Meditation – Forming A New Habit

For most of 2012, I’ve been interested in meditation.

It started out with reading a few of Nick Horton’s blog posts and how he used meditation in his personal life. He also talked about how it carried over to his weightlifting career and as a coach.

This interested me. So much that I wanted to begin practicing.

So I did. Then I failed. I tried and kept failing.

Counting breaths is hard. Really hard. So hard that I gave up for a while.

Truth be told, I’d do well for a few days. I’d meditate until my mind wandered so much that I just had to get up.

Then I’d meditate again the next day. I even recall being in the training studio one night after I was done with my clients. I was sitting on a bench in the back room by myself waiting on a ride. I closed my eyes and focused on my breaths. By the time I’d opened my eyes, it felt like time had warped. the 10 minutes I’d been there only felt like 1.

I failed to practice at all the following week. I have no idea why, either.

This month is different though. I’ve been conversing through email with Leo Babauta, and reading his articles on creating new habits. My life over the last few years has changed dramatically. So much that I never knew/believed I’d be where I’m at currently. I’m so grateful and thankful, but at the same time, I feel I’m missing something.

Many of my friends and loved ones have all made similar comments about me. To them I seem stressed and worn out. They say I have this look about me that appears to be one of constant thinking – it’s like my mind never, ever stops. My mind won’t shut down.

I feel like I need some silence.

That silence, I believe, can only come from meditation and calming the mind – learning to let go and focus on just one thing: my breath.

Starting on July 1st, I made the commitment to spend only 5 minutes in meditation daily. So far, it’s 1:57 a.m. on July 7th and I haven’t missed a day. My idea is that we all have 5 minutes. Well, that’s not my idea – I actually got it from Leo – but I wholly agree. If you ain’t got 5 minutes per day, you’re lying to yourself.

You’re making excuses.

And that’s what I’ve been doing. I’ve been setting a timer on my iPhone for 6-7 minutes and then just sitting and counting breaths. Once the timer is up, I can move along with my day.

Yesterday, I actually experienced something different for once. Most of the time I can’t seem to get past a 5-count. This time I closed my eyes and found my mind racing, but eventually I fell into a rhythm and all I could focus on was my diaphragm slowly pumping air in and out of my lungs. I actually got lost in the moment and eventually realized my timer hadn’t gone off yet.

My phone was on silent.

photo credit: JD Hancock

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  1. Brilliant to hear, I am trying meditation myself as have tried off and on for years.

    I might steal your 5min minimum as who doesn’t have 5mins.

    Fingers crossed it will help me meditate every day.

    I hope you carry on and it settles your racing mind, I’m in the same boat as I can never switch off and am always tired.

    Good luck


  2. Great post, JC. I can very much relate to this. Meditation (and maybe more specifically, mindfulness) has been something I have been trying to fit into my life daily for a long time now. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I fail, but the truth is, to be successful at meditation and definitely mindfulness, you can never give up or you will never get closer each day to experiencing all the benefits.

    Thanks for the reminder of “everyone has 5 minutes”. With studying, having kids, running a house, building a business, I forget that even I can find that time. I will find it today after reading this.

    And when I have a frustrating session, I always come back to Chap. 1 of Bhante G’s book “Mindfulness in Plain English”. It says “Because of the simple fact that you are human, you find yourself heir to an inherent unsatisfactoriness in life that will simply not go away. You can suppress it from your awareness for a time; you can distract yourself for hours on end, but it always comes back and usually, when you least expect it.” His answer to this: awareness. The way to awareness? Meditation.

    To me, that’s enough reason to find 5 minutes. Thanks for the reminder.


    1. Thanks for chiming in, Cass. I’m still combing through the book. Appreciate your thoughts, as always.

  3. Meditation is something I’ve tried and failed as well. I know of all the benefits, keep you grounded, silence the mind, etc.

    Right now I’ve got so many choices of things to do when I’m alone; read a book, play the guitar, read a few articles, exercise, listen to music, watch TV, check the twitter. It’s almost like I’m never alone, when there’s no one around.

    Meditation also seems like wasted time to me. I often tell myself I can be doing all the previous activities instead. Like anything else though, this is just an excuse to. But there may come a day when my vision gives out, my hearing isn’t what it used to, my body gives out, etc. I’ll only have my thoughts. My better days will be behind me it will probably be just me a chair and the scenery, assuming my vision is halfway decent. What better way to spend time, after one has appreciated the view, then to just sit there and meditate. I will not be the old man that sits there to complain, sits their to think how things used to be better, sit there and wonders why no one comes to visit. Much better to practice the frame of mind of learning to let things happen with a little meditation in the mix.

  4. Hey JC,

    You do a nice job of identifying and describing what many who are new to the practice consider problems that preclude succeeding in meditation. These include lack of progress in achieving goals such as reduced stress; diminished wandering and intrusive thoughts; and the realization of beneficial mental state, e.g., tranquility.

    The form of meditation you currently practice is sitting and observing your breath in the present moment or the now, which is the only time and place you can be. The past has happened and the future might happen, but they are not the present. The present is the only reality. Thoughts about being elsewhere, e.g., a place and time where you have achieved some aspiration, e.g. serenity and equanimity, are in the future not the present. Thoughts of the future (or past) take you out of the present. The paradox is that the best way to achieve what you want in the future is by staying in the present doing what you commit to do. The way to do this is to recognize when your mind has wandered, let it be, and gently return to what you are doing in the present. It doesn’t matter how frequently and how far your mind has deviated from the present. When you recognize your mind is not in the present, simply return to counting your breath. Don’t worry if your mind has gone to the past or future. Criticizing yourself does not help your meditation. The practice of meditation is to allow your mind to come back to the present again and again and again…Of course, there is nothing wrong with having a set of objectives or wanting to realize some of the beneficial outcomes of meditation that have been supported by scientific research (enhanced brain functioning, reduced stress, better performance in a variety of areas, and so on). Achieving these objectives/outcomes, which are by definition in the future, requires that you stay in the present involved in an activity positively related to the future goal. If meditation didn’t lead to benefits in the future, why would you do it?

