When I was in college, I was close friends with several people who practiced meditation.
I did not understand it then, and thought of it as an esoteric exercise practiced by the Eastern philosophers I was reading about in my Introduction to Philosophy class.
In my early 20s, I dated an “enlightened dude” whose tiny living room was mostly furnished with a big pile of comfy meditation pillows. I liked their comfort more for an afternoon of cuddling or an evening to watch a movie than a quiet meditation practice.
In my mid-20s, I became more curious about the idea of meditation. I read a couple of articles and a popular book, and then spent a few evenings sitting on the wooden floor in the corner of my bedroom trying to empty out my mind for an hour at a time. Mostly, I got twitchy and ended up mentally writing my grocery list or my weekly to-do list.
I quickly abandoned the practice figuring that I was just not enlightened enough, but still yearning for that indescribable something.
Then in my 30s, I finally welcomed the idea of meditation. I realized that meditation didn’t have to be confined to an uncomfortable spot on the floor—that those moments of quiet might be found on a monotonous afternoon run, or in a quick walk around the neighborhood.
Despite the quiet and peace that I would occasionally find, I would keep the habit for a couple of weeks at most—half an hour or more each day. During those little jaunts of inspiration, I welcomed the peace and the quiet, but could not quite keep up the routine.
A dear friend sent me links to a couple of 21-day online meditation challenges. Those were always a welcome invitation to reinvigorate and recharge, but I could not seem to make it through all 21 days—much less make it a regular and routine practice.
Then at the end of 2016, I got serious—which really meant that I just decided I was going to do it.
I started sitting and just breathing early in the morning and it became easier. I came across a volunteer group (New Leaf Meditation) offering one-on-one meditation mentoring. Eager for guidance, I quickly tapped out an email asking for help and a phone call. About a week later, I spoke with Anthony and he gave me his background of years of dedicated meditation practice.
Already feeling like an impostor, and a little overwhelmed, I bit my cheek. Then he asked me about my practice. I answered that I could always go for a few days and then I would forget, and then it would be days or weeks before I tried again. I mentioned always trying to meditate for 30 minutes—not sure where I had come up with that amount of time.
He asked me about my morning routine and asked if three minutes could be carved out of my morning. Something about three minutes immediately burst my meditation anxiety bubble. Three minutes might not be enough for some, but that simple amount is longer than it takes to boil water for tea and longer than it takes to brush my teeth in the morning.
Six months later, I have been eagerly and routinely sitting for three minutes—usually more—in quiet meditation every morning. It’s funny how something simple like a shorter period of time made it easy for me to begin.
When I was training for a marathon, I didn’t assume I would be able to run 26 miles at the beginning. It was long and slow progress from a couple of miles to those longer, over 20-mile runs. It has been the same with meditation.
Sometimes, all it takes is showing up and knocking out the excuses. Sometimes, I meditate longer; sometimes, my practice is only the three minutes. But the big thing is that I am doing it.
The most apparent difference, though, was changing my mindset, not just during meditation, but about practice. When we take away our expectations, what often emerges is something very clear and simple.
It was all about deciding that I wanted to do it, rather than that I needed to do it. We always seem to find time and room in our lives for the things we want, even when we cannot find space for the things we need. A regular practice of three minutes daily is better than one or two days a year for 30 minutes.
I am no longer overwhelmed by the idea of a meditation practice. Now, I’m practicing. Practice means it’s okay to miss a day or so, or to make mistakes. I welcome the pockets of time; and, now, because I’m used to those three little minutes, I can find other three-minute windows throughout the day: at the end of my lunch break, when I finish washing dishes, even a couple of minutes during a stop in traffic, right before I start writing, or in the quiet before I go to bed.
The reason most people fail in their quest for resolutions or in their establishment of new habits is that they think of it as a need, rather than a desire. A good start is a good beginning. It doesn’t have to be a big change, but the difference in my mind is like night and day.
The peacefulness I find in my brain now, after six months of practicing, is like the beautiful “after” picture in one of those room makeover articles in a home decorating magazine. My “before” brain felt crowded with thoughts swirling. Now I’m able to quiet my mind much more easily—not just in my three minutes, but any time during the day when I catch myself spinning or my brain whirring.
The magic, for me, is in the three minutes. That doesn’t mean three minutes is always enough, but I figure a regular practice is better than nothing. More than that, it’s magical.
Now, I get out of bed and sit for three minutes.
I am slowly but surely finding the time, and giving myself the space and the grace. It is just a little time, a little forgiveness of myself when I forget, and a little bit of quiet to begin the day.
I notice the difference.
On the days that I practice, I feel more peaceful; and, the more I do it, the easier it becomes. I have also realized that three minutes is magical because it does not feel like an insurmountable goal.
The tiny pockets of time seem invisible to anyone else, but—to me—they can be the difference between a crazy, harried day and a peaceful, pleasantly full day. I can meditate in the waiting room or at the bus stop.
Now, I realize that meditation is not reserved for the swamis and yogis, but for all of us—in the tiny, ordinary moments. When we give ourselves permission to try, to practice, to begin, we can do amazing things for ourselves. I still stumble, but I keep trying. I forgive myself as this practice slowly becomes my praxis.
I take a deep breath. I begin.
Author: Kary Schumpert
Image: Lucía Puertas/Flickr
Editor: Leah Sugerman
Copy Editor: Travis May
Social Editor: Yoli Ramazzina