In this article I will reflect on the obsession with time and quantity that often creates doubt and confusion among spiritual seekers.
“I have been sitting for 3 hours yesterday!”
“I do 30 minutes every morning!”
“How much meditation should I do every day?”
“What are the best times for Meditation practice?”
“How can I be aware all the time?”
There’s no doubt that time seems to play a very important role in the world of our thoughts. By reflecting on these thoughts and where they come from we can in fact learn how to navigate our meditation sessions in better ways.
Time is Unproblematic
We all live within a time-bound realm. Time serves us when it comes to making appointments and it is the foundation of meaningful goals, ambitions and plans. Sometimes meditators have the feeling or the belief that they should negate time. They listen to a teaching on timelessness or present moment awareness and become firm “believers” in the timeless present moment. This often appears to be some first stage on the path, when all is still new and exciting.
They ask me whether time is “bad” or wonder how they can ever plan again once they picked up meditation seriously. They think about goals and ambition and fear that the mindfulness of what is will kill all meaning and purpose in life. I encounter this almost on every retreat, week after week. People are often afraid to turn into mindful zombies living a life devoid of purpose and meaning being trapped in the present moment. Maybe you felt this way too?
Let me assure you – time is not evil and it is not something to be avoided. Time is not our enemy and it doesn’t have to be “shot dead” with the gun of mindfulness. It can be made use of wisely. Time might completely be transcended at some point, but until then we nurture a friendly relationship with time. Much like you would use a boat to get to the main land. Once you are on the beach you will not continue carrying around your boat. It has served its purpose.
When Time Becomes Problematic
Have a meaningful goal and allow your wholesome ambition to guide you. Make plans and keep appointments. You can set up schedules and use a good Meditation timer. These things are all completely harmless. It becomes a problem only when you are not in charge of time. When time is in charge of your fear or hopes it becomes problematic. Once we feel that happiness is tomorrow or elsewhere, time becomes a slave of fear and hope. As long as you need to make a plan or practice meditation a certain time each day or buy groceries, time is handy! But when time is keeping pain alive it’s not a tool anymore.
Using time wisely means that we are using it as a simple tool for daily life. However, instead of being able to act constructively in this moment, we are often trapped in hope/fear thought-scenarios. Through the lens of such scenarios life appears complex and problematic. Hoping that we will someday be happy or fearing that our problems last forever is equally pointless and leads to nothing but repetitive and habitual behavior.
When time becomes a tool of pain it will not lead beyond pain. An obsession with time fueled by the hope/fear complex will not lead to peace. If we want to lead a fearless life we have to let go of hope. The hope/fear mindset acts like a poison that keeps this whole world repeating cycles of pain throughout the millennia.
Quality vs. Quantity
It’s not really about how many times or for how long we sit in meditation each day. Such things are often just egoic concerns that aim to enhance the self by adding meditation or spirituality to it. It’s more about the quality of each session. And when we translate this principle into our life it is the same. It’s not so much about “getting there” or “becoming someone better”. It’s about realizing that all we are ever looking for is right here within the looking itself. As long as we don’t see the treasure we are sitting on we won’t be able to make use of it.
It doesn’t matter how much we try to push this world in order to become a better place. If we don’t see the answer within ourselves we have no power and our changes won’t last. Therefore I suggest to change this world from the inside out. Allow the quality of wakefulness, kindness and compassion to flow into your current circumstances. We can’t change the world by resisting and opposing its ways. It doesn’t work and there’s plenty of proof in human history.
If we want to create better circumstances we need to access a space of quality within. Quality arises in all aspects of life when we are (not will be) awake and kind. It flows into this world and is expressed through our actions in this moment. Awareness and kindness have a real chance of creating a truly enjoyable space. If we base our actions on self-knowledge and kindness we are unable to support pain within and around ourselves. So let’s start now – there’s no other time to be kind and awake.