June 28, 2013

A 30-day meditation challenge

Find it on Facebook here
On July 1, I will start a 30-day meditation challenge. The concept is simple: every day for 30 consecutive days I will set aside 10 minutes to meditate by focusing on my breath.

Why? Because I have found after 100 Bikram yoga classes in the past six months that this is the hardest part of the practice. Clearing my mind of thoughts, the constant chatter, has proven challenging even for the 20 seconds in the savasanas between the poses, let alone the minimum recommended three minutes immediately at the end of the class.

My mind is often racing ahead to the next pose, the next drink of water, leaving the room to have a shower, making dinner. I want to learn to stay in the present, being right here, right now.  

As a distance runner, I learned over the years that concentration and focus are key parts of my training and racing. When faced with a training run of 3 hours or racing 42 kilometres, and beyond, you need to learn to focus on what you are doing right now, right here instead of worrying about what's to come because it would be too overwhelming.

A book that really helped was Running Within: A Guide to Mastering the Body-Mind-Spirit: A Guide to Mastering the Body-Mind-Spirit Connection for Ultimate Training and Racing by Jerry Lynch and Warren Scott. I first read it in 2003 before my third marathon, when I bettered my time from 4:18 from 3:24, and it remains one of my favourite books.

I have been working on the mental aspect of running -- both training and racing -- ever since. The better I can concentrate, the better my result. If my mind wanders, or is filled with negative thoughts, my running invariably suffers.

Now I want to learn to bring more focus, stillness into the rest of life. 

Recently I began reading Sakyong Mipham's Running With the Mind of Meditation: Lessons for Training Body and Mind

"The practice of meditation is the practice of developing interest and appreciation in our breath. When we do this, we are showing interest in ourselves, our well-being, and our life-force energy. We are developing the ability to show interest in our own life and in what we are doing," writes the marathon-running Rinpoche, a religious teacher held in high regard among Tibetan Buddhists.

"That is why we feel the benefits of meditation immediately: we simply notice life more, pay attention to it more, and appreciate it more," he writes.

Mipham writes that learning to meditate -- learning to focus on your breath, "the most effective way of being in the present" -- is like learning to run. You start small and slowly build your skill, your endurance.

In Chapter 4, he recommends "one of the most basic and helpful meditative techniques. The process essentially consists of paying attention to the breathing." He recommends starting with a short period, such as 10 minutes. Set an alarm so you won't be distracted by the need -- desire -- to check your watch or clock.

You sit still, upright, comfortable. Relax. Then place your attention on the breathing. This will be challenging at the beginning as your mind will be racing with thoughts, as it always is.

"Initially it is important not to feel overwhelmed or disheartened by the influx of thoughts, simply  recognizing just how many thoughts are coming into your mind," Mipham writes. "As we continuously and repeatedly place the attention back on the breathing, the mind becomes stronger and stronger... We are strengthening our mind, building the base."

The first time I tried it, I lasted less than five minutes. A few weeks later I tried again, and made it for the full 10 minutes. I wanted to do it again the next day. But did not and that was a couple of weeks ago.

So it is time to throw a 30-day challenge at it, the time it reportedly takes to form, or break, a habit. I have done them before, in writing and yoga. There is a freeing quality to making the commitment to do something every day for 30 consecutive days.  No need to think about it, just do it.

In the month of May I did a 30-Bikram yoga challenge -- one class a day for 30 consecutive days. For the past three years I participated in the international 30-day writing challenge National Novel Writing Month held every November-- the goal is to write 50,000 words in 30 days, an average of 1,667 words a day.

I am curious to explore the effect of meditation, practicing mindfulness, every day for thirty days.

"When we speak of meditation, it is important for you to know that this is not some weird cryptic activity, as our popular culture might have it. It does not involve becoming some kinds of zombie, vegetable, self-absorbed narcissist, navel gazer, "spade cadet", cultist, devotee, mystic, or Eastern philosopher," writes Jon Kabat-Zinn in Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life. 

"Meditation is simply about being yourself and knowing something about who that is."
Want to join me beginning July 1? Check out The 30-Day Meditation Challenge facebook page.