November 13, 2013

Meditation & Technology: The Infinite Loop of Perfection

At first glance, meditation and technology seem quite disparate and unrelated. But, like many aspects of life, there’s a strong connection between the two.  When you engage in both of these activities, you’ll not only experience the specific benefits associated with each one, but you’ll find that they benefit and reinforce each other.

Let’s start with meditation. What exactly is it? Meditation is stopping thought. Discussing meditation is a challenge because even though literally thousands of volumes have been written on the subject, and even more has been spoken about it, it is, at its core, an experience. Discussion of the subject is really more of a pointer that refers to the actual experience. That said, meditation is focused concentration that leads to stopping thought. When thought stops, life is experienced as it really is.

There are many different methods and ways to meditate. No one way is the "right way." Rather, different methods work well for different people. One meditation technique might work better at a different stage depending on how long you’ve been meditating. All methods do have one common aspect: the core practice involves focus and concentration.

This focus could be directed to a sound, like a mantra. It could be directed visually, to an object like a candle flame. Or the focus could be out of the realm of the five senses and directed to one of the main energy centers in the body. Personally, I find the candle flame technique to be very effective. In all cases, the goal is to slow down and eventually stop thought through concentrative practices.

Another common aspect to the various ways of meditation is consistent practice. Typically, it’s recommended that you meditate twice a day - once in the morning and again in the evening. At first, you sit for a brief time. As you become more comfortable, you increase the amount of time you sit. This approach is similar to that of training for any sport. For example, in running, you carefully build a foundation by running consistently for short distances. Then you slowly increase your mileage over time being careful to pace yourself and avoid overdoing it.

Why do it? some might inquire. Well, the return on investment of meditation is quite high. Even though it can be a challenge to sit and still the mind initially, even early on, you’ll find that you feel better: more positive, more balanced. Worry and anxiety decrease and you have more energy. It’s not that all of a sudden your life becomes trouble-free. You still experience turbulence, both inner (emotionally) and outer (life situation). But you feel more mental stability and can draw on those moments of stillness in a hectic world.

Another key benefit of consistent meditation is increased ability to concentrate. It takes a tremendous amount of focus to be able to meditate and stop thought. So you build concentration and focus just like building muscles or endurance. Over time, your mind becomes clearer and you’re able to focus on an activity with one-pointed attention and for longer periods of time.

On the other side of the equation is technology. That is to say, specifically a career in technology such as programmer or systems architect or a similar role.

Let’s take the example of a computer programmer (software developer). As a programmer, you must solve problems every day. For example, a problem might be something a customer needs in a piece of software or it could be figuring out how to code something.

In addition to creative problem solving, another key component to a highly technical job is the ability to visualize very complex structures. As a developer, everything you create is virtual, so it’s necessary to be able to picture in your mind how an entire system works and how the various parts of it relate.

It’s also a common requirement to be able to read code and to understand what occurs when that code runs. So you need to be able to mentally visualize what the code does and how it functions within a larger computer system.

Meditation & Technology Together
Meditation and technology are separate individual activities, but it’s amazing how well they relate and benefit each other. Meditation involves extended periods of concentration. This helps you when you sit down to work on a coding task. You’re able to focus better. Conversely, as you work all day coding and creating solutions to technical problems, you continue to build the ability to concentrate. Another side effect of meditation is more energy and mental spaciousness; less mental clutter in the form of thoughts. So it becomes easier to see creative solutions to technical problems.

As you sit at your computer, visualizing systems or databases and solving technical problems, you’re not interacting with a lot of people, so your distractions are minimal (unless your company offers free snacks, which is a whole different type of distraction). Reduced interactions mean less energy drain which leaves you feeling more energized at the end of the day.

Of course, you still need to interact with your customers and colleagues, but the majority of your time is spent working creatively at your computer. Then when you sit to meditate in the evening, you still have some energy and inspiration. Although we looked at the example of a computer programmer, any highly-technical role in software development requires similar skills: the ability to focus, the ability to visualize and understand complex systems, and creative problem solving.

But don’t just take my word for it. According to Psychology Today, there’s scientific research that meditation has these benefits:
  • Increases the size of certain parts of the brain, especially regions associated with paying attention
  • Increases focus and concentration
  • Improves memory
  • Improves creativity
I've been meditating and working in technology for over twenty years, and I’ve experienced first-hand how meditation and technology continually benefit each other. If you’re a programmer, technical product manager, business analyst, quality assurance engineer, web designer or technical writer, consider adding meditation into your life. It brings many benefits, all of which enhance life in general and your career in particular.

If you meditate already and you’re in between jobs or thinking about switching careers, consider moving into a career in technology. Although it may seem counterintuitive, you can use your work to advance spiritually. You can use the hours you spend at work to build concentration and become a better meditator. Practice meditation and work in technology and they’ll be no stopping your success in both endeavors!