In developing a daily meditation practice for the first time, or re-evaluating one that feels stagnant, the question of time and frequency comes up. How long and how often to meditate? I find it most helpful to recognize that this is a personal choice and depends a great deal on your current life schedule and priorities. But it also relates a great deal to why you are meditating in the first place and just how deeply you want to explore and experience the spiritual depths to which it can take you.
I most commonly hear people speaking of a twenty-minute period of meditation, once a day. This has been shown, over the long haul, to bring about health benefits, reduction of stress, and more clarity of mind. But, while regular periods of short meditation can be quite helpful, at some point in your meditation practice you may consider that you would benefit from meditating longer. You may realize that your thinking mind is a tougher adversary than you thought. A funny way to say it is,your mind has a mind of its own. Your mind doesn’t listen to your commands to be quiet or go away, and when you try to ignore it, it gets louder and butts into your space. You may realize that the satisfaction you take in the brief moments of peace during your meditation are just hints of the shadow of an echo of a whisper of what you are truly seeking. Finally, you may recognize that the deepest truth of meditation is realized through a very long process and you need to devote lots of time to it. Your life (the quality of your life) depends on it.
It’s not really as grave as that might sound. Longer and deeper periods of meditation are a gift to yourself. They can provide an entry into the deeper realms of being that bring you in touch with the essence of your nature. Inside yourself, in this very moment, is the experience of beauty, love and compassion for all life. Whatever else is going on in your life or in the world, the essence of who you are, right now, is so good, so beautiful, so awesome, that the notion that you can only allow yourself a short period of this process seems ridiculous. It’s like starving yourself when there is a banquet of delicious food in front of you.
Moments of recognizing this, or even getting a hint of it, provide the motivation for longer periods of meditation. Let’s face it, it takes great commitment to sit and do nothing towards accomplishing the things on your “to do” list. Instead, you will pass through periods of fidgety discomfort, the clattering of mental chatter, accepting and releasing your emotional baggage, and recognizing your existential resistance to letting go of the attachment to your egoic self. What’s more, these things will seem endless as you continue to recognize them again and again, and continue to return to your breath and the focus of your practice. Yet, gradually, (hopefully with the help of others on the path) the fruits of your inner work will be most apparent in the quality of your life experience in and out of the state of meditation; you will be in touch with and expressing your eternal and infinite, true nature.