100 Day Meditation Challenge

The benefit of meditating regularly

100 day mediation challenge 035As a long-time meditator who has never established a daily habit, I’ve been questioning the value of the 100 day challenge and asking: does it matter if I miss a day?

In the great scheme of things, it probably doesn’t. But although the ‘great scheme of things’ is a handy minimiser at times, its distant perspective doesn’t help much with detail.

The truth is that if missing one day turns into missing another and then another, I find it strangely difficult to get back to meditating. It’s as if an invisible membrane forms after the first lapse, which grows thicker and thicker as the days pass until it has separated me completely from my practice and from that part of me that values meditation and longs to be more consistent. I have to burst back through it. My first meditation after a gap usually feels like coming home and I can’t imagine why I resisted for so long.

This time I’ve let myself get to nearly 90 consecutive days on the timer I use (Insight Timer). There have been some ‘dry patches’ along the way where my mind has refused to settle, even for a second. But I’m trying not to expect immediate emotional or spiritual payoffs from my sits and just do them on trust, the same way I clean my teeth every morning. In a strange way, that lack of expectation makes it easier to ‘just do it.’

So for me, the benefit of being consistent is that it leads to more consistency. Whether there’s any other benefit, I’ll be very interested to see.

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Being mindful of the effects of your thinking

100 Day Meditation ChallengeSome kinds of thinking are helpful in terms of what we’re trying to achieve in the meditation, and some kinds aren’t.

So in mindfulness of breathing the counting (which is a form of thought) is helpful. In lovingkindness practice the phrases that we say (“may you be well,” etc.) are also helpful. And less “programmatic’ thoughts can also be helpful in bringing about greater attentiveness, relaxation, calmness, or other qualities. You can recognize these by their effects.

But generally, most of the thinking we do is concerned with worrying, doubting, arguing, criticizing, yearning, etc., and most of that thinking perceptibly stirs up suffering of one sort or another.

I’d simply suggest looking at what your thoughts are doing, and notice whether they’re contributing to your wellbeing or otherwise. And in the same vein you can look at what periods of mental stillness and non-thought do.

The distinction I am making isn’t between preplanned (or as I called them earlier, “programmatic”) thoughts and spontaneous thoughts, but between thoughts that cause disturbance or confusion and those that lead us into deeper stillness. And the way to tell the difference is to notice not just the thought, but what effect the thought has. This, it must be said, can be a challenging practice at first, and especially if the mind is still quite unruly.

Given this challenge, it’s absolutely fine to treat all throughs the same way, just noticing and letting go of them. Once the mind begins to still even just a little, it’ll become easier to notice what effects your thoughts are having.

And actually it can be even easier than this to distinguish the two kinds of thought. We can perceive a qualitative difference between them, in an esthetic sort of a way, much as we don’t have do do any analysis whatsoever to tell the difference between a good singer and a bad singer. You just feel, in the moment of hearing, that this singer has a good voice and that that one doesn’t, or that this thought is just noise, and this one has a quality of clarity and wisdom to it.

Of course in meditation we sometimes have great ideas. In the relative stillness and openness of meditation, creativity can emerge. You might solve a problem that’s been bugging you for ages, or come up with an excellent idea for something you hadn’t even realized was a problem. Those ideas again are qualitatively different from the usual “junk thinking” we often do, but still have the effect of taking us away from our meditation practice, and although they’re a subtler form of distraction than having an argument with a colleague in your head, they’re still distractions. What I often do in such circumstances (I do not want to lose those good ideas) is to cross my fingers. When I come out of meditation I am aware that my fingers are crossed and I remember what the idea was.

So there are actually several kinds of thinking that you might identify:

  • “Junk” thinking (worrying, arguing, craving, etc.).
  • “Preplanned” or “programmatic thinking (the numbers, the metta phrases).
  • “Creative” thinking that’s unrelated to the meditation practice.
  • “Creative” thinking that is related to the meditation practice.

It’s worth being aware of these distinctions, and seeing a move to the last two as a sign of progress. (Are there other kinds of thinking that you’ve noticed?) Also, of course, there are gaps between our thoughts, and those become longer and more pronounced as the mind settles down. We often overlook these because we become a bit too focused on the “problem” of excessive thinking and forget to appreciate the good (calm, clarity, love) that’s beginning to emerge. Remember to appreciate the stillness that arises in your mind, even if it’s only momentary.

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Day 33 of Wildmind’s 100 Day Meditation Challenge

100 day meditation challenge 033Sometimes people have problems with the final stage of lovingkindness practice — developing goodwill for all beings. Because how can you possibly relate to all beings! It’s impossible!

I think the language of “all beings” can be misleading. We can’t literally have metta for all beings because we don’t know who they are, or where they are, or even if they are!

The final stage is called, in the commentaries, “breaking the bounds” and I see it as breaking the bounds of one-to-one relationships. The middle three stages all include a one-to-one relationship with someone: a friend, a neutral person, and someone you have difficulty with. A visual comparison (not that I’m saying it has to be visualized this way, or visualized at all) would be a ray of light going from you to that person. But in the final stage, at least the way I experience it now, after many years of evolution in my practice, I drop the sense of one-to-one relationships altogether.

