A Thousand Days of Sitting Still
Guides to help a meditation journey
In April of 2019, I got up a half-hour earlier than usual and quietly sat down in my home office. I used my fingers to close right nostril and inhaled deeply through the open one. I held my breath and pumped my stomach muscles 48 times, while chanting a simple mantra in my head and then closed the right nostril and exhaled through the other. I repeated this breath pattern for 11 minutes. Once finished I wrote down the number “1” in a small notebook. The next day I did it again, and then again. This month, I wrote the number “1,000” in the notebook and then closed it.
If this ritual sounds insane, it partially is. But it was a personal choice to do a thousand day meditation using Sodarshan Chakra Kriya. It was difficult at times. The strangest place I meditated in was the Helsinki airport. The best place was at sunrise on a Lake Superior beach. It has truly brought me many places and carried me through some difficult times.
My personal journey with meditation started a couple years before I undertook this challenge. It has taught me the importance of making space in my life when change is needed, and learning to sit in that uncomfortable space and letting the change come when ready. It has also taught me to do my work and no one else’s. It’s easy to point at all that is wrong outside of us. But in the end, I am responsible for my thoughts and actions and my choices. Thus I try to create more than I consume and leave more joy than irritation or sadness if I can. And if I fail, try it again then next day, starting with sitting still and taking a deep breath.
All that said, I try not to talk much about my meditation practice. It is personal and meditation brings its share of misconceptions. But it is a practice that I believe is open to all, in a very intimate way.
So, if you are thinking about starting a meditation practice for yourself, here are five things I can humbly pass along to help guide your journey.
You are not transported to another world, you are right here and that’s the point — A lot of article wax poetic about how peaceful meditation is and how shiny it can make you feel. You sink into a space of absolute peace and tranquility. It can do that at times, but that’s not what happens for most of us most of the time. That’s because it is a practice. You are practicing making space in a noisy area called your brain. Even if you can tune out the outside world by closing a door and finding a quiet space, your brain takes over with grocery lists, playing out conversations with co-workers and partners, wondering what happens in the soap opera you’ve been watching…and you find yourself fighting to get back to the practice at hand as lots of crazy junk floats up for your attention. The more stressed I was, the more likely this was to happen. The trick is to accept this will happen and “set it down” gently in your head and keep going. You need to find your mental image to compassionately deal with this because it’s going to happen a lot.
You need to find a routine that works for you — Habits don’t form unless you can make them easy to fit into your life. Some yogis I know find time in the morning by getting up just a few minutes early. Others like right before bed. Some like late afternoon as they transition between work to family life. Also think about the time and space you need, which is always in short supply. You don’t need to start with 10 minutes…start with 5 or 3 and then build up to what works for you.
When choosing a type of meditation, choose something that speaks to you. Lots of folks like guided meditations when they start out. Explore those. Or just sit and breathe deep for 3 minutes. Then be done for the day; and do it again the next day. Start with small goals and fight for that time everyday. Out of all the hours in the day, taking 5–10 minutes invest in yourself is a fair ask.
Every day is a chance to try again — Most people I know hate the saying “it’s a marathon, not a sprint” to refer to the need to consistently do sometime day in and day out. It’s true when forming a meditation practice. But it also can put too much pressure on someone when starting out. So if you stumble and miss a day or two, view each day as a new start where you get to decide how to start it. If the last two days were crazy, don’t dwell on it. Just start the next day…again.
It is work and it should be — Sitting is just one part of meditation. The other part is learning how to work with the good and bad insights that come into focus as you make space. You cannot change the fact that this is work, but rewarding work if you are willing to undertake it. It’s working with yourself and who you are, and how your emotions color the lenses of how you view yourself, others, and the world. This can be painful. It can also be joyful. The more you start to see how your emotions work, the more you start to use them as guideposts. The real change happens in this personal space as you get to know your light and your shadows, and how you decide to accept that and project that.
It can also spark curiosity as you experiment with breaking patterns in approaching the world and relationships. A yogi teacher once told me that the hardest meditation is the one where you speak and think kindly about yourself and everyone you meet for a whole day and then try to do it consistently. This is a hard ask even for the most joyous individuals I know. But it’s a great concept to play with when practicing.
It’s a long-term pay off — The benefits come in this combination of forming a habit to give yourself space and the insights it brings. Over time, it becomes easier to find focus and self-compassion when needed, as well as calm in times of stress and duress. You have more mental and emotional tools to draw from during the day. This is why most people come back to the habit time and time again. Because there will be times you wonder why you are doing this…and then somewhere it changes to a point when you can’t imagine not doing it.
Welcome to the journey of sitting still.