Many of the most inspired and successful people in history have praised meditation as a keystone in their journey, that without they would not have been so fortunate. And indeed, many that practice meditation today claim levels of peace and happiness not achievable by any other means.

I begin to feel guilty at this thought, and wonder whether I may be missing out on something potentially life changing. Sadly, all my attempts at meditation have ended in failure.

My frustrations with the topic have made me approach it cautiously, and as much as I may sometimes wish to dismiss meditation as an optional and esoteric ritual, I cannot seem to flee from it. Something always comes back and whispers to me “if it works for them, why wouldn’t it work for you?” And so I begin my semi-annual “I should start meditating!” phase:

  1. Become inspired to meditate.

  2. Look up books and articles on how to meditate.

  3. Become skeptical of the advice given by said books, but think “if it works for them, why wouldn’t it work for me?”

  4. Doesn’t work for me.

  5. Cry at my failure.

This phase has come and gone often in my life, but is not something I get any better at with every attempt. Somehow, I always end up at step five.

Every resource I’ve read on the matter tends to recommend some greatly original tip that I awkwardly try to incorporate in my ritual, thus making my experience even more difficult.

If you Google meditation, some of the first few tips you’ll find are:

“Stretch first”

“Feel your body parts”

“Pick a specific room in your home to meditate.“

“Read a book (or two) on meditation.”

“Listen to instructional tapes and CDs.”

“Generate moments of awareness during the day”

“Use a candle.”

“Meditate early in the morning.”

Sure enough, these are standard and commonplace techniques in the meditation world.

It always confused me why such a deliberate and exacting ritual would be the secret to happiness and inspiration, as if the universe had inserted some kind of cheat code in life — that if you were to press these certain buttons and do these specific steps in this specific order, you will magically unlock great bounties and treasures.

If it is in your nature to be overly analytical and always thinking, then why go against that, and defy your individuality for the sake of resembling that of someone else’s? And what about those who will have never heard of this ritual? Will they be doomed to live a life devoid of the exclusive happiness that meditation is said to bring?

No, there must be a way for them.

There must be a way for everyone.

As for me, attempting to free my mind of thought is torturous and maddening. It’s just not natural for me to be thoughtless. And why would it be? Hundreds of thousands of years of evolution have made sure our minds are never free nor empty, and now, in this perplexing twist, to achieve happiness you must do the exact opposite of what is in your nature to do? You have to not think? Who would have thought.

But perhaps we over complicate meditation.

A few days ago, I came home from work exhausted and frenzied. My mind was cloudy, full of stale and left-over energy, but I insisted that I get back to work on my neglected passion project. No sooner did I sit down at my desk than I collapsed entirely. I can’t do this, I thought, I need a minute. I am exhausted.

I crossed my arms languidly on my desk and let my head fall on top of them. I was so depleted that I could not even garner the energy to think.

Half an hour had passed, and I was still in the same position, motionless and for the most part free of forced thought.

After I felt like I had been sitting long enough, I opened my eyes and stood up.

Woah.

I took a deep breath, and exhaled all the murky vapor that had been steaming in my mind and body throughout the day.

I felt great.

My mind was clear. I was calm and refreshed. My energy felt clean and organic. I was ready for anything.

Without even realizing it, I had just meditated.

I didn’t need a candle. I didn’t need to stretch. I didn’t need to imagine green light coming out of my nose. I didn’t need to focus on my breath.

I just took the time to consciously slow down. I did what came natural to me. And I never felt better.

So why does “meditation” work, and why does freeing up your thoughts have a positive side effect on your well being?

Our mind is very similar to a computer. When too many programs (or thoughts) are open on a computer, it becomes laggy and unstable. To get things back under control, we need to close down some programs and free up some resources. Mentally, we need to unload all the stale thoughts and programs that have been lurking in our minds from the beginning of the day or the day before and shut down programs that may be running in the background and needlessly consuming resources.

This process of managing mental resources is what we call meditation, and there are a million and one ways to achieve this same result.

Some people take a walk.

Some people go out for a jog.

Some people walk their dog.

And some people just so happen to sit in a dark room with their legs crossed on a medicine ball while a candle burns with inspirational music playing in the background, all while consciously trying to free their mind and focus on their breath. Exhale.

What comes naturally to one may not come naturally to another.

Stop overcomplicating it. Don’t torture yourself to do something that doesn’t feel right to you.

Sit, stand, or lay however you want, at whatever time of day you want, wherever you are, and just take the time to slow down.

Congratulations, you’ve just meditated.