So yesterday marked the end of the Sixty for Sixty meditation challenge. I originally started it following a comment Naval Ravicant made on Joe Rogan’s podcast. I’m not really sure how I’d quantify the experience.
I started using the Waking Up app in November of last year, so I have mindful minutes on my iPhone going back to that. It’s mostly the ten minute guided lessons with some twenty or thirty minute bursts, then around late June there’s a couple thirty minute sessions before I quit drinking, then my first one hour session on the 19th. I had originally tried to scale up from thirty to sixty in five-minute increments, but I gave that up after four days and just went straight to sixty.
I was actually very disciplined about it it, only missing one session in August, and even then I still got thirty minutes in. In September, I really seemed to lose steam and the totals start dropping to 40 minutes, down to 20. I think the main reason for the drop has been time. School started back up and as a result I stayed up later, and started sleeping in. When I started doing the challenge, I was waking up around 5AM before everyone else in the house, getting my hour in and making a cup of tea before my youngest would wake up. Other times I might do it first thing in the AM or in the early afternoon before the girls get home.
Now, it’s all can do to get to bed before 11PM, and I get woken up several times during the night by the baby. By the time we get out of bed in the morning now it’s time to go, go, go. I’ve tried making up for it with 20 minute, guided lessons for an early session, followed by another 20 unguided later in the day, but I’ve fallen off.
One thing that was almost unbearable in the beginning of doing the hour long sessions was the physical pain. I would sit on the ground on top of a couple of cushions, and my back would develop these horrible aches that I would have to stretch out every five minutes near the end of the session. And just getting the feet right for that long took some getting used to as well. But then one day, following a workout, I found that the back pain was gone. So now it’s not the physical pain that is the biggest impediment to my practice, but mental ones. Getting started is the hardest part.
One of the things that isn’t so clear to me is what type of practice I’m doing. Since I was coming from the Waking Up course, Sam Harris’s version of mindfulness is what I was used to: focusing on the breathing, sounds, the visual field, noticing thoughts and just being aware of the whole of conscious experience. But Naval had urged people just to sit, without any goal. As a result, I found myself thinking through about whatever was going on, challenges, ideas about whatever. It was a much more creative, effortless practice.
I’m going to have more to say about habits in a later post, all I want to mention now with regard to meditation practice is that the amount of time I spent meditating daily is a pretty good indicator as to how well I’m sticking to my healthy habits. I don’t have any plans to start drinking alcohol, but I have been drinking a lot of caffeine-laced energy drinks lately. And while I don’t think the two are directly related, I think there’s probably some underlying factor, probably stress, that I’m not dealing with elsewhere else.
And I’m probably not the best person to assess whether my practice has affected my interpersonal behaviors. Of course, the goal of meditation is not what happens during practice, but how you carry that practice into the real world. Being able to recognize and interrupt unhealthy behaviors or responses to stress throughout the day is one of the reasons I took it up. I’m not really sure how that’s turned out. I do find myself more aware at times, but on the other hand I think I’ve been quicker to temper, especially with my kids. Part of it may be no alcohol. But the temper doesn’t linger, and less likely to beat myself up about negative behaviors.
And one more point, about clock watching. I’ve tried to refrain from keeping a visual or auditory timer or any other indicator of how long is passing when I meditate. Earlier apps that I used had a soundtrack or a bell to mark intervals, but I found those too distracting. I would hear the loops in Calm’s bird-chirping background and notice it every time I’d hear the same pattern of tweets. So when I first started to do the longer sessions, I’d just set the starting gong, and sit there until I heard the next one, which would mark then end of my session.
I always had my iPhone in front of me, and while I would use it as a visual fixture sometimes, I found I had to put in in airplane mode after a few notifications interrupted the app’s timer. A few times I found myself checking the timer to see that I had been sitting for an indeterminate amount of time. Anyways, the last minutes of a session, whether it’s a sixty minute or twenty minute one, are still challenging. A part of my brain is sitting there, ready to get up and go, go, go, and it’s hard to sit still without checking the clock to make sure that the timer is still running. And no matter whether I’m doing a twenty, forty or sixty minute session, a part of my brain knows that time is winding down, and is gets anxious about getting up and getting on with my day. There was only one time I can remember being surprised by the closing bell, and thinking “wow, it’s over already.”