Last spring I did a self-propelled 21-day sitting meditation challenge. As the title suggests I sat everyday for 21-days in a row in hopes of establishing a pattern of sitting daily. And it worked! Its been over a year since then and I still continue to practice sitting meditation everyday, minus a day here and there.
Now, I would be remiss if I thought it was only the act of sitting for 21-days in a row that allowed me to finally start sitting everyday on my own. Although for some folks that may indeed be enough. Nothing exists by itself alone and I see clearly that all of my actions, practice, and intentions leading up to starting that challenge also factored in to a successful outcome.
I wanted to share a little meditation secret that I have a sense is not commonly known. OK, are you ready? Here it is: There will always be something else you could be doing besides sitting meditation (bills, phone calls, laundry, watching youtube, picking your nose…) so if you are wanting to start a daily practice you will have to do it even when you “know” you don’t have the time for it. Because the thing is, if you think you’re too busy to sit you’ll probably always be too busy to sit. The mind is very tricky that way. Life is life and will continue to be so. It isn’t life getting in the way of our practice, it’s us.
It took me 11 years to establish a daily sitting meditation practice and during that time I used all sorts of excuses about why I wasn’t able to sit everyday. I don’t have enough space, I have chronic pain, I’m too tired, I’m too busy, I need to rest instead, I don’t have a good cushion. The list goes on and on. The truth of it was that some of those reasons for not sitting were accurate some of the time but mostly it was my tricky mind doing the talking. It wasn’t a conscious decision making process. The tricky mind is very good at convincing us of certain “hard facts” that are in reality a self-fabricated construct to enable us to stay in our comfort zone and to keep from facing ourselves truthfully with authenticity. It’s much easier to tell ourselves that we don’t have enough time and that we’re too busy to practice sitting meditation and nourish our mindfulness practice then it is to admit that meditation is difficult and maybe even boring and that we don’t want to face what comes up when we settle into ourselves.
If you’re interested in sitting on your own everyday I would encourage you to start out small, maybe 5 minutes a day. The length of time is not as important as the consistency. Oftentimes if we set our goal too high we’re setting ourselves up to not follow through because it’s too much too fast. I would also suggest using a timer so that you don’t have to keep an eye on the clock while you sit, which is very distracting and not conducive to relaxing into your meditation.
The fruits of developing a daily sitting meditation practice are plentiful and range from health benefits such as lowering blood pressure, creating beneficial pathways in the brain, and strengthening the immune system to becoming more patient, understanding, self-confident, less stressed out, more joyful, and better able to deal with difficulties when they arise.
Even now after 12 years in Thich Nhat Hanh’s Zen based tradition, numerous retreats, a weekly group I’ve sat with since 2002, a diligent mindfulness practice, teaching classes, being ordained into the Order of Interbeing, and currently now being considered a dharma teacher in training I would still say that maybe 50% of the time I actually look forward to meditating each morning. A few minutes into my 20-minute sit I’m always happy that I’ve sat down but half the time I can hear that tricky mind starting to gear up before I pull out my cushion. “Ya know,” my tricky mind says, “you could just sit tomorrow. I mean really, what’s the big deal about sitting EVERY day.” But I know better now not to listen to that tricky mind because I know where it will lead me. Tomorrow becomes next week which becomes next month and soon my want to develop a daily sitting meditation practice is forgotten completely, joining the ranks of doing more yoga, drinking more water, or consuming less sugar.
Here’s another little secret, that may be hard to hear: If you want to practice sitting meditation, you have to actually do it.