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​For how long should we meditate?

The remarkable benefits of mindfulness meditation in physical, mental and emotional health, a routine subject in the media these days, seem to convince only a small fraction of people. Reasons for not meditating are numerous: "I cannot concentrate, sittings are too long, I have no time or... I do not need to meditate because my concentration is excellent". For how long should we meditate and how often? Long sessions, every day. Fortunately, with determination and perseverance, meditation becomes a pleasant and indispensable habit.

The main purpose of the mindfulness meditation is not the elimination of addictions, phobias, headaches, bad temper, bigotry... These are just the by-products of the practice; the central aim is the development of our faculty to be constantly alert, in present time, that is, the ability to remain aware of our body, our feelings and our mental states.

​For some special individuals, such as J. Krishnamurti, the philosopher of India, mindfulness seems to be a natural quality, and, therefore, they consider meditation is pointless and superfluous. Krishnamurti, consistent with his innate virtue, is sharply critical of meditation techniques, in general, and of the exercises that demand the focusing of attention on mental devices, such as mantras, chants, prayers, or figures, in particular.

Everyone should practice mindfulness meditation, however. In the modern world, the problem of lack of concentration is worsening with the volume of information with which the media overfeed us. Advertising is always aiming at convincing us to wanting things we do not need or changing us into someone else. And it is getting it.

The privileged ‘attentive', unaware of what a volatile mind is, cannot understand the difficulty to concentrate of the other ‘common’ humans. For this quasi-unanimous majority, mindfulness can only become easy and spontaneous after hundreds of hours of practice. How many are these many hours? There is no single answer and there is no 'personal dose' of meditation; the 'requirements' and 'resources' of time vary from person to person and each one must set priorities. We prefer then searching for help on a comparison that each one can use to make his or her own numbers.

Imagine that your mind is like your home, with all the conveniences that it has, and in which there are thousands of unwanted, uncomfortable and mischievous thoughts that arise as mosquitoes that disturb your life at all times. If insects do not annoy you and you do not care about the diseases they carry, then you do not need to do anything.

Otherwise, that is, you do recognize a problem, mindfulness meditation is the 'benevolent insecticide' you require, and every meditation session is an application of the ingredient. The overall effectiveness of the procedure depends on both the frequency of the sessions (the number of treatments) and the duration thereof (the applied amount).

Only you can acknowledge the fluttering in your head. Do you want to get an idea of the magnitude of the problem? Sit in a comfortable position, close your eyes and observe your breath for ten minutes. If you have time, do so now and rate your experience.

​Do you have real and dramatic difficulty to focus on the flow of air, going in and out through your nose, not even for a few seconds? Are you really slow to realize you lost track of the exercise and got distracted? Did you give up after a couple minutes? If the answers are all ‘yes’, your home is infected and needs high and frequent doses of meditation, perhaps two daily sessions, forty five minutes long each. An initial intensive treatment, as a ten-day retreat with some well referenced group might prove very helpful.

Does your mind wander every moment but rather soon you notice your distraction and bring  your attention back to the breath? Daily doses, 30-45 minutes long, are recommended. (If you can spend only two hours a week, then start there; running is a better exercise than walking but walking is better than no exercise.)

Finally, your situation is not any of the above because you your concentration was perfect during the test and mental volatility is not your problem.  You are positive you do not need any 'insecticide' for holding attention on your breath all the time. Right? Mmmm... One of two things: Either you never realize you are distracted or congratulations! you could well be a 'reincarnation' of Krishnamurti.

Gustavo Estrada 
Author of 'Inner Harmony through Mindfulness Meditation'

London, June 28, 2015

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