What I do, in essence, is simply to have a sense that my mind is imbued with lovingkindness, so that whoever I call to mind, or whoever is physically in my presence, is touched by a mind of lovingkindness. So a visual comparison here would be light radiating out from us in every direction. Whoever enters the range of the light is touched by it. Again, I don’t actually visualize light at all in my meditation, I’m just trying to find a metaphor to illustrate the difference between metta “bounded” by a one-to-one relationship and metta that has “broken the bounds” and that is simply part of our awareness, touching whoever enters that awareness.

How I’ll enter the final stage is to become aware of the space around me, including the light and sound on all sides, simultaneously. My awareness now feels spacious: I’m conscious of a field of awareness that in a sense expands all around me. And I’ll have a sense of letting that field of awareness be filled with lovingkindness. I’m doing that now as I type. Shantikirika and Eric are in the office with me, one to the left and one to the right. I am aware of their presence, and I’m doing that with a gentle “touch.” If I could hear the guys in the office upstairs, I’d be doing the same with them, although they’re unusually quiet this morning. And then I call to mind myself, the friend, the neutral person, and the person I have difficulty with, and rather than “send” them metta I simply receive them in a loving awareness. And from there I can call to mind various people and places, and similarly let them be touched by the light and warmth of my mettaful consciousness.

In in principle, all beings are touched by my lovingkindness, in the sense that whoever enters my mind is met with love. But I don’t have to literally imagine “all beings.” Thank goodness!

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Day 32 of Wildmind’s 100 Day Meditation Challenge

100 day meditation challenge 032Kevin, one of Wildmind’s Community members, writes very movingly about why he meditates.

I sit so I can stand.

I am a novice meditator, having stumbled upon the practice while looking for some strength and solace in the face of an enormous emotional trauma. I can say without reservation that my practice has kept me sane and perhaps even alive. I do not claim to be an expert meditator, whatever that may be. Many days, much of my time on the cushion is spent trying to find a comfortable posture. I can’t do a body scan to save my neck. My mind races and the emotions sometimes utterly overwhelm me. Sometimes it feels like I should post a sign in my meditation spot that reads, “Please keep your hands and feet in the car until the ride comes to a complete stop.” But still I sit — every morning, so far.

I sit because occasionally I do experience moments of profound peace.

I sit because I can tell it’s working, slowly, gradually, imperceptibly. My mind is being trained.

But the main reason I sit came to me recently during an otherwise difficult sit. My mind was racing, the emotions were surging, my narrator was chattering away. But in the midst of it all came this clear thought:

I sit so I can stand.

Yes. I sit so I can stand — not physically, but emotionally, mentally, spiritually. I sit so that no matter what happens the rest of the day, I can stand.

I sit so that no matter what painful thoughts come or emotional storms howl, I can stand. The storms do not and have not stopped, but I can stand in their midst and not lose myself — at least occasionally.

I sit so I can stand.

Since joining the Wildmind Google+ community, I have discovered that there are many more folks like me who have found and are finding strength and solace for their emotional wounds in practice. What I have found is that not only do I sit so that I can stand, but that WE sit so that WE can help each other stand. Every day at least a few of us need that help to stand, need a little metta and tenderness. This is sangha. We sit so we can stand.

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Day 31 of Wildmind’s 100 Day Meditation Challenge

100 day meditation challenge 031David St. Michael, from Wildmind’s Google+ Community, looks back on where his practice has taken him so far:

I enjoy my morning meditations. It’s a ritual that is deeply a part of me. I used to, for many years, wake up feeling depressed and angry and stuff. Most of that is crap I learned from childhood abuse and growing up in a messed up family.

However, about three years ago, I started morning meditating in direct response to my demons, as it were. I wanted something to do that would help calm my mind, but not put me to sleep, and meditation fit the bill. It’s perfect, really.

Anyways. In the last three years I’ve grown a lot and have really learned tons about Buddhism. And one of the main things I’ve learned? Harsh judging of everything isn’t necessary. For every person, place, or thing there is, I can simply observe it and, maybe, learn.

The time and energy that I used to devote to passing harsh judgements and sustaining them, I can now use for other things. Like being. Which gets me back to meditation. During meditation, I can just be. I love that.

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Day 30 of Wildmind’s 100 Day Meditation Challenge

100 day meditation challenge 030Emily Schudel of our Google+ Community shares the following account of her progress to date:

The mind wanders into very interesting corners, but I am learning to patiently let it go and return to the breath. I find the practice creeping into my workday as well. I have an app on my computer that also helps (called Stillness Buddy) – pops up on my screen at intervals for a variety of stillness pauses in the day.

