On retreat with a famous Zen master, we listened carefully when someone asked him: How long should I meditate? The answer was not in terms of hours or minutes. The answer was: you should meditate all day long.
It is fine to talk about meditation as a way to relax, relieve stress, and improve your health. These are all good things. But the ultimate goal of meditation is liberation. Peace. Enlightenment. Once you have tasted even a little of this, you will not want to just think of meditation as a way to lower blood pressure. It is indeed a way of life.
The idea expressed by the Zen master is a simple one: meditate in the morning with your formal, sitting meditation. Then simply continue this attitude all day long, in whatever you are doing. For most of us, however, this simple idea is not easy. How can we learn to meditate all day long?
In the beginning, and for some time after, the best way is to learn to take small, informal meditation breaks throughout the day. Stop and breathe deeply, calming body and mind, at every opportunity. When can you find the time? Despite the business of daily life, there are many times when this is possible, such as:
-during a coffee break
-while stopped at a traffic light or stop sign -while waiting in line at the bank or grocery store -when put on hold on the telephone, while hearing that message about how
important your call is -while the computer is booting up or loading a program -between meetings or phone calls.
You can then move into attempting to do simple tasks with a background of ease and calm, breathing gently in and out, as you:
-take a shower -make your coffee or tea -take out the trash or do the dishes.
You may not be able to do your taxes, read a complicated book, or drive in heavy traffic with much mindfulness at first. But gradually, the momentum of calm awareness or mindfulness becomes stronger. And if you are gently persistent, your life will increasingly resemble the meditative state. This will not only transform you, but will be a great help to everyone who comes in contact with you.