Even Bad Meditation is Good for You

An angry man yelling

If you care at all about self-care, you’ve probably been run over by the meditation bandwagon. Meditating will make you happy. Meditating will keep you calm. Meditating will put you in tune with your core self. Meditating will help you achieve inner peace. Or world peace. Or Reese’s Pieces. Or something like that. (Reese’s Pieces…. mmmmm… talk about self-care!) Everybody and their brother is telling you to meditate these days. If you’ve got a therapist, a counselor, a priest, a yogi, a guru, a lama, a mullah, a rabbi, or a witch, chances are, they’ve told you to meditate. And now, you’ve got Kriss Writes telling you to meditate, too.  

hundreds of monks in rows in front of a Buddhist temple
These guys? They think you should meditate. And there’s a lot of them, so you should listen.

I’m as woo as the next gal, but I don’t meditate anywhere near as often as I want to. But that’s about to change, all thanks to an experiment I participated in a couple days ago. 

I earn a bit of my income via click work. Answering surveys, training AIs by rephrasing the same question 11 different ways, recording myself repeating the same statements like I’m sad, happy, or in a hurry, that sort of thing. I primarily use Amazon Mechanical Turk, though I also work on Prolific, InboxDollars, UserTesting, User Interviews, and others. 

A few days ago, when I was going about my clickity clickity little day, I participated in this experiment. (Reese’s Pieces were not involved. I need to involve them more often. In the name of self-care, you understand.) Now, when it comes to guided meditation, I’m picky. I don’t want you telling me to find my happy place. I don’t like those singing bowls or weirdly hollow-sounding bells. I’m generally not big on being told what to do or how to do it in the first place, but when what I’m being told to do is trite and inane? Let’s see, snowball in hell, lead balloon, Vince Lombardi Trophy in Cleveland, cat in a room full of rocking chairs, take your pick.

A photo of Cleveland Browns stadium
“That’s just mean, Kriss.” I know, Cleveland Browns. I know. But it’s true. “We know.”

This experiment was simple. Measure your heart rate. Listen to the guided meditation. Measure your heart rate again. The researchers even provided detailed instructions on how to measure your pulse, complete with a link to a video if you couldn’t figure it out.

I’ve had tachycardia for years; I’m on two medications to keep my heart beating fewer than 100 times per minute. (Unmedicated, it’s closer to 130.) When I counted it to kick off the experiment, it was at 84. Pretty darned good for me.

Next came listening to the guided meditation. This was the worst possible combination of all the things I hate in guided meditation. Smarmy. Trite. Banal. Clichéed. Vacuous. Puerile. There was a singing bowl. There was “put your hand on your heart.” There was “find your happy thoughts.” I actually started yelling at the woman in the recording.  

An angry man yelling
I looked something like this. Except indoors. With less facial hair. Fewer sleeves. And more boobs.

“Put your hand over your heart.” “Why, so my next step can be ripping it out of my chest and throwing it at you?” “Find your happy thoughts.” “They involve you shutting up!” “Repeat after me: I feel the love in my heart.” “I’ll feel the love in my heart in 3 minutes, when this recording is over!” I was just so. Freaking. Furious. 

This wasn’t just trite, clichéed guided meditation, it was bad trite, clichéed guided meditation. But I stuck with it because someone was willing to give me money to yell at their stupid recording. So I kept listening, and I kept yelling.

But something weird happened. (“Really, Kriss? In your life? Something weird? Nahhh…”)

When the recording was over, I measured my heart rate again. And it had dropped. Eight points. Ten percent. That’s huge. By comparison, it’s taken trial and error with half a dozen drugs over the course of four years to get my heart rate down 20%.

A collection of large pills
Warning: Objects in this image may appear far smaller than the pills I take. Actual pills are the size of a chihuahua.

I could give you all the facts and figures and research and numbers about how it works, how to keep it working over time, and all that good stuff, but I’d really hate to deprive you of the life-changing opportunity to try it for yourself. So go find any guided meditation. Measure your pulse before you listen to it. Measure it again afterwards. Then do it again and call me in the morning. (Or, y’know, comment below.)

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