Thursday, April 2, 2015

Wot I Learned Going From 15 Minutes Of Meditation A Day To 30

I've written before on this blog that I practice daily meditation. Nothing fancy. Not doing it to gain mystical powers or turn into Buddha or something. I just find it makes it easier to approach and deal with life. Sometimes I let it go for a few months, but usually I practice daily. It's a centering point in my routine, much like that first pot of coffee or your morning commute.

Up until the beginning of the year, I did fifteen minutes at a time. I'd always finish up with a vague feeling it wasn't quite enough. My brain could be more settled. I could be more relaxed, that kind of thing.

So I decided to ramp up to a full half hour. This is what I learned.

0. Meditation? What's that?

1. Positioning is key.

I tend to meditate in a kneeling position because the various lotus positions make me feel silly. Kneeling is how I learned it and it's the one I'm most comfortable with.

For the most part, you should just go with what feels right. So long as your spine is straight, you don't feel completely ridiculous while doing it and you're not in danger of falling over or asleep, it really doesn't matter. Some people meditate while walking or sitting in a chair, for example.

In my case, kneeling was fine for fifteen minute stretches. I'd take a couch pillow and put it behind my knees to raise my butt up a bit so my ankles didn't go numb, but that was all I needed.

Not so much in half hour stretches--I wound up upgrading to a buckwheat-filled meditation pillow, which has more vertical lift and support. Much better.

It's not quite enough, though, so I've been mulling over getting a cushion to sit on. I find myself shifting around during the halfway point because my feet still get numb. It's a process. I most likely will simply have to gut it out and get used to it.

2. Meditation Is Not Exercise

There's a temptation to treat meditation like, say, running for distance. You'd think that going ten minutes is twice as good as going for five. It's not quite that simple.

When I began to ramp up my meditation length, I decided to add five minutes to each session, taking a week to get used to each length.

I probably shouldn't have bothered. If you can sit and clear your thoughts for fifteen minutes, then a half hour really isn't that much more. It doesn't feel noticeably longer while you're doing it.

I was approaching this as if meditation were an activity with a directly-correlated result, like lifting weights or walking. It isn't. Time spent meditating is either sufficient for your needs and emotional space or it isn't. It really is that simple. Take however much or as little fits into your schedule and needs.

3. Your Brain Will Hate You And That's Okay

When I was doing fifteen minutes, I'd notice my thoughts would usually be pretty squirrely for about ten minutes and then would settle down for the last five and be tranquil. I'd walk out of the session feeling like if only I could sit five more minutes, I'd spend five more minutes in that tranquil, centered state.

Boy, was I wrong.

Instead I find it goes in waves. Squirrely. Calm. Squirrely. Calm. I thought there was something wrong with what I was doing, that I was approaching it the wrong way. Maybe I needed to learn a new breathing technique.

After some time, though, I realized that's exactly what it's all about. The main takeaway from meditation is that it's the ultimate non-activity. You don't have a goal other than it's a good habit to get into. You don't have milestones. You can't meter it.

You simply sit and practice transitioning into a state of mindfulness. And if your brain is making noise? That's part of it, too. Just observe, be grateful you noticed your brain is being a little hyper and then clear the thoughts away. Ad infinitum.

There's a certain Western tendency to overthink activities and occasionally I have to stop bringing that mindset into my meditation practices. There's no progress in meditation, per se. No ultimate goals or milestones. Just that simple act of clearing time out of your day and being in the moment.

Meditation, at least for me, is the ultimate non-metered, unstructured place. All that stuff, all that noise and clutter and hurly-burly of practical adulthood? It has no business within the time I've set aside for sitting in mindfulness. There really is nothing more to it than what I bring with me.

4. The Benefits Are Still Hard To Quantify

Regular meditation doesn't really give you any specific benefits you can point your finger at. At least not in specific terms.

What I mean is, I can't say anything like "Well, I now have a five hundred pound deadlift." Or "I wrote an entire book of haiku."

But I can say that I definitely feel more centered and resistant to stress. My skin is thicker and I don't really procrastinate as much anymore. How much? Hard to say. Better than when I was going for fifteen minute chunks? Yes.

But I do know that I'm highly resistant to giving it up, so I'll stick with it for now. It's hard to chisel that time out in the morning, but definitely worthwhile.

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