So, today is the 100th Day of Wildmind’s Meditation Challenge. Actually, for me this is my 185th straight day of meditating, as far as I can tell. That’s one of the longest stretches of daily meditation that I’ve done in my life, but my goal, frankly, is to keep meditating daily until I’m dust.
But since the first of January this year, a bunch of us have been encouraging each other to stick to meditating daily. We “hit the ground sitting” on January 1, and this is the 100th day of the year, and of the challenge.
Here are a few lessons learned:
- My “mantra” really seems to work for many people. “I meditate every day; it’s just what I do; it’s part of who I am.” This affirmation helps to change your self-view so that you actually see yourself as a daily meditator. You lose your tendency to waver, and to let yourself off the hook. You just do it.
- If you missed a day it wasn’t that you’d failed the challenge; the challenge was to build a habit of sitting daily, and in any habit-building there’s going to be learning about what does and what doesn’t work, and there’s going to be times when the habit falls to pieces. The important thing is to pick up those pieces again and to get back to the task of building the habit.
- A day is organic, not a calendar day. This turned out to be very useful: a “day” in terms of “meditating every day” is the time from when you get up until the time you go to sleep. So it’s not necessarily a day ending at midnight. There was at least one day when I didn’t manage to sit until after midnight. If I’d been counting calendar days I’d have “missed a day.” But because I sat before I went to sleep (at 12:30 AM or whenever) I kept to my commitment to sit “daily.” It’s funny how these little things help.
- It’s easier to build a habit if you do it in company and if you check in with others. Wildmind’s online community has been a tremendous source of inspiration and support for many people. We’ve had participants who are experiencing major emotional upheavals, depression, bereavement, separations, etc., and who have kept their practice going. I’ve experienced the benefit of this myself. There have, frankly, been several days when I was exhausted and overwhelmed and couldn’t meditate until late at night. Part of the reason I did sit was because of my mantra (“I meditate every day”) but part of it was most certainly that I didn’t want to let the team down. Thanks for being there, guys!
- Five minutes is enough (at a pinch). A lot of people end up not meditating because they don’t have time to do a forty minute sit. This is kind of crazy, really. The idea is that it’s better not to meditate than to meditate for a short period. Of course the reality is the reverse of this; any amount of meditation is better than none, and it’s much better to do a five minute sit and maintain (or build) your habit of meditating daily than to break the habit and feel bad about it. Sure, aim to sit for 40 minutes a day, or whatever you can manage, but know that it’s OK to have a five minute sit as your emergency fallback position. It’s like emergency rations, eaten not because they’re haute cuisine, but because you’re hungry and it’s all you can have.
- Short sits add up. We all need breaks during the day. They keep us sane and make us more effective. And if you do a couple of five or ten minute sits during those breaks, they really add up. Add in a walking meditation on the way to or from work, and a more formal sit, and it can be surprising how much meditation you can fit into a day. Some days I’d manage an hour and a half, or more, and half of that time, at least, would be shorter sits squeezed into gaps during the day.
- There will be times that you just go through the motions. I’ve had some blissful meditations over the past 100 days. I’ve had some that were purely token sits, where I was on the cushion for only five minutes and ended up falling asleep. (Once I fell asleep for nine hours during a five minute meditation.) It doesn’t matter. Just do it. You’re not sitting to have good sits, you’re sitting to transform your life. And transforming your life isn’t always going to be easy.
- There’s no such thing as a bad meditation. Really. Well, I’ll concede that a meditation you didn’t do is a bad meditation. But every sit you do is a good sit. It’s good in that you’re building that habit. You’re keeping faith with your practice and with yourself. You’re showing determination and tenacity. And down below the threshold of awareness you’re doing things like building new neural pathways in the brain. Your brain is building those pathways, strengthening your ability to regulate your emotions and to live compassionately and mindfully, whether or not you enjoy a particular sit. So your meditation wasn’t just monkey-mind? It was a cage full of ADHD monkeys on speed, throwing poop at each other? At least you did it. You rock!
I’m sure I’ve missed some points, but perhaps other people can chip in below and share their experience.
And what’s next? We have another 100 day challenge coming up! This one is 100 Days of Lovingkindness. Stay tuned, and keep sitting.