“How long have I been sitting here?”
“Surely the time is use up now?”
“Man, I suck at this!!! Maybe mediation isn’t for me? Will the time ever be up???”
This is the dialogue I found barging into my mind when I first began a practice of meditation. Whether I intended a 10 minute sit or a longer one, my mind would eventually come to an anxious state about how much time had elapsed. Sometimes this is because I have other items on my agenda, sometimes it is for no better reason than a lack of practice sitting still.
This will likely happen to you too.
My advice is so basic—and of such a beginner nature—I have never heard of it being offered anywhere else but it worked for me and so I am sharing it in case it may work for you. For all I know it goes against some deep principles and the internet police will be mad at me for even suggesting you try to mediate with this “trick,” but I will take the risk.
Many use a timer when meditating (I use the Insight Timer app because it has a free mode that works well for me). I will write about apps and their use some other time. For now the critical element is the use of intervals.
Let’s say you decide to meditate for 10 minutes (it’s not too long, it seems like we all have 10 minutes, it’s a goal that is a stretch since we do not meditate and yet obtainable because, well 10 minutes isn’t so long). So, you set the timer and it will ring in 10 minutes. When it rings you can get up or, if you are enjoying your sit stay longer.
In my experience, 10 minutes isn’t long until you settle down to meditate, then it can take forever, like a child waiting for the last bell of the school year to ring or the parents to wake up on Christmas, or, for the parents, waiting for the kids to fall asleep.
“Maybe it’s broken and the ring never happened?”
“Maybe I fell asleep and missed the bell?”
“Sheesh, this feels long, maybe something is wrong, I have things to do and I don’t want to be late…”
You can see why I need meditation, can’t you?
What I find helpful is to set a midway (in my app it is called an “interval”) timer. In our 10 minute example I will set a bell to ring at 5 minutes. This helps me keep a sense of time. As the days have passed and I stretched out how long I will sit I kept doing this. Most of the time I didn’t even notice it, but it does help me when my mind starts to wonder how long I have been sitting. It takes humility to turn a midway bell on, but I find it calms the mind and removes at least one recurring barrier to my practice and I need to remove as many barriers as possible, maybe you do as well. After a while you start to know intuitively how long it has been and know when the bell will go, that’s likely when you can turn it off.