How Long Should I Sit?
During the introductory ten-day SN Goenka silent meditation courses, students are told they should practice for an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening every day. Having no experience with other forms of meditation, I was under the impression that I had to do this in order to achieve good results.
After my first course, I was not as hard on myself and immediately cut my practice down to only a half hour in the mornings each day, but with the intention of working my way up to the recommended time. At that time in my life, as I was learning to overcome depression and self-doubt, I put emphasis on the importance of being gentle with myself over perfectionism to counter shame. But even these half hour sessions faded quickly out of my daily routine, and the distractions of life won over self-discipline.
The very practical technique was still within me, however, and a few years later, I began to regularly sit for fifteen minutes each morning. With a personalized fifteen-minute cut of “The Ultimate Om” which includes a bell at five minutes in and three minutes left, I did the suggested one-third anapana, then vipassana, and 3 minutes metta. This produced very obvious results each day and I was inspired to take another course. I also found some shame building within me about not having stuck to the suggested two hours and currently not doing more than fifteen minutes.
During the course, it is easy to meditate for hours each day because the environment is conducive to it. For a few days after the course, I managed to sit for the morning and evening hour for about a week. I found, however, that although I was sitting there, I would lose my focus completely after about twenty minutes and zone out for the rest of time. Not to be confused with intermittent thought wandering, I believe this non-alert state to be what some call “self-hypnosis.”
Other teachers have said that sitting for shorter and regular periods with alertness is better than sitting for longer without. In fact, it could be possible to build bad habits that are difficult to break in the long run if a beginning student sits for much longer than they can be reasonably expected to keep awareness.
So, against the advice of the SN Goenka teaching, I've decided that slow and steady progress with a lasting foundation is better than a short-lived ideal. For now, just five minutes in both the morning and evening seems to be enough to begin the habit of sitting regularly without having to worry about what state my mind is in or whether or not there is time.
When I feel confident with this habit, I hope to slowly begin to extend my time, but I intend to wait until I am really established in a daily routine and have a strong desire and pure reason to extend it.