I Tried Oprah and Deepak's 21-Day Meditation Challenge and Here's What I Learned
One mindfulness newbie shares her journey toward "manifesting her best life."
What living human being is more enlightened than Oprah? The Dalai Lama, you say. Fair, but the big O runs a close second. She's our modern-day goddess of wisdom (move over, Athena), and she's been doling out life-changing lessons (and free cars) for decades. Plus, Deepak Chopra, the spiritual guru, is one of her besties. And because they're amazing superhumans, they teamed up to create a series of free 21-day meditation challenges to help us ordinary mortals expand our self-awareness. (Related: What I Learned from Eating Like Oprah for a Week)
These have been around for years and a new one comes out every few months. But when I heard about the newest challenge, "Energy of Attraction: Manifesting Your Best Life," I took it as a sign from the universe (see, I sound like Oprah already) and downloaded the app with dreams of achieving Winfrey-like inner peace. I mean, who doesn't want to discover the secrets to attracting love, success, and happiness? Since I'm currently at a crossroads in my career-the path ahead is scary and unknown-this theme particularly spoke to me, giving me hope for the future.
Here's how it works: Oprah and Deepak lead each 20-minute audio meditation, serving a powerful dose of insight centered on a daily mantra. I made it through all 21 days (technically 22 since there's a bonus meditation) and what I learned surprised me. Read on for some divine inspiration.
They don't call it a "practice" for nothing.
When we binge on Netflix or scroll through Instagram, time flies. One episode of Glow and two grumpy cat videos later and, poof, an hour has passed. So why did 20 minutes feel like an eternity during meditation? Sitting still sounds simple enough. (All I have to do is nothing? I got this!) But as soon as you tell yourself to sit still, the urge to move is relentless. Facts: Every itch magnifies, every tiny muscle in your foot cramps, every thought consumes you. For the first week, I was a crappy sitter, and my frustration quickly turned into an inner critic. You suck at this. You can't even sit still right! Then I heard Oprah's steady, celestial voice reassure me: Keep going. It takes practice.
And I had an Oprah "aha" moment: So that's why they call meditation a practice. And luckily, according to the wise Ms. Winfrey, "every day brings a chance to start over." So that's what I did. I just kept at it. Somewhere around day 10, my body and brain began to chill out. My mind still wandered and my foot still cramped, but I accepted it. I didn't need to be the perfect meditating goddess. I wasn't going to levitate on my first try (I'm joking, but you get my drift) and that's okay as long as I showed up. (Related: I Meditated Every Day for a Month and Only Sobbed Once)
It's okay to go with the flow.
Ask anyone who knows me. I'm not a go-with-the-flow type. I'm a rower, paddling away at top speed, which is why meditation kicked my ass. Each day, I always feel the need to do, to act, to exert maximum effort. And with every action, I attach a certain set of expectations. If I train really hard, I can beat my best time. If I stop cyber-ogling Nico Tortorella, I'll have more hours to write. Insert any combo of possibilities here. But in meditation, as is in life, what you expect isn't always what you get. When I began the challenge, I expected to control my mind, and I was disappointed when my brain wouldn't cooperate. I just need to try harder, I told myself. Focus more. Concentrate. You. Must. Succeed. But the more I demanded from myself, the less smoothly things went. I couldn't outwork my way out of this one. (Related: How Ditching My Running Training Plan Helped Me Rein In My Type-A Personality)
Perhaps out of mere mental exhaustion, I hit a breaking point. I didn't have the energy to keep fighting, so I let go. I allowed thoughts, sensations, and feelings to arise without berating myself for mind-straying. I simply noticed them like, hi, I see you there, and they miraculously drifted away, so I could get back to the business of clear-mindedness. Oprah says, "surrendering to the flow, staying flexible along your path, will lead you inevitably to the richest, highest expression of yourself." Goddess translation: Let go of expectations and be open to whatever happens. Detach yourself from the outcome. Allow each experience-meditation or otherwise-to surprise you. By the end of the challenge, I had eased up on rowing and had begun to float with the current.
Mantras really can be super powerful.
TBH, I always thought mantras were a little kooky. They're either the butt of endless GIFs or become a slideshow in your friend's post-breakup social media rant, ahem, Instagram feed. Needless to say, at the start of the challenge I had my doubts about chanting each day's mantra, even silently to myself. But, since I had committed, I decided to go all in. What I noticed right away was how repeating a mantra helped refocus my attention when I got distracted by thoughts or noises; adrift in an ocean of my meandering mind, I would remember the daily mantra, and it would steer me back on course. The simple act of saying a mantra anchors you in the present moment. What I didn't expect? How I began to use self-made mantras outside of meditation, especially during my workouts. My go-to mantra for HIIT is you're a beast. And, believe it or not, whenever I start to lose steam, the mantra pumps me up, infusing me with the energy I need to power through the burn. So, the moral of the mantra? They don't need to be fancy or profound, just words that motivate, inspire, and focus you. (FYI, if you're struggling to find your zen, mala beads and mantras could be the key to finally loving meditation.)
There's strength in numbers.
Meditating alone, especially as a beginner, can be a little lonely and overwhelming. You wonder: Am I doing this right? Does anyone else feel lost? At times, you're drifting solo on a vast sea of blackness with no land or light in sight, and it's hard to find your way home. During this three-week experience, Oprah and Deepak were my lifeboats and compass-their gentle, soothing voices in my earbuds always guiding and uplifting me. And even in the silences, there was comfort knowing that thousands (maybe even millions) of people were meditating with me on this journey. I began to feel like maybe I was a part of something larger than myself-a global community striving toward greater self-awareness. In fact, Deepak says that helping the collective consciousness expand is our highest role in life. Just think: If everyone you know steadied their minds and radiated positive vibes, the world would be a way calmer, more loving place. We can change the planet one deep cleansing breath at a time, people! (Related: Joining an Online Support Group Could Help You Finally Meet Your Goals)
Worrying is wasted time.
This just might be the most important lesson I learned during the challenge. I know myself pretty well-I'm a worrywart, always have been. What I didn't know was how much time I spend actively worrying until I began meditating. Within a span of 30 seconds, my mind constantly leapfrogs from one fear to the next: Did I unplug the iron before I left this morning? Am I going to be late for my appointment? Is my best friend upset because I've been too busy to call her back? Will I ever get my dream job? Will I ever measure up? By my estimation, I devote at least 90 percent of my headspace to worrying, a stream of incessant and compulsive thinking. It's exhausting. But the annoying voice in my head never tires of feeding me anxious thoughts. It talks, nags, and complains, 24/7.
Since I can't put a muzzle on it, what can I do? By sitting still, I learned to distance myself from it, to step back and observe it. And, in detaching myself, I realized that this prophet of doom and gloom isn't who I really am-the voice is just fear and doubt. Of course, it's okay to be afraid-we're human, after all-but the worry doesn't have to define me or you. Contemplate this question: Will worrying about something change the result? If I stress about my flight being delayed, will I get to my destination any faster? No! So let's not waste our energy. (Related: 6 Ways to Finally Stop Complaining for Good)
Not convinced? Oprah says, "you cannot hear the still, small voice of your instinct, your intuition, what some people call God, if you allow the noise of the world to drown it out." Mind. Goes. Boom. So stop worrying and detach yourself from the chatter in your head because you're muffling all of the good stuff inside you. Meditate on them apples!