Yesterday marked my 365th consecutive day of meditation. Yes, I aimed for that goal. Yes, that’s a paradox.
Throughout the year, I’ve shared my noticings along the way. As I close out this chapter of my streak, here are some last noticings. Their lastness does not bestow on them any added importance compared to all the other noticings of the year. They are, as the dishes before and after enlightenment, more moments accumulated over the course of a year of consecutive days of meditation:
- The past year has not been bliss, despite my daily sit. I have gone through low periods. I’m in one now. Roaming the desert of not knowing what my next creative project is. Plus, a pinched nerve in my back. I continue dmy daily sit through the down days, without knowing what difference, if any, the practice would make (other than achieving an arbitrary goal). Also, who am I to judge whether I’ve truly changed? I’m hardly an unbiased observer. Evidently, meditation will not relieve me of all sadness. I persisted. Because I had faith that the noticing mattered. Matters.
- Even if the chatter decibel level increases during my sit, or if I’m listening to a guided meditation or chanting, there is a kernel of silence at the center of the not-doing, which has enabled me to enjoy other silences I happen upon.
- I am better able to discern the difference between the rumination that often occurs during meditation and the flights of imagination that may bubble up. I can feel the physical pull of rumination’s downward spiral vs the lightness of the upward spin of imagination.
- I continue to notice how judgmental I am about small things. Meditating one day to music by The Bakthas, a couple who create modern electronic and trance music versions of ancient Sanskrit mantras, I worried that I enjoyed their music too much, that it was not “proper” meditation music, because of the pleasure I took in listening. Over the years I’ve heard things like—only meditate in silence; only meditate with your eyes open, or closed; choose one way to meditate and stick with it for at least five years before trying another; meditate for a minimum of 30 minutes daily; etc. … The Bakthas didn’t fit into any of those strictures. I determined that so much conflicting advice gave me permission to choose my own path.
- Another day, I was waiting for a delivery, which was quite delayed, and finally decided to do my meditation. The delivery arrived when I had 23 seconds left to go in my sit. I had a minor fret about whether my meditation counted that day. No, I’m not so exigent that I didn’t count it. I suspended the moment of judgment.
- I am grateful for the luxury of having a dedicated spot to meditate and for the contrasting greens of my meditation cushions. I’m surprised by how much more settled I feel in my spot. Naturally, I also have a shadow of judgment around that gratitude, which you can sense in my use of the word luxury
- Of course, I’ve also had to meditate in many different circumstances throughout the year: On airplanes. In the van during the Hood to Coast 24-hour relay race. On hotel room beds. Next to the kitty litter and laundry rack in an Airbnb. Unlike The Bakthas, I didn’t worry that the scritch-scritch of my cat doing her business was an inappropriate soundtrack for my sit.
- I feel an outsize nourishment from my meditation sangha at Mindful Harlem. By sangha standards, it’s not much of a community. The format is once-a-week drop-in with a casual dharma talk. There are almost always new people and people who have never meditated before. The regulars, such as we are, come when they can and may disappear for weeks. Perhaps because we are all relative strangers who recognize each other’s faces, there is a welcoming spirit and easiness in the environment that I have not found elsewhere. At other sangha, like most groups, there is the inevitable in-crowd, who succeed, by virtue of their existence, in making the non-in’s feel like outsiders. Now that I’ve noticed this phenomenon, I want to be mindful of it in other contexts, particularly where I might be perceived as part of an in-crowd. Like many, I virtually never think of myself as a true insider, but recognize that may not be how others view a situation.
- I never resolved the odd juxtaposition of my goal to meditate every day and the no-goals ideal of meditation. Ideally, when we meditate, we are not trying to achieve or reach a particular goal—to de-stress, to be happy, to be enlightened etc… Rather, our intention is to notice. The noticing, of course, may lead to less stress, more happiness and fleeting moments when we brush up against illumination. But those results come less easily when we chase them.
- My Western mind, inculcated with the ideal of reason and progress, has a hard time letting go of desiring results. I often thought, “Is this meditation making a difference?” And even if I hadn’t had the thought, others asked the question. Did their asking mean that they hadn’t noticed a difference in me and therefore the meditation wasn’t having an effect? In this age of influence, does some magic number of other people need to follow my example to validate my choice? Despite the absence of social media accolades, I still think my regular practice has made me more patient and less volatile, more susceptible to my emotions and at the same time less governed by their unruliness. And this happened: When I’m in Paris most autumns, I go to Fly Yoga, an aerial yoga studio. I was ridiculously pleased this year when Florie, the ebullient owner, greeted me with a kiss on both cheeks and, “You look different. Lighter. Why? What’s new?” I couldn’t think of anything significant that I’d changed in the 11 months since I’d seen her, other than my new commitment to daily meditation. She said, “Yes. That’s what the change in you feels like.” I want to believe her. I don’t need to believe her to continue.
