In anticipation of the madness to come, the Los Angeles Times published an article on Thanksgiving about how stores are opening their doors to Black Friday shoppers earlier and earlier. While in the past shoppers had to wait until early on Friday morning to get major deals, this year they could do so as early as 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving night. Shoppers took themselves away from their families, lined up, and strategized how to spend as little time as necessary purchasing a 39" LCD TV for only $329 or a $60 Mickey Mouse doll for only $19.99.
This is how those of us in the modern world relate to time: It is something to be managed, calculated, and, in the case of Black Friday shopping, squeezed for everything it's worth.
Along these lines, one of the most common questions I'm asked is how long a person should meditate. Right after calculating how long it will take to purchase a heavily-discounted TV, they want to use a similar form of analysis to calculate how long it will take them to achieve bliss. If I leave Thanksgiving dinner by 7 p.m., I should be at the store by 7:30. With a half-hour on line, five minutes to shop, and 20 minutes to check out, I should be home by 10:00 p.m. Then, I can meditate for 20 minutes and achieve peace and contentment by 10:20.
The yogic path was developed many thousands of years ago by sages in India. They did this through a spiritual practice in which they devoted themselves to daily rituals so as to attain self-realization of their spirit. They of course didn't have the distraction of Black Friday deals, but even during their time they were susceptible to their egos and the workings of their minds.
Each of us has an ego that is vying for control during any given moment of our day. When presented with the task of having a satisfying holiday season, it is the ego that tells us that the season will only be of value to us if we buy enough presents for everyone, receive enough attention from others in kind, and fill ourselves up with an ideal amount of holiday cheer. Since the ego wants control, we suffer when it loses that control: If we don't do everything we think we're supposed to this holiday season, we won't feel like we're connected to the rest of the world.
The ego and its need for control is also the reason why we feel compelled to analyze something as basic as the amount of time we spend meditating on any given day. Just like our ego tells us, "If I don't get enough gifts for everyone, I will hurt other people's feelings," it tells us, "If I don't meditate for long enough, I won't ever feel peaceful." While it's true that a spiritual practice that works toward a meditative state is ideal for developing true peace and contentment, the ancient sages didn't teach us that it's something that must be practiced for a set amount of time each day. If we don't get to the department store early enough, they may very well be out of TVs. But if we meditate for 40 minutes one day but only 20 minutes the next, we're not necessarily undermining our progress along the path.
A consistent, daily practice of yogic meditation chips away at the workings of the mind. As we devote ourselves to this practice over time, we empower ourselves to observe our ego as being separate from ourselves. This allows a more natural insight to emerge. This insight is known as intuition, and it is the aspect of ourselves that shows up when we no longer feel the need to analyze everything. It is what emerges when we have a spark of chemistry with someone on a first date that tells us flat-out that this person will be in our lives, or when we are completely in our element when completing a particular task at work. It is also what tells us how long we should meditate on any given day: After having devoted ourselves to our practice over time, we intuitively know how long of a practice will benefit us. When we come to our mat and take a steady seat, we don't set a timer. We don't squeeze our practice into a lengthy schedule of other tasks to be fulfilled, but rather allow our intuition to dictate however long it needs to be.
Of course, this intuitive ideal is not likely to emerge at the beginning of our practice. If we're just starting off, the ego will run rampant and likely have control over everything. This is why it can be helpful to work around the ego with a more timed, analytical practice until it ultimately becomes an intuitive experience down the line. In my upcoming book The One Plan, I present a precisely-timed schedule for building a yogic meditation practice. But spending some time with this scheduled practice will invariably quell the ego and allow the spirit to emerge. When it does, the question of how long the meditation should last will no longer come up.
And by the time Black Friday rolls around again next year, the spirit will intuitively know that it's easier to shop online.
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