To Begin: Every day, as you wake up, start counting in your head. Do it whenever you can, remember where you left off, and get to 10,000 before you go to sleep!
Last week, on the 4th of July, I celebrated my fourth straight year of meditating for more than an hour, every day. So that’s something like 1,500 hours. I am now comfortable with 90 minutes of sitting meditation, my longest having been more than 3 hours. There is little argument that a large amount of meditation changes you in a positive way, but it takes a lot of it – probably 100 hours or more – to start to give you a feel for the power of it. So of course most people don’t do it, although lots of people talk about doing it, or try it a little bit, which isn’t helpful.
The technique described above was what I thought up to get myself to do it, and it worked. When I started, I was convinced both that meditation would be a big win for me to do it, and that without some sort of powerful internal motivation I would not be able to do it. Also, I felt that the traditional approach of taking a fixed about of time in the morning to sit both would not work for my schedule. Additionally, my thinking about the workings of the brain suggested to me that ‘compartmentalizing’ the meditation into the same daily time/place/strategy would make it less likely that the benefits would transfer to other aspects of my life. I wanted something that would integrate the meditative experience into my waking life – something that be likely to mix bursts of meditation into everything I was doing. I picked the image on this post as a great example of what I wanted: that scene from Star Wars where the Jedi Qui-Gon Jinn meditates behind a temporary power barrier for a few seconds before leaping back into battle.
One of my dearest friends has been a monk in a monastery for the last 15 years (after getting his PhD in Plasma Physics – quite a remarkable guy, but that’s another story). Every couple years over my life I’ve gone down and spent a couple of days at the monastery, and one of those times he mentioned that he held and counted a rosary while meditating, and that for a period of several years he had been able to repeat a mantra while meditating more than 10,000 times a day. Thinking about this inspired me: I would challenge myself and make a bit of a game out of meditating by giving myself the challenge of counting every day to 10,000. I could do it anytime that I could find a moment, but I had to maintain enough presence to remember my place (or at least to within 100 or so), and I had to get to 10,000 before sleeping and starting over the next morning.
So that worked! It took a week or so to get up to 10,000, and the first couple days I thought it might make me crazy, but the rhythm of counting rapidly became faster and easier to remember my position. When I started, it took about 2.5 hours total to complete the counting (usually by sitting meditation, running, or sometimes while driving or listening to someone talking). Today it takes me about 90 minutes, because I count faster in my head. I’ve missed 10,000 a few days a year, but not many more. This process has now been my constant companion for 4 years.
There are so many interesting things to be said about the experience and the positive aspects of it, that I think I could write a book about it all some day. One remarkable one is the lucid feeling of presence that suddenly remembering that you need to keep counting brings you… like a series of breadcrumbs dropped along the path that has been your day. You can’t get as lost in your own thoughts. Counting while listening also makes you a better listener – the small challenge of sequencing numbers seems to suppress the wandering of your mind that can otherwise so easily happen.
Some tips to help you, should you care to try this: Seated meditation and aerobic exercise are the easiest and fastest ways to count. Remember where you are by rounding to the two digit number for where you stopped, so in otherwards if you are at 2,675 just remember you are at 26. You can smoothly count about 100 per minute by saying the whole number in your head as the two two-digit parts: for 3,651 you would say “thirty-six fifty-one”. If you fail to reach 10,000 before sleeping, email yourself the number you reached and the reason why you missed, and then track those misses to keep yourself honest.
Finally, if you give this a try, please email me and tell me about your experience!