Are you one of those people who thinks meditation, despite all its successful admirers, just sounds a little airy fairy? Maybe you're an evidenced-based thinker who always demands ironclad proof before you'll buy into something, or maybe sitting around by yourself breathing just seems like an unpleasant way to spend your time that's unlikely to benefit you much.
If so, you're in good company. Bill Gates once felt exactly the same way.
On his blog recently the famously nerdy, hard-headed billionaire confessed that back in his early years, he "thought of meditation as a woo-woo thing tied somehow to reincarnation, and I didn't buy into it."
These days, however, Gates is a dedicated if not obsessive meditator. "I now see that meditation is simply exercise for the mind, similar to the way we exercise our muscles when we play sports," he reports.
So what transformed the Microsoft founder's thinking? The short answer is Headspace co-founder Andy Puddicombe, but the long story is a fascinating tale that involves wasted ice cream, circus clowns, and psychiatric patients. It might just be able to win over even the biggest meditation skeptics.
From monastery to Microsoft
Gates credits first Puddicombe's book, The Headspace Guide to Meditation and Mindfulness, his app, and some in-person coaching from Puddicombe (it's got to be nice to be a billionaire) for the entire Gates' family's conversion into meditation believers.
"Prior to finding Headspace, I had read several books about meditation, all of which intimidated me. They made me think that the investment in terms of time and energy was just too high. Headspace made the barrier to entry low enough for me. It's just ten minutes a day of listening to Andy's soothing British accent and trying to stay with him," says Gates.
So who is this guy who convinced Gates to start practicing mindfulness? That's where Gates' post really gets interesting. In it, he offers an abbreviated version of Puddicombe's fascinating story, from his early days studying to become a Buddhist monk and being forced to watch delicious ice cream melt uneaten in a hot monastery, to a stint as an honest-to-god circus clown, to a period teaching meditation to patients with serious psychiatric problems.
The post is worth a read in full just to hear the backstory of this unorthodox founder, but the larger takeaway is that even the most hardcore skeptics should consider at least a little meditation, and that seeing benefits isn't nearly as difficult as you think.
Hours of sitting in the lotus position not required
"I now meditate two or three times a week, for about 10 minutes each time," Gates writes (in a comfy chair rather than the lotus position), reporting that even this limited practice is "a great tool for improving my focus. It's also helped me step back and get some ease with whatever thoughts or emotions are present."
Meditation, in other words, doesn't need to be spiritual or "woo-woo," nor does it necessarily have to be terribly difficult. And you better believe that a realist like Bill Gates wouldn't bother doing it if the benefits weren't real.
So how can you get started? Puddicombe's book and app are clearly great resources for beginners, but there's plenty of other advice out there too, from information on different approaches to suit different types of people to suggestions for what to do if you've tried meditation before and failed.