Exactly one year ago, I started meditating for an hour every day. Between June 21, 2017 and today, I meditated for 365 hours. This post is my attempt at aggregating the experiences and learnings of my daily meditation practice. I assume that future-me will be the primary reader of this post, but if others find it useful, I’d love to hear about it.
Before I proceed, I should refer you to the story of my journey into this daily hour-long practice. It’s not as if I just suddenly decided to meditate this much. It was a gradual progression over years. I shared that story after I was 100 days into this daily practice. Since writing that post, my practice has naturally and continually evolved. I’ll start this post by describing that evolution.
I wouldn’t prescribe this much meditation to anyone. I am quite introverted. Quiet solitude gives me energy the way that fun parties give other people energy. So part of this practice comes unusually naturally to me. I’m a proponent of people practicing some meditation, and figuring out how it benefits them.
Evolution of my practice
The core of my practice was derived from Vinay Gupta’s meditation style, which I learned via an iPhone app called The Cutting Machinery (the app is no longer available). The practice consists of three meditation techniques:
- Mantra: Close my eyes and try to repeat a non-meaningful word in order to help slow down my mind.
- Open Awareness: Open my eyes and meditate on the raw input of my senses.
- Feel Your Emotions: Focus on what I’m feeling, particularly any feelings of difficulty or negativity.
Last year I practiced these techniques in 10-minute segments, running through each of them twice in an hour. I also used The Cutting Machinery app to track my daily progress. In early 2018, I stopped using the app, started using the native iPhone Timer, and switched to 3 twenty-minute segments instead of 6 ten-minute segments. I found that the 20-minute segments allow me to dig deeper into those techniques, as well as simplifying the practice.
In the next parts of this post, I will highlight things that I have added or modified along the way.
Meditation can happen any time
When I started this practice I was very regimented. This was important for establishing it as a daily habit. As the year progressed, my daily routines and structure changed, and I needed more flexibility. I went from waking up and starting every day with an early morning meditation, to holding myself accountable to set aside enough time to meditate whenever I could:
- I would often break out each 20-minute segment into a different part of the day.
- Sometimes before I went to sleep at night, I still had some meditation to do.
- Sometimes when I couldn’t sleep, I would get up and practice.
- Sometimes I had to catch up on a missed day or two the next week, often by sprinkling extra 20-minute segments across multiple days.
I’ve found that the more I spread out my meditation into my day, the more the day comes into my meditation. On these days, it can feel more like mindfulness. It is less focused, but also more integrated into my natural everyday moments.
Meditation can happen anywhere
In order to fit an hour of meditation into my busiest weeks, I meditated wherever I happened to be: flights, trains, parks, hotels, beaches, and taxis. Noise-cancelling headphones work wonders in order to create a sort of auditory solitude amidst distracting noises. This Pandora station has worked well for background music. That said, most of my meditation happened on the floor of my bedroom, looking east toward the morning sun.
Sometimes you just sit there
When my life gets chaotic or I’m undergoing a lot of change, I find meditation to be significantly less peaceful. In fact, the quiet time can leave my flooded mind racing to catch up with all of the processing it needs to do. I try to be patient, let life eventually settle down, and for my mind to run out of things to work on. Only then can I get back into a deeper meditative state.
During the “Feel Your Feelings” section of my practice, I use my fingers to trace circles on my wrists as a symbol of the things I need to focus on. They’re not necessarily my highest priorities, but they’re the things that I’m most prone to avoid responsibility for.
Similarly, I tap patterns on the back of my left hand with my right hand’s fingers as a way of reminding myself of the intentional roles (such as father, brother, uncle, friend, etc) that I play in order to help me keep my priorities straight.
Whenever possible, I prefer to have a bottle of water and a lit candle next to me. I use this candle when I’m at home. When I blow out the candle, I always watch the smoke rise until the wick stops smoking. It’s a last little bit of peace before I dive into whatever is next. And I love the chaos & randomness of the wispy smoke.
In the final parts of this post, I will cover my personal journey through this practice.
I grieved losses
My practice enabled me to feel and grieve what I’ve lost this past year. My primary residence is no longer the same as my three teenage kids’ primary residence. This fact is difficult for me to bear sometimes. Meditation has helped me dig into it, and start working through it instead of burying it or avoiding it. I still have a lot of work to do, and grateful for a practice that helps me make progress.
My roles are not my identity
I have a growing awareness of the roles that I have attached my identity to. I assume it’s a natural phenomenon to allow our roles to become indistinguishable from who we are. Yet, some roles are more transient than others, and when they disappear, an identity crisis can happen.
A year ago I was a husband and a grandson, among many other roles. With the end of my marriage, and the death of my last living grandparent, these aren’t roles that I play anymore. One of these roles was easier to let go of than the other.
I went through a kind of identity crisis last year, one of the most psychologically painful periods of my life. I eventually realized that I’d deeply attached “husband” to my identity during the course of 20 years of marriage. Eventually separating that role from who I am was life-changing, and this meditation practice was central to that process.
The work continues as I focus on the roles that I play, and meditating on them as roles, while working to create some space between them and my identity.
Rebuilding on gratitude
When I’ve struggled with feelings of depression or anxiety or pain, I’ve found that practicing gratitude is consistently helpful. Yet, despite the many blessings and privileges that I can be grateful for, I have a hard time remembering to practice gratitude. Therefore, I intend to rebuild my meditation on a foundation of gratitude so that I can’t ever forget to do it. I haven’t had any bright ideas on how to do that yet, but I’m consistent in my intention, and patient for a breakthrough.
I grew taller (literally)
This is going to be hard to believe.
In early May, I saw my physician for a check-up. I was told this is something you should start doing in your 40’s, so as a 44-year-old, I visited to ensure everything was working with my body. Everything was fine.
But something odd happened. They took my weight and height. They measured me twice and told me that I was 6' 1" exactly. I did a double take. I’ve measured 6' ½" for 26 years, since I stopped growing when was 18-years-old. While I waited for my doctor, I googled “growing taller after 30” and the first result that popped up related to meditation. When my doctor arrived, I told him about the height change, and he laughed, saying I must have been tilting my head or something.
I did have another way of refuting or confirming the measurement. There is a wall where my sons and I track their growth. We put my height on there several years ago so they can see how they’re catching up to me. I had my 17-year-old remeasure me using a level, and sure enough, I measured in at about 1 inch more than the previous mark.
None of this is scientific or precise. But I’m sure I did somehow grow. Whether it’s actual bone growth, or improved posture, or something else, I have no idea, and don’t really care. I just found it to be the most delightfully surprising aspect (so far) of this meditation practice.
An enlightening book I read this year
The Holographic Universe was recommended to me by a friend I met in Nigeria. It was a mind-expanding book, starting with quantum physics, covering out-of-body and near-death experiences, and focusing on reincarnation, along with how to reason about paranormal events. If you’re curious about any of that, I recommend it. If that all sounds too strange to you, keep your distance (for now). 😉
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