A lot of people ask me about my meditating for more than an hour each day (my target is 108 minutes). My short answer is: all the really interesting stuff happens after the first hour! If you are meditating to develop concentration and “mindfulness” then even a 30 second pause has important benefits; but if you are meditating to go beyond mindfulness, seeking insights (“vipassana”) then I recommend sitting for more than an hour because your mind needs time to let go, and then the really interesting things start.

Why do I sit for 108 minutes? I found myself always striving to do 20 minutes, 30 minutes, 45 minutes, 60 minutes, an hour-and-a-half… it suddenly dawned on me that I didn’t have to follow the clock geometry of how we tell time, so I picked 108 minutes as my daily target. It’s the number of beads on a Buddhist mala.

There have been two “external” changes that came while meditating like this for as long as I have that I’ll mention. One is a remarkable ability to be patient. Very little fazes you, and you have a seemingly limitless equanimity when dealing with difficult situations. This became very evident when I was caring at home for my wife at the end of her battle with breast cancer. The nurses, doctors, and hospital admins overseeing her care were constantly remarking that they had never seen anyone with the ability to gently care for someone in such a loving way and yet never fall into emotional turmoil myself. The head of the home hospice service from the hospital wrote in her report that she had never worked with anyone even close to my “stability” in the face of such a painful experience.

The other change was at first disconcerting, until someone independently remarked to me that if one meditates for sufficiently long periods of time each and every day, they will lose large amounts of memories—unimportant memories—like rain wearing down a mountain.

Scientists have recently taken note of this phenomenon, saying that it appears that since meditation brings with it the ability to “quiet” the mental chatter that normally goes on, during which we constantly replay events in our lives that disturbed or delighted us, and thus “strengthen” them, many of these memories will slowly fade away. Only “important” memories remain, while our memory itself functions normally. We just don’t hold onto unimportant information anymore.

You may be wondering why I referred to these two changes as being of an “external” character when they both seem to be about “internal” changes that I have experienced. Well, the simple answer to that is all the really interesting things happen after the first hour. You’ll see. And when you do, my calling these “external” changes will make perfect sense to you!

4 Responses to “Meditating More Than An Hour”

  1. Don Salmon says:

    Wonderful column.

    One thing I wasn’t clear about – do you meditate 2x a day for 108 minutes each, or once?


  2. Michael Grant de Longueuil says:

    Thank you for the link James.
    This is becoming more and more interesting, as the psychological effects and neuroantomy studies show significant changes, it becomes quite an experience to become aware of the changes in oneself.
    Having been a GP and palliative medicine specialist I taught meditation at a very lowly level, but benefits were there. Returning often to ” just do it” don’t anticipate changes just let what ever happens happen.
    There is still the sense that whatever is happening there is still just a scratching of the surface. Have you noticed a sort of intimacy, a quite confidence that IS of this world yet not. There are things that are no longer important and things that were always important but weren’t so often noticed.
    So this new year the plan is to “up” the “game(!)” to more than an hour. Thank you for your prompt.

    Blessing this New Year.


  3. James says:

    Thank you, Michael. And yes, the intimacy is there, found in the non-separation that becomes apparent during deep meditation, I have found. As for the importance of things, that too changes drastically over time as your practice progresses. I’ve experienced that myself, as have many others that I know. I’ve seen it talked about as a negative result of meditation–this phenomenon of contentment brought about partially by a loss of interest in things that once seemed so important. But I think that is more a fear-based criticism born of concern for the currently wavering economic system. Apparently no one, or seemingly no one, likes how their lives are cast by the exigencies of life that seem ever more impossible to satisfy for most people. Meditation exacerbates the loss of interest in the game apparently.

    I hope your life is blessed with good health, warm smiles, and hearty laughter this year!

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