For three months now, I’ve meditated for twenty minutes every day.
Personally this is a big deal, as I’ve struggled to maintain a regular meditation practice for decades. I’ve resolved countless times to meditate daily, and fallen off the mindfulness wagon over and over again.
Three years ago, I began attending silent meditation retreats and continue to do so a couple of times a year. These experiences are important and transformational. Each retreat deepened my resolve to start a daily meditation practice. But, despite this increased desire, I was unable to do so.
Why has it been so hard for me to maintain a daily mediation practice?
One excuse is that my daily schedule is not regular. When I’m home, there is at least the potential to set aside a regular time to meditate. But I travel a lot. I’m just back from a four-week trip that spanned nine time zones, from Italy to the Caribbean, to Las Vegas. I average about two engagements per month that require travel. I might be up at 5 am to catch a flight, arrive late at a destination, and be intensely involved on-site for two or three days. There’s no regular “free” time in my life.
However, my travel for work and pleasure that creates an erratic daily schedule is a choice that I made. It makes it harder but not impossible for me to create a mediation habit.
Another excuse is related to my biorhythms. Over the years I’ve found I do my best creative work in the morning. Meditating early feels like it’s delaying starting my day. At night, my energy level sags and it’s difficult for me to maintain mindful habits. I’m tempted to relax over a drink and nice dinner.
Finally, my experience of the benefits of regular meditation from retreats quickly fades. I remember that I felt inspired to meditate regularly, but I don’t experience the inspiration. And I lapse…
How have I changed my meditation habit?
I’m sorry. If you’re hoping to learn the secret simple trick that allowed me to finally sustain a daily meditation practice, I’m about to disappoint you.
As I’ve shared previously, the hard work we do that precipitates personal change is largely unconscious.
But here are some clues that might help you.
—At the Vipassana retreats I attend, sitting and walking meditation sessions last for 45 minutes, and there are many such sessions every day. I set myself a far more modest daily goal of a single twenty-minute session. More sessions or a longer time are great, but completely optional.
—While meditating with a simple timer, I noticed that my mind started wondering about how much time was left towards the end of the twenty minutes. (Somewhat pathetic, but that’s what I noticed.) So I switched to a free meditation app, InsightTimer, which can be configured to play multiple sounds during a meditation. Adding a momentary wood block “click” half way through tells my thinking mind that there are ten minutes to go, which helps quiet it. This sounds silly, but it’s helpful for me.
—Finally, while vacationing for two weeks in Anguilla last month, I broke through my self-limiting belief that an early morning meditation session would reduce my creative morning time. For the last few years, I’ve started my day there with a (now) forty-minute walk, down to Island Harbor and back. This year I sat on a bench at Falcon Nest and meditated for twenty minutes before returning.
(Here’s the panorama I saw one morning when I opened my eyes. Four island dogs in a neat but respectful oval around me.)
Since then, I’ve been willing and able to meditate for twenty minutes within the first hour I’m up.
What I have noticed since beginning to meditate regularly for the first time in my life
—I have more equanimity in my life. For example, after I rose early for a flight from Boston to Las Vegas last week, it was delayed for four hours due to weather. I was surprised and pleased at how serene I stayed about this, compared to the persistent annoyance I would have felt in the past. There was plenty of time to meditate at the airport!
—Having said that, I am noticing how easily certain events bend me out of shape by. My phone says the Wi-Fi password I’ve entered is incorrect, though I know it isn’t. My new MacBook keyboard switches unexpectedly into ALL CAPS. I fumble several times picking up a heavy piece of wood for the stove.
I’m not doing much better dealing with these surges of irritation, but noticing them is the first and a necessary step to change.
—I’m getting better at listening to people. Less likely to jump in with a response before they’ve fully shared. (Yes folks who know me well; there is still plenty of room for improvement. Sigh.)
I am happy that I’ve made this change that has eluded me for so long. Perhaps I will increase my modest meditation time in future. Regardless, I like the effect on my life daily meditation makes, and this evidence that I am still able to change my behavior through work and grace.
Photo attribution: Flickr user wiertz