Lessons from 28 Days of Meditation: 20 Minutes is an Eternity

I meditated for 22 of the 28 days of Sharon Salzberg’s True Happiness Challenge and part of the Brooklyn Yoga School Team. (I didn’t blog about it as much as I intended, because I was juggling several writing projects and when I’m busy, blogging becomes low priority.

One lesson I learned might be useful for beginning meditators: Twenty minutes of meditation is a long time.

Twenty minutes doesn’t seem like a long time — hell, a sitcom is only two minutes longer, ten if you count the commercials and most of us have sat through so many of those it would seem that sitting still and focusing on your breath for twenty minutes would be a breeze.

But it’s not. Twenty minutes is an eternity.

I should say, twenty minutes of meditation is an eternity if you’ve never done it before, if you haven’t prepared, if you haven’t trained.

Before the meditation challenge, I had been meditating on and off for four years. I would meditate up to 27 minutes five times a week and I enjoyed it, looked forward to it, and missed it if I didn’t do it.

But I hadn’t meditated in weeks. And the first few days of the challenge trying to sit still for twenty minutes was torture. My body wouldn’t stay still. My mind would wander through to do lists, dreams, anger, resentment, songs, no matter how hard I tried to force myself to return back to my breath.

Forcing yourself doesn’t work. That’s not the point.

This Statue of Shiva is Approximately 65 feet ...

This Statue of Shiva is Approximately 65 feet tall and is made of concrete and is located at Murugeshpalya at Bangalore. There is a tunnel like structure underneath the statue where different models of Shiva are kept. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The point is to give yourself time to relax, to let go. The point is to accept the thoughts that come and let them go. The point isn’t to judge yourself or others. The point is to enjoy the stillness.

But that’s really hard to do if you’re unable to focus and you can’t let go for more than a minute at a time. And if you’re not able to do it for a short period of time regularly, you’re not going do it longer, you won’t keep meditating, and you won’t reap any of the benefits that meditation can give you.

I think a reasonable goal for a beginning meditator is one minute. Set your timer for one minute and sit still that long. Focus on your breath or repeat a mantra and get used to the idea that you are going to lose focus, your mind is going to wander, and that’s OK.

Once you get used to doing that for a minute, then double the time and get used to that. Then double the time again and keep doing that until you get to  twenty minutes.

On the other hand, twenty minutes is less than the time you spend watching a sitcom and if you’re like most of us, you’ve sat through thousands of those. So, now you just have to get used to watching the sitcom in your mind.

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