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Meditation & The Power of Not Thinking

Author: Morgan Ellis, ISRA athlete

If you asked me my thoughts on meditation a year ago, I would have said it’s for spiritually enlightened monks and hardcore yogis. I had never thought twice about the concept until I began to hear how it can help athletes achieve peak performance. Going into the gap year that I’m taking to improve my skiing, I figured that I may as well give it a try, reminding myself that I should take advantage of any opportunity to help me achieve my season goals. Little did I know when I started the Basics 1 course on the Headspace app that meditation would grow to be something that I cannot imagine life without.

At this point, I have meditated for 90 days and a total of 17 hours, and still, by no means have a clue what I’m doing. However, by taking just 10 minutes a day to sit down and try my best to be 100% present, I have begun to see drastic positive changes in several areas of my life. This includes my ability to focus while skiing and performing other tasks, my appreciation for the little things in life, and my overall happiness. I am far from being a pro at meditating but by sharing my experience I hope to inspire others to seek the potential benefits that meditation could bring to their lives.

Here's my story on meditation:

After witnessing my mental struggle with the challenges in the sport of ski racing, my mom begged me for months on end to meditate. The idea sounded so ridiculous to me and I told myself that I wasn’t the kind of person that would benefit from it, so instead, I continued to suffer daily.

In the past, AKA premeditation, ski racing has been both a blessing and a burden to me. There’s no doubt that the sport has supplied me with some of my best memories, but it’s also brought its fair share of extreme disappointment. Each season, I worked relentlessly to reach my goals and was soul crushed when I didn’t achieve them. Training always seemed to go well, but I rarely put it all together on race day when things mattered most. Instead of being completely present and focusing on skiing to the best of my ability, I spent race days thinking about the result by projecting my mind into the future. I set a goal, hyped myself up, and overly exhausted my mind while trying to stay positive. All of this useless energy took me further away from the present moment.

A spiritual teacher by the name of Eckhart Tolle said it best: “Compulsive thinking gives you a false sense of pleasure that invariably turns into pain.” Now, I understand that the compulsive thinking I was engaging in – hyping myself up and being overly positive while ignoring negative thoughts – was working against me.

Focus is Effortless Effort.

Focus comes when you can control your thinking. You can realize it’s there, then let it go.

Focus doesn’t know pressure, only the thinking mind does.

When you rid yourself of all the thoughts the mind creates, whether they be positive or negative, focus becomes second nature. Since I've started to train myself to be present and focused during training and competition, I feel mentally stronger than ever.

When you dis-identify from your mind, you find the ability to turn it “off.” Meditation allows you to become aware when the mind is acting as a tormentor. From there you can control your thoughts and refuse to listen to this voice. It’s crazy how many things you miss in life when your constant thoughts distract you from the present. Such thoughts may be projecting you into the future or roping you back into the past, either way, they keep you from being your most authentic self and living your life NOW. In being more present, I have noticed that I now have a greater appreciation for things such as the beauty of views and the people in my life, things I barely acknowledged before.

I used to constantly tell myself that “I would be happy when ____.” Whether the blank was me reaching a certain goal in my ski racing or simply a different life situation is irrelevant. My point is that I was hoping for a brighter future rather than simply accepting the present. I didn't believe my life in the present moment was awful—I was just seeking fulfillment that was right in front of me the whole time. I know for a fact that if I was to ever reach any of these potential futuristic situations, I wouldn’t be “happy”; instead I would already be thinking about the future once again, trying to satisfy my cravings by projecting a whole new set of goals.

Goals are great, but achieving them isn’t what is important. Instead, it's about enjoying the ride. Enjoy the numerous hours of work that you put in—don’t dread them. If fully embracing your work seems impossible, then ask yourself WHY you set this goal in the first place. Is it to achieve happiness or fulfillment in the future? Or is it because you are truly passionate about what you do and know deep down that as long as you try your best, it doesn’t matter whether you succeed or fail because you are ALREADY complete. If your scenario fits the first one that I described, I hope you now understand that this won’t get you very far in life.

Since I started meditating, my goals have remained the same. What has changed drastically is HOW I am reaching these goals. I am focused on everything that can be done in the present moment and not wasting any time or energy thinking about the future or dwelling on the past. Even if I fail to succeed, I will look back on my journey and know that I gave it 100% of my efforts and had a great time while doing so.

Meditating is much simpler than it may seem. The moment you realize you are not present, you are present. The present moment is all you’ll ever have, so accept it for what it is and make the most of it by being your best self.

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