I'm only about 5 months into my own meditation practice, and while I can still be a testy bugger sometimes, I think I'm getting better at living in the moment and being able to separate out my thoughts.
I got into meditation originally through a great little app called Buddhify, which has many different guided meditations for all types of situations.
Then I moved on to a book recommended to me by a number of people, called "10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works--A True Story."
Long title, excellent book. It's by Dan Harris, an anchor for ABC News. What's so great about this book is that Dan is like so many of us — stressful career, lifelong struggle with the voice in his head, constant competition with himself and others. It's a familiar story.
Dan takes us through his journey from being a top religion reporter to finding Buddhist meditation and mindfulness for himself.
It's one of my favorites at this point and I'd recommend everyone read it. The book has given me a ton of perspective, but two quotes have particularly stuck with me and helped make me a happier person on a daily basis.
"Respond, not react. This, it struck me, was the whole ball of wax."
So often, things happen in our lives and the voice in our head answers sharply. Often that answer ends up coming out of our mouths.
That's rarely a good thing.
Mindfulness gives us the superpower to realize that the voice is a hot tempered reaction rather than a thought-out response.
For example, your boss gives you some negative feedback, and maybe sounds a little disappointed. A little spark might go off in your brain making your face hot and your shoulders tense. When you're mindful, you might not take that energy and put it out into the world. Instead you recognize it for what it is, and instead respond. It's kind of like the buddhist equivalent for "think before you speak."
"Is this useful?"
This is a phrase Harris says his meditation teacher brought to him. It refers to those moments so many of us have where we go over the same thing in our heads ... over and over and over.
Harris was trying to figure out what the balance is between actually needing to plan things for the future and the futility of ruminating too much and living in your thoughts. His teacher, Joseph Goldstein, told him that it is useful to plan ahead, but when you go over a plan for the 17th time or so you have to ask yourself, "is this useful?"
I also apply this quote to ruminations of the past. I (and I assume many others) like to re-live bad moments for some reason, and those stories come to dominate my thoughts. In those moments, when I'm at my most mindful, I'll ask myself "Is this useful?" and often that will propel me back into the present moment.
"Happiness comes from letting go."
This is from a different book, Mark Epstein's "Going to Pieces without Falling Apart: A Buddhist Perspective on Wholeness." The book takes a more analytical approach, but still has lots of practical applications.
I often say this phrase to myself when I find myself frustrated by something I can't control. I want something to happen at work that's out of my grasp, I'm on a diet and I want another slice of pizza, or I'm in a quarrel with my wife. I'll often say to myself, "Remember Matt, happiness comes from letting go."
Once you do allow yourself to let go, it's amazing how quickly that release can impact your emotional state. It's like removing a huge load off your back.
All 3 of these quotes apply to so many different parts of my average day that the release that comes from them make me a much happier person, which I'm very thankful for.