March 4, 2019

500 Days of Meditation: the Good, the Bad & the Ugly.


I heard the screeching alarm pierce the night, and I looked over at the bright red 4 a.m. illuminated on the clock’s screen.

My head was groggy, and I struggled to remember why I had chosen to set the alarm for such a ridiculous hour.

Slowly, I recalled my previous night’s intention to get up early and sit for 20 minutes in meditation before my normal morning routine. I shuffled to the bathroom and took care of my morning ablutions. In 10 minutes, I was back in my bedroom sitting on my meditation cushion and ready to embark on a journey of daily meditation.

Little did I know that this practice would exceed 500 consecutive days. Meditating regularly was such a struggle for me, as it is for so many others. I had 30 days in mind due to all these 30-day challenges that I often delete from my inbox. I picked 4 a.m. to ensure that there was enough time to do everything and still make it to work before 7 a.m. It is not glamorous to wake every morning between 4 and 6 a.m. But we owe it to ourselves to sit in silence, and first thing in the morning is ideal for most.

There’s nothing trendy, fun, or sexy about it. Meditation is sacred work.

It is the deep practice that is necessary to rediscovering our authenticity, our true nature. A part of me that I had buried as far down as possible.

Why meditation?

I discovered meditation in the summer of 2014. It became evident to me at an intuitive level that I was nearing a breaking point due to stress and overwork. Work consumed me full-time during weekdays and part-time on weekends. As if that wasn’t enough, I was also attending online college full-time.

The stress was exacerbated by heavy debt, a drinking habit begging to become alcoholism, and the false belief that watching pornography was easier than interacting with my wife.

My health was suffering, and I felt that if I didn’t start saving myself, I’d soon be in trouble. Like so many people today, I was suffering from trying to keep an inordinately complicated show on the road. I spotted a special edition magazine from Yoga International while standing in line at the bookstore. The headline indicated that this edition was specifically for busy people. I was a busy person, so I bought it for the plane ride to our family vacation at Disney World. Because that’s what busy people in debt do—they book an expensive vacation to the happiest, busiest, and most expensive place on earth!

The articles in the magazine pulled me in. They were talking about my problems and how I can go about resolving them. In the following years, I continued learning about meditation through magazines, books, and the internet. Practicing yoga was also a newfound love, and for me the two practices became entwined.

Sitting and meditating was sporadic and came in bursts, as it does for most people starting out. I’d learn about a new technique or style and then sit down to practice it for maybe a week or two. Without regularity, I quickly found myself restless with each new attempt at meditation. Frustration was getting in the way of any noticeable progress.

I was also lacking the benefit of community. Without community, there was no sense of accountability.

With that said, there are tools that can help us with this work. The one that worked best for me is an app called Insight Timer. This tool brings a community of meditators together in a social media environment.

With this tool, we have easier access to community and accountability. We can learn from guided meditations or do the deep work of meditation with music or silence—all while a tone of our choice begins and ends the meditation.

How did I come to reach 500 consecutive days of meditation?

I began using the Timer app in August 2017, and I enjoyed the functionality that it provides. On October 2nd, I set an intention to meditate for one month. The only terms were that it be first thing in the morning before my family awoke from their slumber, and that it be for no less than 10 minutes.

The app offers an incentive in the form of color-coded stars for your meditation peers to see. This element of gamification reminded me of the leader board so popularly used in video games and arcades. It was impressive how many other meditators had a wide array of stars, and I playfully intended to get myself some of those stars. As the end of the month approached, I decided to try for another 30 days. Stars were starting to pile up and the intention morphed into 100 days.

I have no idea when meditation formed in my mind as a habit, but there was no denying that it had happened after I passed 100 straight days.

As I approached the one-year mark, there was such a great sense of accomplishment. It feels funny to admit that at the end of my meditation on the 365th day, I half expected balloons and streamers to shoot out of my iPhone, or at least fall from the ceiling. My undeniable feeling of achievement was enough for me that day.

Here’s the thing: although meditating to get stars may become a game at times, the benefits we receive from all these sessions can only begin to awaken us to our true nature. It’s not important if we sit down each day to earn a reward, because a healthy habit will form, and that is invaluable to our state of well-being.

Other major changes crept into my awareness over the span of these 500 days. New space was opening in my world that I had cluttered for so long. I was relaxing more at work and cutting back on the hours. I dropped anything that no longer aligned with my values, such as the online master’s program and part-time work. I was no longer drinking habitually. As for the pornography, I can’t even remember the last time I thought about it. My wife and I had cleared away all our debt in 2017, so that was no longer an issue for us.

Other than getting out of debt, none of these changes were intentional per se. The only intention that was made was to sit every morning in silence for at least 10 minutes. Upon introspection, it became evident that as I became more aware of my true nature, I no longer desired these cluttered and numbing vices.

It was worth every morning that I had to look at that alarm at 4 a.m. and plop my butt on the cushion for 10 minutes or more. We can find meditation so challenging for various reasons, but the benefits simply cannot be ignored.

Creating a meditation routine can be elusive. We all know the excuses:

There’s no time.
I can’t get comfortable.
Am I doing this right?
Is it improving anything?

These are questions and issues that almost every single meditator I’ve ever talked to or learned from has dealt with in their own practice. It’s common to us all.

No journey isn’t without its share of challenges. There will be times when we can’t meditate the full 10 minutes or at all due to a missed alarm in the morning or maybe a sick kid or pet who needs attention. The simple solution may be to do it for five minutes instead or sit later in the day after things have settled down. I’ll never forget the week I was terribly ill and had to meditate while laying in bed. There’s no rule stating that meditation is only done while sitting on a cushion or chair.

There may also be travel issues that take us away from our normal routine. A great thing about meditation is that it can be done from anywhere. We might find that traveling gives us no excuse for bypassing a calm and centering start to the day.

The lesson here is that we can all create any number of excuses to prevent us from meeting our intention to meditate daily. We only get out of it what we give, and no one is going to hold us accountable if we don’t do that for ourselves first. The app isn’t going to care if we miss a day—only you will care.

Remember too that using this app, or any meditation app for that matter, is not necessary for creating a daily meditation practice. Let’s not forget that people have been meditating for thousands of years without the benefit of such modern amenities. Try to find what works best for you.

Most importantly, be gentle and kind to yourself, for this sacred work can only make for a better you and a better world. Celebrate the victories and learn from any failures.

So, how many consecutive days sound good to start? Seven days, two weeks, one month? Remember, the key is to start.

As Waylon Lewis says, “Just do it.”

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