Reverse Meditation

Minute Read

After interviewing a number of top-performers in their field for his book Tools of Titans, Tim Ferris concluded that the majority of them incorporated some form of meditation into their daily lives. If you are reading this blog, you probably would like to be a top-performer, so I am going to assume that you know what meditation is, and perhaps even that you practice it. It’s a good thing if you do, as countless studies have shown a marked increase in happiness, a sense of well-being, and a decrease in negative emotions, associated with meditative practices. 

Countless studies over the years have shown a marked increase in happiness, a sense of well-being, and a decrease in a whole host of negative emotions.

When I first started meditating, this scenario was all-too-common. There I was, trying to calm my mind for meditation when all of a sudden new ideas or forgotten tasks would bubble to the surface. Should I just let them go? Should I grab a pen and sticky note and write them down? 

After a while, I started to take note of how, during my meditation sessions, my subconscious brain seemed to be serving to my conscious brain what it had been cooking. I asked myself how I could further enhance this connection between these two parts of my brain. This quest led me to a practice I perform a few times a week, which I have found has had a tremendous impact on the success of my daily life. 

It’s 10:37 pm, you said goodnight and have been trying to fall asleep for the past few minutes, but your mind races about thinking about all the things you have to do tomorrow.

We’ve all experienced the dreaded nights where you toss and turn, unable to shut your mind off so you can go to sleep. Our mental functions form strong connections with our environment, Beds should be used for two things—sex and sleep—anything else, including trying and failing to sleep because of mind wandering, reinforces with your subconscious that lying in bed is a good time to think about everything you need to do tomorrow. 

This is when I inadvertently started a practice I’ve come to refer to as “Reverse Meditation,” which  goes as follows:

As a part of my evening routine, I’ll turn on a heated blanket, aromatherapy machine, and pop these eye warmers in the microwave to prep for my session. Next, I’ll get in my massage chair, put a mint in my mouth, stream “Space Dreams” from on my headphones, and start a 20 minute Night mode.

Now, the first many times you do it, your brain just won’t be able to stop thinking about what it’s doing to your body, squeezing your arm, your legs, your feet, etc. However, after you make it into a habit,  your brain stops thinking about it. All five of my senses being fed continuous stimuli allows me to retreat into my own head, and literally pull things out of my consciousness to think about, almost a la carte. 

The easiest way to describe the effect is like a flotation tank (great VICE Doc on them here), which deprives your body of all the typical stimuli, leaving you to sit with your own thoughts. The experience can be scary for some, and eye-opening to others. It’s rare nowadays to have moments where we are not bombarding ourselves with some sort of stimuli, whether that’s checking our phones, listening to a podcast, or playing video games.

Sitting in this massage chair, I have had epiphanies about my life and found solutions to persistent problems I hadn’t been able to crack. It has also allowed low-level anxieties that were buried in my subconscious to float to the surface so I could address them. 

The Importance of a Chair

Unless you regularly attend flotation tanks or can cough up the money to afford your own, I’ve found having this practice in a meditation chair to be the next best thing. The reason I believe a massage chair is required and not just any plain old chair is how the chair keeps you awake. 

In most meditation practices you are taught to sit up straight without any back support to ensure you don’t fall asleep. The vibrations and other moving parts of the chair makes it difficult to fall asleep, but still allow for a state of relaxation.

The most important part is that you have a location, a chair or something that is dedicated towards this contemplation and/or meditation practice. Perhaps try the exercise without any kind of massage device to see if it’s still helpful, but I’d recommend at least having something like this pad that can be outfitted over practically any chair. 

If you want to go all-in, the cost of full-on massage chairs has come down significantly over the years and depending on your perspective, paying $800 for something like this could provide you with an exponential ROI if this practice actually gives you better direction and greater mastery over your own mind.

Anxiety Reduction

I received the letter that everybody dreads, especially if they own a business—I was being audited by the IRS. If you’ve been through an audit, you know that it entails a lot of lingering worries as your mind reminds you of all the worst possible outcomes (similar to how googling medical symptoms makes everyone jump to the worst possible conclusions).  Everyone can identify times when they have been riddled with anxiety; no matter what you try, you can’t stop thinking about it.

I tried to do some work, but my mind was frightened at the possibilities that lay ahead. This sparked the idea to have a midday Reverse Meditation session. I made a special effort to explore the worry surrounding this audit in great detail, envisioning it like peeling back the layers of an onion to see what was underneath. Here’s what exploring that anxiety looked like for me:

Okay, going through an audit isn’t great, but I’ve been through worse. Did I knowingly do anything wrong? No, I didn’t, so I shouldn’t have anything to worry about. Will it take time to gather the receipts and documents? Sure, but nothing I can’t do in the 3 months I’ve been given to give a response. What’s the worst that could happen? They put a lien on my assets and take my money and add fines. Well, apart from this being highly unlikely, they would work with me in that scenario to make sure I can still make income and survive. Okay, is there anything I can do at this very moment about this worry? I guess not, so I’m going to let this worry go for now.

The train of thought eventually led me to ask whether there was anything I could do now. At that moment, I couldn’t do anything, and so the best course of action was to let the worry go.

A few months later, the IRS auditor concluded I didn’t owe any taxes, but the mental stress that likely would have accrued if I had let myself ruminate over all the worst-case scenarios would arguably have been much more damaging than anything I could have owed.

This example illustrates how the majority of our anxieties suck up our mental energy, but fail to return any tangible benefit in the long run for the effort. This is why it is so helpful to have a practice where you purposely deprive your senses, in order that all of those worries can rise to the surface and be purged, so that they won’t interfere with vital activities like sleep. It provides a chance for you, one by one, to mull over your to-do list, think about people or things that are bothering you, and consider your next action to move closer to a goal.

Positive Reflection

On the flip-side, a Reverse Meditation can be used as a form of mental masturbation (if you will). Major accomplishments—graduating college, or getting a new job or promotion—are times we wish to celebrate, and many choose to drink, party, or mindlessly hang with friends. While there’s nothing wrong with this kind of celebration, it can sometimes mask the feeling that we haven’t actually reached our goal yet. To be able to congratulate yourself in your own head and think about the sacrifices you had to make to get there can make you feel more proud.

When I sold my last company, the CEO came up to me and asked me how it felt. I replied “Good, but we have a lot of work to do.” This encapsulates the mindset I had at the time, that selling was just a stepping stone to the next goal, and I didn’t take the time to actually appreciate my accomplishment.

Reaching an inception point on your personal or professional life should be celebrated, as it will not only give you a greater sense of well-being but also help fill you with optimism for what lies ahead.

Give it a Try

The last use of a Reverse Meditation technique is simply to let your mind wander. As any meditator will know, this is the primary nemesis of meditation, when one tries to keep the mind focused on something like breathing, but having a dedicated space to actually let the mind wander is the bridge to restore creative ideas.

San Francisco State University found that nostalgia correlates strongly with life satisfaction and that looking at photos of loved ones will trigger the production of mood-improving hormones.