- I worry about what happens when I stop meditating? If there have been gains, however such a thing is measured (other than Florie), how long until recidivism? I didn’t shop for any clothes or shoes for all of 2018. The challenge awakened a keen awareness of when, how and why I consume. But as I got deeper into 2019 and was back to shopping, I felt that awareness dull. Like not shopping, meditating for a year was intended to awaken awareness. To pause and notice the condition of my mind and body. I needed the goal of 365 days as motivation to take the time for the daily pause of at least 10 minutes on the cushion.
- I learned that I don’t always need goals to motivate my behavior. Kindle recently introduced a new interface, which surprised me with a home page of statistics that greeted me every time I wanted to read a book. The statistics include how many consecutive days I’d read, how many weeks, how many hours and so on. Apparently, Kindle (aka Amazon) had been keeping track of me all this time. I read. A lot. Reading is close behind sleeping, eating and elevating my heart rate, as a constant in my life. It turns out though, I don’t want to measure my reading. Not at all. I don’t want to know. I don’t feel a need to know. Luckily, my limited tech savvy was enough to figure out how to turn off that feature and get back to opening my Kindle either to my library or the book I’m currently reading. But hey, Kindle, I do appreciate the new feature of flashing the book cover up before I resume reading. I’ve missed that pleasure of reading a flesh and paper book.
- I needed the motivation of a goal in my meditation practice because sitting daily isn’t dialed-in like eating/sleeping/brushing my teeth/drinking water/ working out/reading. Those activities are second nature. Total necessities (in my life of privilege). Not only that, I notice that in general I meditate for longer periods of time during the week and shorter periods on the weekend. Whereas longer workouts are most often on the weekend. Meditation is more akin to a work habit than a life habit. So far. Never mind that I work on a largely flexible schedule, so the notion of weekends should theoretically mean less to me. Yet doesn’t.
- As I got close to 365 days, I learned that I wanted some pomp and ceremony around my accomplishment. I know, another paradox. I wondered if Insight Timer, the meditation app I use, was going to fête me with sparkles and glitter and fireworks, the way people’s fitbits light up when they hit their daily goals. The app has a feature that notes a milestone every 10 days in a row and every 50 days total (not necessarily sequential). But would the app make special note of 365 days in a row? Doesn’t a whole year deserve confetti? Or a starburst of OM’s? … There is no milestone for 365 straight days.
As I closed in on 365 days, I started to get nervous that I’d forget a day. So close to the end. In early September, I had almost forgotten on the day I went to the U.S. Open. I got so enmeshed in the slack, yet rushed, morning and then was out all day. It wasn’t until I was headed to bed that I remembered I’d not yet meditated. That was the only time I almost forgot. During the last week before 365, I kept wondering if I’d actually make it. What did making it or not making it mean? And a big question—my 365th day was December 2. Would I continue until Dec 31st, to make it all year in 2019? And then … ?
As the day approached, my partner asked if there was some particular activity, or ceremony, I wanted to do to mark the occasion. Can I say celebrate? Or is that unbecoming? I thought about going to a Buddhist temple somewhere in Manhattan, but then decided what would capture my feeling best was to dance. We signed up for a Gaga people dance class for my 365th day. The class was canceled due to snow. How wonderful, as a dharma teacher I once had would say. I was granted the grace of a test of patience and flexibility on my big day. Instead of dancing, we burned sage and took a pause for specific gratitude in each room of our apartment: the kitchen for nourishment, the dining room for shared meals with friends, the bedroom for rest and other sources of replenishment, our offices for creativity and so on.
The ritual felt complete and also reminded me of the Buddhist saying, “Before enlightenment, the dishes. After enlightenment, the dishes.” A full year of meditation was a moment in the flow, not an arrival.
Now that I’ve moved past the magic 365, it’s clear that making it to the end of 2019 is a new goal. I have a germinal idea that maybe I’ll keep up the streak until I hit 1000 total days in the app. I hit 805 on the same day as 365. Of course, then I wonder, why do I still need the goal to keep going? Is that thought a judgment or an observation?
I guess that’s one thing to notice in the coming days. Along with all the other unknown and forgotten snippets of thought and insight waiting to be noticed. And noticed again.
This piece originally appeared in Medium