Should I meditate for a long time?

There are two schools of thought to answering this question. One school of thought states that you should meditate for as long as possible and rigidly stick to a lengthy time period for meditation, the other is a more relaxed approach which allows your state of mind to guides the length of the meditation session for the practitioner.

Meditation is not an exercise of will, but a state of mind. Will power may be able to get you past the first hurdles and to stop your mind wandering for a time, but using the will is like an animal trainer who uses whips and aggression to keep his animals in check. It may work in the short time but it is not the most humane or gentle way. This can also lead to a rigid state of mind, and like the animals, if will power is used too much it can turn around and bite you and you will likely give up on your meditation practice.

Meditation is also not a physical exercise or a sitting posture. Spending all the time in the world imitating the Buddha beneath the Bodhi tree is not meditation. The most direct doorway to the meditative state of mind is tranquillity. Many of the meditation teachers I have met from all over the world have stressed this point. Even the word for meditation in Chinese expresses this concept, ‘Jing Zuo’ meaning tranquil sitting.

The more tranquil you become the more able you are to enter the doorway to the state of meditation. Many people get caught up in using their will to push through the pain which can invariably occur when sitting for extended periods of time. If the mind is truly tranquil then eventually there comes a point where one no longer feels the body and that is the moment that an hour, two hours or three hours can seem like just a moment and minor aches and pains are no longer of concern. This absorption into the meditative state is much stronger than any will power that you could have. When you hear of yogis and meditators meditating for many hours, it is not their will which allows them to do this but their ability to enter and be absorbed into a state of meditation.

Meditation is also not strict concentration; the word concentration conjures images of a school boy, furrow browed, trying to work through a challenging mathematical equation. This kind of intense, hard concentration is not the kind of concentration used in meditation. To demonstrate the kind of concentration needed in meditation pause for a moment and then hold out your hand in front of your face, now notice the existence of your hand and pause for a further

moment. You will see that to look at your hand and notice it’s existence is extremely natural and relaxed. There is no effort needed or special techniques and yet the mind is completely attentive in noticing the existence of the hand and not caught up in other thoughts. This is similar to the effortless type of concentration needed in meditation. After extended periods of time in tranquillity, the object of meditation, be it the breath or the mind or other object will naturally become the only thing in your awareness until you become the object of meditation, this is true concentration.

To answer the question to whether you should push yourself to meditate for a long time, it is infinitely better to meditate for 5 minutes once a day resting in tranquillity and peace than to sit for three hours twice a day in a frustrated state of mind. When you perform an action you become more skilled at it through time. If you spend 5 minutes in tranquillity then you become better and better at entering that state of mind. If however, you spend time sitting down forcing yourself to push through pain barriers while being tense and feeling blocked, then you will get very good at being tense and feeling blocked. It is far better to build your practice slowly, becoming more and more familiar with tranquillity until you enter true meditation and can sit in a meditative state for longer periods effortlessly and naturally.