For the last 30 days, I have tried my hand at building a meditation habit. It is not the first, nor is it likely the last time, I have attempted this. Like me, you probably have heard “successful” people wax lyrical about the the transformative effect meditation has had on their lives. This was the motivation, my why, for previous attempts. This time around, however, I had learnt about the science behind meditation as a part of popular The Science of Wellbeing on Coursera. This exposure, paired with my recent reading of Atomic Habits, made attempting the habit again a no-brainer.
30 days is as far as I have ever gotten, if you count my previous attempts. Like anything, I have started simply. The daily goal is to meditate for 10 minutes, and I have tried to make it as simple as possible. I do it at the same time everyday, after completing my morning pages – which is the first thing I do when I wake up. I use guided meditations that I found through YouTube. After each session, I would also reflect back on how I felt immediately after finishing the 10 minutes.
A couple of years ago, I ran into an old friend who had developed a much deeper appreciation of meditation than I do. He told me about his journey, specifically a period where he went on a meditation retreat. For 12 days straight, he was cocooned from all technology and meditating for 9 hours a day. The rules of the retreat was such that they eliminated every distraction. Aside from technology, this included social interaction. The days had three three-hour group meditation sessions, broken up by morning tea, lunch, and afternoon tea. At no point was anyone allowed to look at anyone else in the eyes.
The 12 days consisted of meditating, eating, and sleeping. He described the experience as surreal. After day three, he noticed it felt like his consciousness elevated onto another plane of existence. His awareness of his body and thoughts sharpened fabulously, but not in the way people get when they get a fight-or-flight response. The impression he left was that meditation became a supremely lucid and calming state of being for him.
While I am sure to have butchered the story he told me, I have a greater appreciation for what he was trying to describe. It is not a feeling that is easily communicable, I don’t think I have the vocabulary for it. My post-meditation reflections show that I have grown to enjoy and look forward to the 10 minute sessions. My mind wanders less, and I feel more control over my thoughts. Control, however, doesn’t capture the feeling. Control suggests constraint, it is not that. During meditation, it is as if I am watching my stream-of-consciousness flowing but as a third party.
I choose to describe it in this way because in the earlier sessions, I found it difficult to rein in my wandering mind. The frustration was clear from my notes. Each day, I would try to focus on the guide. If that didn’t fly, then try to zoom in on the breath. What I found to work was to focus on how the breath travels in the nose but out through the body. I imagine it is what air-bending would feel like. Meditation became a full-body experience after that discovery.
There does not seem to be consensus in the academic community about how long it takes for a habit to stick. I have seen the claim be made for 21 days up 67 days. One a positive note, meditation has become something I look forward to. Going forward, I am going to try an experiment with extending the length of each session and perhaps going unguided.
If you would like to read my post-meditation reflections for each of the first 30 days, DM me on Twitter.