One thing I am really trying to be mindful of at work (and in life) now is getting away from multitasking. So many people seem to think doing many things at once is important, necessary and showing of great skill. I don’t know any more – I am beginning to think not, although I still get trapped in the mindset of doing many things at once. I’m trying to stop, do one task at a time (of course, work doesn’t always allow for that, but I try to do one thing for a set time, then switch to another) and do it with full attention on the task at hand, trusting that the other task(s) will be waiting for me to complete next. People at work laugh when I talk about multitasking being perhaps not the thing we should be working towards, but I am caring less and less. I feel like I accomplish more (and accomplish it better, if you will) but lending my full attention to one task at a time. But, I’m still working on it!

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The benefits of daily meditation: Day 29 of Wildmind’s 100 Day Meditation Challenge

100 day meditation challenge 029From Lisa L., on Wildmind’s Google Plus Community [sadly, Google shut down their social network in 2019]:

Meditating daily as part of the 100 day challenge has been very powerful for me. Practicing daily makes it clear that good sits and bad sits happen, which makes it much easier to sit even when things are difficult. I don’t worry anymore if I’m in the ‘right frame of mind’ to sit. I don’t worry about whether I’m ready to face the focused mind in my sitting. I just sit, and bring whatever I’ve got/dealing with, with me. And some days are a real struggle, but not necessarily the days that I expect to struggle. Some days are a joy, but not necessarily those days I expect to have an easy time.

Sitting on easy days and hard days means that I am able to deal with the good and the bad through the techniques I’ve learned from Bodhipaksa Dharmacari and others. When I was just sitting when I felt ‘capable’ of having a good sit, I didn’t give myself the opportunity to work through difficulties with these tools.

The biggest difference I’m seeing is actually in my life off the cushion. I’ve noticed that I’ve started applying the same curious beginner mind to investigating what’s going on in my own life. When my parents offer me some well-meaning advice I do not immediately assume this is meant as a criticism, and I am more patient and listen better. In a recent conflict with my partner, I was able to recognize that this one encounter was just one moment, and I didn’t let my feelings snowball, nor did I fantasize about how this might affect our relationship.

And all this happened in just 22 days. I can’t imagine how things will be in another 78.

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Day 28 of Wildmind’s 100 Day Meditation Challenge

100 day meditation challenge 028How’s the 100 Day Meditation Challenge going for you?

I confess we rather threw this project together at the last moment. Someone had mentioned in Wildmind’s Google+ Community that they’d just completed 100 straight days of meditation, and someone else said “Hey, what about a 100 Day Challenge,” and I said yes. This was all in late December!

One thing I didn’t take much time to think about was the stated purpose of the challenge. One soul on Facebook thought we were running some kind of competitive meditation event, but it certainly isn’t that! The original aim was to encourage people to set up a habit of meditating daily by sitting every day (or aiming to sit every day) for 100 days.

One problem with this is that it’s a rather daunting undertaking for some people — those new to meditation and those who haven’t had anything close to a daily practice for some time — to think about sitting for 100 days. And feelings of failure can arise, which isn’t helpful

I think next time I’d frame the challenge rather differently. It would be over the course of 100 days, to have established a daily meditation practice. This allows for some initial difficulty in getting on the cushion, and takes some of the strain out of participating. But you have 100 days to get your #$@& together.

For people who already have a half-way strong practice, it would be feasible to aim for sitting every one of those days, but again there would be less of a tendency to think we’ve “failed” when we’ve missed a day.

This whole thing is about building a habit. Not about attaining perfection.

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Day 27 of Wildmind’s 100 Day Meditation Challenge

100 day meditation challenge 027Nicki, from Wildmind’s Google Plus Community, offers her take on “how it’s going so far” in the 100 Day Challenge:

The first thing I’ve noticed is a welling-up and outpouring of compassion. In interactions with friends I’ve been almost wholly focussed on them, their lives and interests and how to help them, rather than caught up in some internal dialogue with myself. And the compassion also extends more widely into the world.

Last week I was buying lunch in a takeaway shop, and saw an elderly man sitting slowly cutting and eating a piece of roast chicken (with apologies to vegetarian readers). It was obvious that the movements were difficult for him, and that the strength and coordination to navigate around the chicken bones were testing him to the utmost. So his hands moved slowly, carefully, and I looked at his translucent age-spotted skin and felt an almost unbearable tenderness for this unknown man.

This sounds lovely.

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Day 26 of Wildmind’s 100 Day Meditation Challenge

100 day meditation challenge 026Here’s a quick “How it’s going for me” from Peter, who is involved in Wildmind’s Community.

A little over 7 months ago, I lost my partner (of 44 years) to cancer. I struggle with my grief and realised I needed to find some spiritual solace.

I had meditated on an occasional basis over the last few years, mainly trying to deal with any anxiety that I found in life. I tried returning to my childhood Christian tradition, but found this did not answer my need.

I returned to meditation which had always been guided by Bodhipaksa (his ‘Guided Meditations’ from 2005), and found greater peace and some quietening of my anxiety through this.

Some 6 weeks ago, fate drew me to the Wildmind website, where I discovered a community that was devoted to helping each other through the adventures of meditation. Three weeks ago we started the 100 Day Challenge, to see if we could meditate daily.

It has been an enormous learning experience.

I’ve missed 3 days so far, but that is the nature of being human and compassionate – it doesn’t matter.

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