Someone asked me the other day if it was possible to meditate too much. They wanted to know if something crazy would happen to your brain if you meditated for an hour or longer. I told them the truth, that I’d been on meditation retreats where we meditated for 7–8 hours a day! They said “did you lose your mind?” and I answered, “no, I found it.”
Of course, any meditation is good, and if you can only get in 10 or 15 minutes that’s absolutely fine. One caution that I do give my students is to try to meditate for at least 10 minutes, and not less. I know that a lot of people say it’s ok to do 5 minutes, or even 1, but here’s the problem with that advice.
For most of us, no matter who you are, it can take at least five minutes for your mind to actually settle down. Depending on how busy your mind is, and how keyed up your physical systems, it might take longer. So if you only ever meditate for one or five minutes, you are doing yourself a big disservice. You are only ever experiencing a busy mind! You haven’t even gotten to the good part yet.
Some people tell me that five minutes is all they can spare. I do find that a little hard to believe, to be honest. I mean, I know what it’s like to be busy, really busy and not feel like I have a moment to myself. It’s especially difficult when you have little children. Still, ten minutes is possible. If you don’t have ten minutes to spare for yourself to sit down and take a breather, then you have bigger problems that need to be addressed. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
So, 10 minutes is good, but really interesting things start to happen after 30 minutes. This is a point where you can begin to open up some powerful truths.
Imagine that you were going to the gym and working out with five-pound weights. You could do that forever, sure, but eventually, wouldn’t you want to increase your weight, just a little? To just see what more you could do. Meditation is like that. You are given new and different challenges when you increase the time. It’s not just more of the same.
The mind that you confront at 30 minutes of meditation is a different mind than the one you meet at 10. I can’t necessarily tell you what your experience will be like because the beauty of our minds is that they are all so different. You have unique thought patterns and habits that will show up for you. You also have very good defenses that will show up. They may show up as justifications for why you need to stop, they may show up as creative blasts that you simply have to write down, or they may show up as back pain that you simply can’t endure.
Whatever it is, your mind will come up with a thousand different reasons why you should stop. But if you push past, if you stay present and stay in the moment, you will gain clarity. You will start to see how your thought patterns are controlling your behavior.
While I was on one of those retreats where we were meditating for hours, I went through roller coasters of emotions. But nothing was actually happening. We sat, we walked, we ate, we sat again. Over and over. And I began to see that all the drama? It was all coming from me. From my own thoughts, my own anxious mind. I could send myself into sheer panic, while I was just sitting there breathing.
Sound unpleasant? It was. But not entirely, because something else happened too. The realization that all of my drama was coming from within, also empowered me. It also helped me see that I can control it. That I am not a slave to my anxiety, it has no power over me.
So, do you need to go on a silent retreat? That’s another post altogether, but in order to experience the power of your own thoughts and the power that you can have over them, you don’t necessarily need that experience. But you might need to meditate for longer than 10 minutes. To truly experience the mind-training that meditation can be, you have to increase the weight. And the only way to do that is to increase the amount of time that you spend sitting in meditation.
If you are just starting out, start with 10 minutes. But make a plan to gradually increase the amount. Don’t get stuck at 10 minutes. With that amount, you will find relaxation, stress relief, and many benefits. But you can increase those benefits and gain new ones by increasing the amount of time that you devote to your practice.