So many books and teachers advise us to meditate for short periods, many times throughout the day. Nevertheless, like many other people, I still feel compelled to “go for the gold,” aiming to meditate for long, long periods.
True, a number of neuro-scientific studies over the past decade or so indicate that measurable, beneficial changes can occur in the functioning of the brain as a result of sustained periods of meditation over time.
And certainly, many of the great teachers with whom I’ve studied and worked—including Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche and Tsoknyi Rinpoche—are able to meditate for astounding, even awe-inspiring periods of time.
But they’re also quick to point out that meditation isn’t a competitive sport—or a contemplative sport.
They also point out that there are some compelling reasons to break up meditation practice into short periods integrated throughout the day.
First of all, there’s an utterly human tendency to leave behind whatever blissful, light, expansive (choose your own adjective) state we’ve achieved on the cushion, and launch into the rest of the day as our same old neurotic, fretful, anxious (feel free to supply your own descriptor here, too) self.
I’m always so relieved, when I attend a meditation retreat, to hear that I’m not the only person in the universe who happens to bend this way. When I notice the distinction between my “meditation self” and my “everyday self,” I realize that I’ve approached meditation as a task. A chore. One more thing to cross off my list.
Phew! I’ve done my “spirituality” for the day.
That sort of attitude is not likely to incline me to want to practice tomorrow. Or the next day. Or ever.
By breaking up my sessions into shorter periods, I’m left wanting more. I want to practice again.
So I set myself little goals. “I’ll finish X, and then I’ll meditate for five minutes.”
“When I get home from wherever/whatever, I’ll meditate for a few minutes.”
Or as I’m preparing to go to bed, I’ll tell myself, “I’ll brush my teeth, slap on the moisturizer, and before slipping into the latest bedside reading matter, I’ll meditate for a few minutes.”
The goal tactic can also work the other way, too, as a kind of carrot. “Okay, I have to do X, but first I’ll meditate for a few minutes.”
When I approach meditation this way, I feel like I’m giving myself a little treat—because I am. A taste. One “meditation cookie.”
There’s also a longer term benefit of meditating for short periods throughout the day. Doing so allows me to integrate my “meditation self” with my “everyday self.” At any given point during the day—especially if I find myself tense or frustrated or particularly driven—I can take a meditation cookie break.
It doesn’t have to be a long break. Sometimes a minute will serve. Sometimes only a minute is possible.
Still, it never ceases to amaze me how all the positivity I’ve come to associate with short meditation periods comes flooding back during that break. Buoyancy. Clarity. Compassion.
Others around me get to enjoy a benefit, too—a little bite of the “cookie.” I’m a little bit nicer, a little bit warmer.
I’ll take the time to choose a more judicious word or phrase, rather than the first thing that pops into my head. I’ll notice if they’re having a tough day—and offer a metaphorical (or real) shoulder. Or offer a compliment on a new outfit or haircut.
Ultimately, by implementing short periods of meditation throughout the day, “spirituality” becomes more than just something I practice in one part of my life.
It becomes my life.
Photo Credit: Ti_ser/Shutterstock.com
Have you tried this ‘short times, many times’ technique? Share your experience in a comment!