You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day,
unless you’re too busy;
then you should sit for an hour.
—Old Zen Saying
Whether this is indeed an Old Zen saying or someone’s more recent clever creation, it gives me a good chuckle. And from my own experience, it also rings very true!
I once heard an interviewer ask author Scott Peck how he accomplished so much – how he balanced writing, teaching, speaking, parenting, and being a husband. His response was that he made sure that he did nothing for at least two hours a day. Two hours a day for quiet, stillness, and reflection was what kept him going.
Several years ago, National Public Radio shared the story of a journalist who took a writing retreat in a monastery for several months. At the beginning of her stay, she made the personal commitment to follow the monk’s daily prayer schedule. This meant that every few hours, she joined the monks in the chapel for meditation. She acknowledged that during her first week there, she feared she would make no writing progress at all because her day was interrupted so many times by going to the chapel for prayers. Yet after a week or so, she fell into a beautiful rhythm of writing and meditating. In the end, she declared that her writing had never flowed so freely as when her day was punctuated with prayer and meditation. Indeed, this had been the most productive writing period she had ever experienced.
For much of the year, my days are packed with client sessions, teaching, travel, meetings, writing, email, and running the Center for Transformational Presence. Over the years, I’ve learned that when I am feeling stressed by all that is happening, it often means that I’m not spending enough time in silence and stillness. Regardless of my day’s schedule and activities, the morning always begins with 15 – 30 minutes of meditation. That’s my anchor for the day. Yet when things are crazy, that time is not enough. Sometimes I can stretch that early morning time a little longer, but more frequently I take a half hour later in the day for a walk up the road with my dogs. Or during warmer weather, I sit on my patio or deck for a half hour with a cup of tea (and, of course, the dogs) and take in the beauty of the nature that surrounds my home. No work. Just sitting in the stillness.
When I’m traveling, I keep the same practice. I am lucky that many of my workshops or trainings are in very beautiful locations surrounded by nature. I slip away on a lunch or afternoon break for a short walk in the woods or find a beautiful spot to sit alone for a few minutes and touch the deep inner stillness again.
People often ask me what form of meditation I recommend. My response is, “Whatever works.” There is no right or wrong practice. What matters most is that you find the reflective practice that feels right for you. Perhaps that is sitting meditation, or it might be yoga, or running, or walking in nature, or journaling, or something else. My only recommendation is that at least a part of your reflective time be spent in silence. It’s in the silence that we come to our own wholeness, that we touch our own inner wisdom, and that we can align with whatever name you give to the creative and sustaining force of all.
There are a couple of other things that can be helpful if you are just starting a reflective practice. First, keep it incredibly simple. If 60 seconds is all you can manage at first, then do 60 seconds. And then take 60 seconds of silence and stillness every couple of hours throughout your day. It will be like little oases in your schedule.
If you are ready for a little longer period of time, then doing your practice at the same time and in the same place every day can also be helpful. Your body and energy system will quickly catch on to what you are doing and after a week or so, when you sit down in your special spot or set off on your walk or run, your body and mind will recognize what you are doing and move into “reflective” mode.
When life is good, stress is low, and you are feeling great, it is easy to slack off on your reflective practice. However, that is exactly the time to build and strengthen your foundation so that it will be there to support you when your days are packed or challenges arise. If you are consistent and focused during the good times, you’ll have a strong practice to fall back on when times are tough.
The old Zen saying is funny and wise. Take your time in the silence for at least 20 minutes a day, unless you are too busy. And when you are too busy, take an hour.
P.S. If you would like more guidance in establishing your own reflective practice, you might start with the “Point of Stillness” meditation on the Center for Transformational Presence website or the “Breathing into the Moment” exercise that is a part of this Center for Transformational Presence welcome video. The exercise starts within the first minute of the video.
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