Meditation: Why “just 5 minutes” is not enough
Always go a little further into the water than you feel you’re capable of being in. Go a little bit out of your depth. And when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting.
There is a fine line between giving yourself a small enough goal, so that it feels manageable to get started and making the goal so small that you are never going to get anywhere with it. You see a lot of articles for example that claim things like “Meditation should be fun!” “you can meditate for just 30 seconds a day!” This is like those exercise articles claiming you can get benefits from doing just one pushup. One of these “set-small-goals” articles that are rampant on the internet tells the story of Jake who was successfully doing 2 push-ups a day, but then got “over excited” and started doing a 20-minute workout “the sad result is within 2 months he had given up exercising as his goals had increased unrealistically fast”.
Honestly, I think Jake is being a weenie. A 20-minute workout is not unrealistic at all. Doing less in the name of going easy on ourselves is at best a self-imposed limitation. It seems we live in a culture that is telling us not to push ourselves, but to coddle ourselves, to tread slowly, and not too far. Let’s be real. Doing a 2 push-up work out is hardly worthwhile, (if you can only do two reps of something you’re probably better off adjusting to another exercise until you get into better shape.) I think you’re better off pushing yourself a little harder so that you can see some results in this lifetime. That’s what’s going to encourage you to stick with it—that feeling of “hey I’m getting somewhere, and I like it!”
My own experience with meditation has been a good example of this, for a long time I was trying the “less is more philosophy” and doing just 10 minutes a day, but I felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere. Only when I started meditating 20 minutes a day did it begin to feel like it was making a small but very noticeable impact in my daily life.
Now, just because I’m encouraging you to do more meditation than a measly 30 seconds or even 5 minutes, does not mean I am some kind of meditation expert levitating above my zafu. Half the time, I’m not even sure if I can call what I do meditation since I spend so much time thinking about anything else besides my breath! Much of the time I’m really just spacing out, day dreaming, or thinking about all the stuff I plan to do later that day, or that my back is feeling stiff and uncomfortable, and my left foot is starting to fall asleep—but I believe pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone is how you expand that comfort zone to make your world a bigger place with more possibility.
I’m interested in pursuing meditation, as a practice for the small but impactful changes it produces, that make you more present, more at peace. Even though the results of meditation can sometimes be bright and bold revelations. I had a brief but magical experience with meditation many years ago, when I took a meditation class in college. I started meditating pretty consistently, after a couple months, I had this weird and profound epiphany. I was walking along, on a beautiful spring day and suddenly I could see everything, or I was aware of everything in my field of vision with an extraordinary clarity, and I knew, on some deep level of knowing that existence loves to exists, that the world is joyful to be here. I was filled with this knowledge in such a deep way that it made me sort of punch drunk and loopy for the next 24 hours. I was profoundly struck with deep amazement at the fact that there is something instead of nothing.
That moment has always kept me coming back to meditation. Even though, I realize the best reason to meditate is for the small grounding influence of the practice not the flashy satori moments, because over time it is the impact and outcome of the daily and mundane, that matters, that accounts for the bulk of life.
I just did 20 minutes of meditation before sitting down to write this essay. How was it? As usual, if I’m being honest, I spent about 50% of the session thinking about the stuff I want to do when I’m done meditating. The problem with meditating is that it’s a great time to make plans for other stuff that you want to do. I suspect that meditation is maybe harder these days than ever before, because we used to have more down time, to space out and day dream and think about important stuff like what’s for lunch? Still the fact that it was a struggle for 20 long minutes is the point. 30 seconds or even 5 minutes is not long enough to start to feel uncomfortable, or notice the mind wander (at least for me). If I did weightlifting with balloons instead of barbells it might feel comfy and safe but it would never make me any stronger.
If you never push yourself to a place where you feel discomfort, you’re not growing.
Just like with exercise, the promised changes, the effects from meditation are elusive and slow to show up. Like exercise—you don’t notice it making a difference while you are doing it, you just feel like it’s sweaty hard work. It’s only slowly over time that you see the effects. But, when I’ve gotten in the daily rhythm with meditation I begin to notice a definite difference, like a muscle I didn’t have previously, or more like a tool in my tool belt—I find I have a small pause available to me, there is more space between me and my reactions, a bit of wiggle room, so that situations that normally I might be reactive to, where I might get upset or bothered by something, someone cutting me off in traffic, or a disagreement with a coworker for example, small everyday life stuff—I find I have the ability to pause, take a breath, and then choose to react consciously, not reactively. And that small tiny pause, can add up to a world of difference.