In most areas of our life, we follow the American cultural norm that more is better. A vacation lasting 7 days is better than one lasting 3 days. Winning a $5 lottery ticket is not as good as winning the jackpot. Even in the realm of the arts, writing a haiku poem of 17 syllables does not garner as much social acclaim as publishing a novel. And in my discussions with people who are building a meditation practice, we believe that 1 hour of meditation is more beneficial than 1 minute.
However, this is not how things are valued in meditation. Meditation is about acceptance, and so if you meditate for one minute, that just is. If you meditate for one hour, that just is. There is no purpose in comparing the relative value of the two meditation sessions.
But in our culture, we are trained to evaluate nearly everything we do. We push ourselves to climb the imaginary ladder to receive the higher salary, to buy the larger home, and even to have a greater number of Instagram followers… Similarly, with meditation, many of us may push ourselves to ‘succeed’ in meditation, but there is no governing body of meditation to define success. Absent a set of defined criteria, many of us look to the duration of a session to be a concrete way to judge the value of our meditation.
The meditation app Insight Timer has a feature called “detailed charts and stats”. A user can click into it to review metrics including minutes per day, average session duration, longest session duration and several others. I believe they included these because statistics can be strong motivators for many of us to set and track towards a goal, and to challenge ourselves to do more.
However, what I found interesting is that on the main profile page, the most visible statistic displayed is number of consecutive days with at least one session of meditation. It seems that if we need a measurable statistic to keep us focused on building a practice, this would be one to pay attention to. Choosing to meditate each day of the month, even for a 1 minute session, will have greater benefit than doing a 30 day session on one day and doing nothing for the rest of the month. Returning to meditation day after day builds a habit, and that is the power of a meditation practice.
Periodically I relapse to judging the duration of my practice. When I notice that I am holding that judgment, I loosen my grip on it, and gently tell myself that at least I made the time to sit on my mat, despite the fullness of my work, family and community activities. When I consider this new thought, my jaw tends to relax, and I can take a smoother breath. My body loosens and settles to the here and now, even if just for a few moments until the next thought arrives in my mind.
So, the lesson for me has been this- whether my practice is 5 minutes or an hour, I am more present just by letting go of the thought that a longer meditation would be better. And being present is indeed the point.