About 600 days ago, I decided to try to meditate for 30 days in a row; then 30 became 100, became a full year, became where the count is at now. Yes, I’ve noticed some positive changes: increased patience, more ability to find the pause before responding to a stimuli, deeper understanding of how my mind works, moments of peace and/or insight. All of which are really just different ways of saying that I pause to notice more, and noticing (which necessarily demands pausing) is the key and some would say sole object of meditation.
These changes have not been as life changing as I’d hoped. Even though all the wisdom says that we should not meditate with a goal in mind; my hope was that my life would become significantly more easeful and that I would never lose my shit. And that has not happened. Even before my streak, I attended silent meditation retreats and participated in sanghas, which meet regularly for dharma talks and group sits. Meditation and I have been around the block together. Recently, I’ve been asking myself, “Does meditation just keep me from being my worst self, as opposed to enable me to be my best self?” Which brings me to a second question, “Is it time to find out again what I’m like if I don’t meditate?”
This question of whether I should end my streak led me to think about other things that I do, if not daily, then almost daily, like exercise, eat my version of healthy and, say, brush my teeth. In all three cases, I do those activities not as duties, but as responses to urges. My body wants to move in some energetic way almost every day. I get hungry and I love sharing food with others. My tongue rebels against that furry feeling of unbrushed teeth.
Most days, meditation feels like a duty, a box to check, a streak to maintain. I’ve waited and waited for it to feel like an urge, but that has not happened. I have not kicked the feeling that I meditate to fix myself. Meditation is like cleaning the house. I love a clean house. The outcome is worth the effort. But if I could wave a magic wand and poof, everything was clean, I’d take the wand. Pending a wand, I sure do love my Roomba robot vacuum. I don’t want a wand or a robot substitute for exercise, food and, yes, even for brushing my teeth. In the absence of fairy magic dispensed meditation, I wonder, is the house of my mind cleaner enough when I’m done sitting to make the meditation worth the effort?
What does a cleaner mind even mean? More mindful. And as a further elaboration, when I use the term “mindful” I mean it to describe an embodied mindfulness, engaged through the cultivation of the full spectrum of our intelligence, physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual and intuitive, our connection with the fullness of the present.
Meditation is not the only mindfulness avenue I’ve explored. I’ve been on a Vision Fast with the School of Lost Borders. For a couple of years, I hooked up regularly to a neurofeedback machine, which nudged my brain waves to bring the two hemispheres into better harmony. I took the Search Inside Yourself course, developed by Google and Stanford. I sampled Yale’s wildly popular Science of Happiness Course. I’ve been diving deep into the practice of Non-Violent Communication. I’ve even developed an embodied mindfulness practice, called Emotional Scales, which I lead in workshops.
There are times when I feel like my seeker self is on overdrive. I wonder if I’m consuming too many inputs. Am I seeking to fix myself, or to grow and evolve a deeper understanding of myself and the world? Intention matters.
What do I intend when I meditate?
Which brings me back to my question, should I end my meditation streak?
The answer: Yes. If only as an experiment to test outcome.
600 days feels like a nice round number. But 730 (two full years) feels better. Because it turns out I’m not as ready to pull the plug as I thought I was when I sat down to write this. I want to warm up for the change by, yes, you guessed it, noticing how the knowledge of the streak’s imminent end affects my practice.
I’ve been writing this over several days. I noticed that as soon as I began exploring the idea of ending my streak, my commitment level increased and my daily sits have been less distracted. Like saying the most important thing you wanted to say to someone just before you part ways. Like a movie with bonus clips after the credits.
120 days is still a long way to go. Especially when time has been pandemicized — become stiller, yet more chaotic.
I’m staying curious, open to noticing.