Beginners often assume that timing how long they are meditating for will be very distracting. They sometimes wonder if they should use an alarm clock, or some other mechanical method. Most meditators just have a clock or watch sitting in front of them. They’ll open their eyes from time to time and see how long they’ve been sitting.
It really isn’t a great distraction.
Just make sure to place your clock or watch somewhere that you can see it without having to change the angle of your head, or move your eyes.
I would avoid using something like an over timer: something I saw recommended in a book on meditation but which would be rather jarring. You want something that produces a noise that’s pleasant.
There are many specialist meditation timing devices. One of these is Mark Robinett’s “Invisible Clock” which can be set to vibrate quietly in your pocket and which can be used to time meditations with stages or to simply mark the start and end of a period of practice. This is also a great little device for anyone who has to time a meeting. It allows you to know when the time is almost up without so much as glancing at a watch. The only drawback is that it’s complex to use and if I haven’t used it in a few days I have to consult the instructions.
A traditional way to time meditations is to use a stick of incense. When the incense is burned up you know it’s time to stop meditating. Of course you have to “calibrate” your incense because different kinds burn at different rates. You can choose incense that’s of the appropriate length or you can break bits off to customize the length of time you’ll be meditating. As with using a watch, you simply open your eyes from time to time to get an idea of how long remains for your meditation.
Speaking of using meditation, a rather unusual meditation timer than involves incense is the PrannaTimer, which uses a burning stick of incense to trigger the ringing of a Tibetan Singing Bowl. It’s made from hardwoods and is very beautiful, but it’s also rather expensive.
There are computer programs that act as meditation timers:
I persuaded Jan Exner to modify his astronomy timer to produce a meditation timer for the Palm Operating System, so you can have a meditation timer on your PDA.
I’ve also downloaded Will Henderson’s Meditation Timer program for the Mac. Highly recommended.