A Year of Meditation

Today marks the one year anniversary of my experiment with Insight Timer. I don’t recall why I chose it over others like Headspace. I had used Headspace before but for whatever reason, Insight Timer won out. I have been happy with it and its content though I just discovered that the data from my phone is not syncing to my account online, making this post harder to write.

I have had a long dalliance with meditation. This is my first real experience where the dalliance became something of an affair. I can only ascribe this to the fact that Insight Timer has some basic gamification built in where for every 10 days in a row you meditate, you get a Milestone which is nothing more than an icon on the app. You also get one for every 50 days you meditate in total.

When I began last year, I struggled to ever get 10 days in a row. I began on 9/23/2019 (a much more innocent time I’m sure) and didn’t get my first milestone until October. It was my only one of the month. Then things seem to have ramped up dramatically in November with three more, 2 “10 days in a row” and 1 “50 days with a session”. Still, I was not particular consistent at that point. I achieved zero milestones in the productive month of December. However, in January, as is often the case, something changed if only temporarily. There were 4 milestones in January. January also marked my first real streak of 30+ days. Then February came, with its cold and its wind and its forgotten resolutions, and the milestones went silent.

March marked 150 days with at least 1 session. So it took me 6 months to get there which honestly is not so terrible. March and April were sporadic, never reaching 20 days in a row. Something else must have been going on to occupy my frantic mind like grocery shopping or dying in a pandemic. Then in May, I seem to have turned some corner. Starting approximately 131 days ago from today, I got semi-serious. I don’t proclaim to have gotten dedicated because many of the sessions were 5 minutes long, done right before bed and honestly, were mostly just me falling asleep with the timer running. But for 131 days now, at least once a day, I have thought “You haven’t meditated yet, better do it.”

My totals for the year are 319 days with at least one session. 285 of those have been with the basic timer and 48 have been guided using either a course or a one off with a teacher. I have completed 2 courses and am in the middle of a third. I do like the guided courses but often, I meditate right before bed and can’t use one. My total time for the year was 74 hours and 15 minutes. I started out the year doing 10 minutes on the timer and expanded it to 15 at some point. That is my go-to for now but have been thinking about bumping it up to 20.

The total number is somewhat eye opening. I always have goals of learning something like the piano or Spanish or Elixir. I start off strong, as we all do. And then nothing. With meditation, I put in 74 hours (which frankly is a paltry number, not even 2 working weeks) with regular practice. This shows me two things. First, that regular practice, even small amounts, can lead to gains over time. Of course, rationally, I know this but it’s the daily decision to put in that time that matters, not the grand goals in the beginning. Rituals and discipline are more important than ideas and dreams. Second, the daily amount of time required to learn something new is significant. To learn a language or an instrument surely requires at least twice the amount of time I put into meditation in the past 365 days. Fifteen minutes is better than nothing but learning takes time and finding thirty minutes a day in my schedule is often difficult.

That said, there are plenty of gaps where nothing productive is happening, times when a short 15 minute lesson in Spanish or some chords on the guitar or a kata in Elixir would go a long way towards, not mastery, but competency. The key is the ritual and the ability to look at the history of the ritual in a way that cements the progress in ones consciousness. In the past, I have tried to implement a kind of habit tracker in my Bullet Journal with little success. The problem is that it then has to become its own habit, where you update it daily. The friction of that was too high for some reason. A certain four year old has something to do with that because often she wants to be involved in whatever I’m doing. Covid has made this harder because she is always here, always present. Of course, Covid has made everything harder.

No grand revelations here. A year of consistent meditation doesn’t seem to have made me much better. I still struggle every single session with focus, no differently than I did in 2012. I have not achieved some moderate level of Zen. Mostly, my year with meditation has taught me the requirements for a new skill, that if I truly want to become even an amateur at anything new, the effort must be much higher. Daily dedicated practice can result in success and with things like languages or instruments, it will show results much more clearly than with meditation. An app that could track a particular activity with a basic timer and display totals over time combined with milestones not unlike Insight Timer would be pretty useful. Now only to find it and not try to write it myself since I clearly don’t have the time.