You know that feeling when you’ve had a really great night’s sleep and you feel like you can achieve anything? Meditation advocates would say you can reach that calm state every day, by dedicating a small amount of time to focus on yourself, to just exist in the moment.
Will Williams was a self-confessed party boy. Working in the music industry, he lived a hedonistic lifestyle, fuelling his life with caffeine by day and drink by night, before he discovered meditation nine years ago.
He spent a couple of years travelling the world to meet the masters in meditation and now he’s on a mission to bring the practice to everyone through his meditation school, new book The Effortless Mind: Meditation for the Modern World, and the introduction of World Meditation Day.
To mark the day, Will is leading London’s largest guided meditation. We sat down with him beforehand to get some advice for meditation novices.
What if you’re sceptical?
Like many people trying something new, Will says he was sceptical about meditation but tried it in order to find a solution for his insomnia. He now practises ‘vedic meditation’, an ancient, simple technique which involves sitting with your eyes closed for 15 to 20 minutes. It’s free of any dogma or religion and perfect for people with busy lives.
Will started noticing the benefits soon after he started meditating. “It wasn’t long before I became much more productive, got more stuff done and had more energy, as well as discovering a new sense of creativity I hadn’t felt since I was a teenager,” he says. “I just became a generally nicer human being, and felt good about myself. As time rolled on, I found myself becoming less self-destructive, and much more aware of the stresses that cause us to engage in certain behaviours and make certain decisions.
“I had this moment of realisation; if we’re too stressed out by what’s going on to have the bandwidth to be able to deal with it, we’ll just bury our head in the sand. But if I could help people meditate, they’d be less stressed, and make better decisions for themselves.”
He hopes to debunk the myth that you have to be into crystals or burning sage to enjoy meditation. For Will, the term ‘spiritual’ is about becoming a more empathetic person.
“It’s a practical, everyday tool for everyday people,” he says. “When you think about it, most of the things people would bracket as ‘spiritual’ in terms of personal qualities, most of us would like to feel. Do I want to be more compassionate? Definitely. Would I like more love in my life, to feel more love myself and for myself? Absolutely. Would I like to feel more connected to people, to nature, to the world, and to feel more human and more like myself? Definitely, yes.
“I feel like I have a nice complement of the material side of life and the spiritual side of life and it feels very complete.”
What are the wellbeing benefits of meditation?
Meditation offers a way of calming down your body, catalysing your nervous systems to go into a very deep, profound, restful state, Will says.
“It’s about sitting down, closing your eyes and getting yourself into a de-excited state, whereby your mind, body and nervous system can process everything occupying it,” he says. “Once it’s burned off the immediate stuff into the archives, it can then move onto your greatest hits of pain, memory and trauma, process it, and then let it go. When you calm yourself into this very deep, almost hibernating state, you begin freeing yourself of all the painful memories you accumulate in your life which don’t really belong.”
By being more in the moment, and not being pulled into past memories, Will says your experience of the present will stop being overshadowed by the past, and you won’t feel so anxious about the future.
“The other thing is you will very quickly start sleeping better, giving you more energy and a can-do attitude,” he says. “Then you find you have these amazing creative answers to problems, you respond better to situations, rather than react. You just generally feel more capable, and if you feel more capable, you welcome additional challenges because you want to fulfil your potential life.”
What are his tips for beginners?
Find a platform that works for you
Apps like Headspace and Calm, as well as countless guided meditations on YouTube will help you dip your toe in the meditation pool, but for Will, there’s nothing like doing it face to face. “If you have a teacher who is trained well, they can tailor their guidance around your needs and profile,” he says. “Everyone has different psychological make up, physiological needs and lifestyles. A lot of what I do is helping people navigate their particular life circumstances to get the most out of it.”
Don’t take it too seriously
“All of the big masters I’ve ever met are very playful and cheeky, with a glint in their eye, having a great time and not taking life seriously,” says Will. “Trying too hard with meditation quite often proves to be counterproductive, so be relaxed and light-hearted.”
Step outside your comfort zone
“It can feel strange to be in this environment, but stepping out of your comfort zone is the only way to make progress in something new,” he says. “Rather than keep hitting your head against a brick wall with stuff that doesn’t resonate, keep looking around and find those things that do.”
“Try as many different things as possible,” says Will. “If the first thing you go for doesn’t necessarily work for you just keep having a look, because the benefits are so profound. Make that time for a little bit of investment into yourself.”
Do your research
“If we look at look at TripAdvisor or Airbnb for reviews before we go on holiday, why shouldn’t we read reviews before we join a meditation class? As they say, it’s about different strokes for different folks, so be curious.”
Don’t be scared
Don’t be afraid of giving it a go. As Will says: “The only thing to fear is fear itself. Full stop.”
The Effortless Mind by Will Williams is out now, published by Simon & Schuster, and costs £14.99. The guided meditation at Fabric on Tuesday 15 May started at 6:30pm, with music from Sound Sebastien with Jasmine Hemsley and DJ sets from Jordan Rakei and BBC Radio 1’s B.Traits. More information here.