An experiement with sitting meditation

Simon is a regular at my Saturday Dharma talk at the Buddhist English library of Seoul. Here’s his experience with trying to sit everyday for a year.

While I enjoy sitting meditation, and feel that it is of benefit to me, I have found that making time in my daily life for sitting One of the cool things about the street fair are the activities, here passersby participate in making a Buddhist paintingpractice is not something that comes naturally. Sometimes I’m not “in the mood,” and often I don’t think I can put aside enough time to “do it right.” Weeks can go by until it all comes together and I actually engage in sitting meditation. In an effort to make this practice a part of my daily life, my New Year’s resolution for 2011 was to practice sitting mediation every day for the year. I was quite successful, missing only one day: the day before I got married.

In order to give myself the best chance of succeeding with my resolution, “sitting meditation” was defined quite broadly. This definition did not include how long each day’s meditation should be. The result was that while some sessions lasted about an hour, the vast majority were only ten or fifteen minutes, or even shorter. (Which was not even enough time to allow my thoughts to settle.) While some meditation was done on park benches and in airport lounges, the vast majority was done at home, just before bed. Because I was not waiting to have lots of free time or to be in a “meditative mood,” I feel that the “quality” of my meditation actually decreased.

One (the only?) result that I was hoping for from this year of meditation was that daily sitting practice would become a habit, and that the habit would continue through 2012 (when it was not part of a resolution) and beyond. This did not happen. In 2012 I sat only a handful of times. Again, I sat only when I was in the mood and felt that I could spare enough time to have a productive session. The following is a reflection on a few of the differences in my overall experiences of 2011 (sitting every day) and 2012 (virtually no sitting meditation).

I did not notice a difference in my overall stress level between the two years. However, looking back, 2011 was unquestionably a more stressful year (getting engaged, getting married in Korea (with family and friends all visiting Korea for the first time), an incredibly hostile work environment, much longer work hours, writing three papers towards a Master’s degree). Perhaps the fact that I felt equally stress-free in both years was due to the daily sitting practice in 2011.

I did notice a difference in my relationships with people, especially at work. (Though certainly not limited to work: this effect was also clear when communicating with my family.) As I mentioned before, work in 2011 was pretty tough. Yet, I found that most of the time that I engaged with co-workers I was doing so without “baggage” from the previous encounter. I approached each meeting with fewer expectations (of any kind) and with an openness which was not there in 2012. In 2011 it was really clear that some people came into work each day with a fresh outlook, and others just picked up exactly where they had left off the day before. I doubt all of the “fresh people” were practicing sitting meditation each evening, but do I have to tell you which group of people were happier at work?

Related to the difference in my relationships with people, I think, was a change in my relationship with my daily life. In 2011, for the first time, there seemed to be both time and space between myself and the events in my life. This is not easy to explain. I would not say that I was distant, or disengaged, just that there was usually room to breathe and observe and reflect on what was happening at each moment. This disappeared in 2012, when everything just seemed to be right on top of me. Again, I’m not saying that 2012 was more stressful. I’m saying that in 2012 I was my daily life, while in 2011 my daily life was a part of me. I suppose one could interpret this as positive or negative (or neither), but for me the space was a positive thing.

Related to the change in the relationship between myself and my daily life, I think, was something even more difficult to explain. Despite approaching people free(er) of expectations, and having more space between myself and my daily life, I actually felt more connected. To what? Well, I’m way out of my depth here. Part (but not all) of what makes it so difficult to explain is that it was so subtle. I’m not talking about a specific experience. More about something constantly in the background, that you don’t even notice until your year of meditation is over and it gradually fades away and is gone. Maybe it was just the sense of well-being that sitting meditation has been reported to develop.

I imagine I experienced many benefits (and possibly some negative effects??) during my year of sitting meditation of which I was not conscious. I did learn that whatever little time I can spare is long enough to experience positive effects from sitting meditation. (Five minutes of sitting meditation is worth more than an extra five minutes of sleep.) Also, because of this “resolution approach,” I feel that rarely, if ever, did I go to meditate with any expectations or goals either than that I would be engaging in sitting practice. I think that for me this was a fairly healthy approach to sitting meditation. The idea of a New Year’s resolution to meditate every day seemed to me like a bit of a gimmick at first, but hey, whatever works.

Hope everyone has a great 2013!


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