daughter was more calm, less aware but better at sitting still. We shared a lovely moment, but it was short lived. I gained an added unforeseen lesson about meditation, just like going to the toilet, my meditation is still best left as a me-only thing.

Headspace content: Basics sessions 6 to 10, male voice. Video entitled Why we meditate.

My Headspace journey is well underway (Credit: Dad Downunder via Headspace iPhone app)

Week Four

I am enjoying my designated meditation time each morning and catch myself thinking about where it could lead. Is this the missing piece to some puzzle I didn’t even realise I was trying to solve? Nope, what a load of pretentious bullshit that would be! It is a new addition to my routine that is working wonders in conjunction with riding my bike along the beach to work and my new breakfast smoothie. Small, effective, logical improvements to the things I do to start most days, that is all. However, that could be huge given enough time. I have found that I look forward to meditating now that we are into week four and I think that speaks volumes.

Headspace content: Free sample sessions Feeling overwhelmed and Early mornings. Video tips Body scan and Focused attention.

“It’s not like I made these [2,500-year-old techniques] up. This was a really big part of my life for many, many years. My role is to just be a friendly guide along the way.”
Andy Puddicombe, Co-founder of Headspace

Considering the above, given the four weeks that I have had using Headspace, was there value? If I had already paid the AU$85 annual subscription how would I be feeling just 8% of the way through my yearly commitment?

I believe this dilemma is best addressed in two ways:

  1. The fact that in week four I was searching for more quality content. There is loads on the app, a plethora of enticing categories and titles to explore, but alas they all have a little padlock icon.
  2. The fact that this morning I was disappointed that I knew there was nothing new waiting for me inside Headspace. As I type, I have realised that it is this second fact which has helped me identify my desire to subscribe, all for less than ten dollars per month.

Having said that, as definitively as the above statement of action may have seemed, I will still be patient and intentional with my spending. Ironically I will draw upon the discipline that I have developed throughout my past month of meditation to wait until the app is on sale again! There is no hurry.

Many meditations have already asked me to imagine a beach setting, not a problem. (Credit: Downunder Dad)

When Headspace next contacts me via email with a juicy discount I will pounce, just like I did with this website and WordPress. It’s not being a tight-ass, it’s being a smart-ass.

What have I learned?

Meditation is an extremely foreign feeling for me. I am not at all accustomed to being still or doing nothing. It drives my wife bonkers when we go on holidays and it has made my Mum laugh going back longer than I can even remember. Focusing my brain, reigning it in or even setting it free is absolutely bizarre.

Nevertheless, I do believe I have managed to adopt some improvement in my basic level meditation capabilities. I have managed to progress? “Progress” might not be the correct choice of word, essentially I am less shit.

The breathing is lovely, it is effective and Headspace does a great job of walking you through its power and purpose. Taking deep breaths in general is a precious life hack that is severely under-utilised in my daily existence. Give it a try right now, you will love it, just one, go on.

I have found value in the body scan technique, this conscious and progressive assessment of how different parts of me are feeling is fascinating at my age. You hear too many incessant bleats about “listening to your body” nowadays, but I am so old I can never hear what it is saying. During meditation I would find myself becoming aware of tweaks and niggles from the past that I did not even know had developed.

You hear too many incessant bleats about “listening to your body” nowadays, but I am so old I can never hear what it is saying.

There are other apps out there such as Calm and Insight Timer which are (now) also paid services with similar pricing structures as Headspace. Upon initial inspection they all seem a noticeable step down from what Andy and his team have created. I did try using the meditation offerings on Apple Music, YouTube and Spotify but was sorely underwhelmed. These generic tracks lack the structure and systematic guidance I was personally seeking. It is certainly a jungle out there.

The main lesson from my first few weeks of meditation via Headspace is that there is a whole lot more to learn. And I love it when that is the case. Navigating my way around the various locked categories and offerings just got me thirsty for more, like a pub with twelve beers on tap. I want to consume them all, and it will cost me.

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