    If you are interested in learning how to mediate, read some of the many excellent books, articles, blogs, and websites on meditation and mindfulness. There are also many outstanding meditation teachers who lead retreats throughout the country.

    Forgive me if I sound like a pedant, but here is my advice to you. Keep up your practice, JC. Immerse yourself in one breath at a time. There are only two rules for meditation: begin and continue. Keep in mind, there are no failures in meditation. It’s a mistake to consider the practice meditation in terms of success and failure. Finally, never eat anything bigger than your head.


    The Rodfather

    1. Jake, I really appreciate your comments. this stood out to me the most.

      There are only two rules for meditation: begin and continue. Keep in mind, there are no failures in meditation. It’s a mistake to consider the practice meditation in terms of success and failure.

      I will continue my practice and hopefully find the serenity and peace I’m searching for.

    2. Jake –

      I love your perspective on all this, and like JC, a few things that you mentioned really resonated with me. I would love it if you would not mind sharing what you have found to be some of your favorite blogs, websites, etc. as I feel that in meditation and mindfulness (like most everything else is life) there is always some new or different to be learned.

      Thanks for sharing such a thoughtful reply 🙂


  5. Hey Cass,
    Thanks for the kind words about my comment.
    In response to your question about good reading on mindfulness, you’ve already read one of the best, Bante G’ s “Mindfulness in Plain English.” It’s a clear, cogent, and instructive book.
    Here are some other classics I recommend:
    • Bodian, Stephan. Meditation for Dummies (2nd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2006.
    (Don’t be put off by the title. Bodian has depth and years of experience. His book is very informative both to new and seasoned students of meditation.)

    • Beck, Charlotte. Everyday Zen: Love and Work. San Francisco, CA: Harper and Row, 1989.

    • Carroll, Michael. Awake at Work: Facing the Challenges of Life on the Job. Boston, MA: Shambhala, 2004.

    • Chodron, Pema. Start where you are: A Guide to Compassionate Living. Boston, MA: Shambhala, 1994.
    • Goldstein, Joseph. The Experience of Insight Meditation. Boston, MA: Shambhala, 1987.

    • Kabat-Zinn, Jon. Wherever you go there you are: Mindfulness Meditation in everyday Life. New York: Hyperion, 1994.

    • Katagiri, Dainin. Returning to Silence: Zen Practice in Daily Life. Boston, MA: Shambhala, 1988.

    • LeShan, Lawrence. How to Meditate. New York: Bantam Books, 1974.

    • Rosenberg, Larry, and David Guy. Breath by Breath: The Liberation Practice of Insight Meditation. Boston, MA: Shambhala, 1998.

    • Suzuki, Shunryu. Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. New York, NY: Weatherhill, 1970.
    (It’s unlikely that you will find anyone who doesn’t consider this book a classic.)

    • Trungpa, Chogyam. Shambhala: The Sacred path of the Warrior. Boston, MA: Shambhala, 1984.
    (This book would appear on just about any list of superb popular books on mindfulness and meditation.)

    • Packer, Toni. The Work of this Moment. Boston, MA: Shambhala, 1990.
    (Toni practiced Zen Buddhism for many years. She left Zen when she realized that any approach that features a strictly defined method for students to learn mindfulness and a set of rituals, norms, and even dress is limiting. Although Toni’s approach has a name, meditative inquiry, it has no defined steps and methods. Toni’s method is a non- method. It is a fully experiential and broad approach. This way of mindfulness is truly non-conceptual. It’s difficult to grasp from a book, especially for a beginner. However, with careful reading and rereading, both the fledgling and seasoned meditator can have important insights into mindfulness. Suggesting Toni’s book may reflect my bias. Toni has been my teacher for more than 20 years. All I have written here is not meant to discount other approaches. I honestly mean it. I have learned other approaches presented in this list of books. I find them valuable and I still practice them. Forgive me for going on for so long. I promise that I will try not to do it again.)

    There also many books that apply meditation and mindfulness. I’ve included one on the list, i.e., Carrol’s book on work. There are also some good books on mindful learning in college. Indeed,
    there is an organization consisting mostly of college and university professors, Association for Contemplative Mind in Education. Mindfulness has been incorporated in courses in the sciences, humanities, and medicine and other professional studies. Mindfulness has been incorporated into professions such as law and medicine, international corporations, and even the military. There are books that present mindfulness programs for those who are ill. The most well known is Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MSBR), which includes meditation practice. MSBR has been used at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center for over 30 years. This mindfulness based treatment has helped more than 16,000 patients to deal with the stress of serious illness, and it has been adopted by 250 medical centers in the United States. Research studies have demonstrated that MBSR is effective in reducing pain, anxiety, stress, and depression, and in promoting coping and healing. You can find books on with Zen in the title on just about anything: falling in love, running, cross country skiing, painting, poetry, flower arranging, gardening, eating, cooking, driving a car, tango, knitting, organizational management.

    Take care,


    1. Jake-

      Wow! What a great and thoughtful reply…thank you so much for taking the time to write that. I had to chuckle when you mentioned JKZ “Wherever You Go”, as I have read it cover to cover about 15 times and needed to go buy a new one, as it was falling apart. That book was actually my introduction into mindfulness and what spawned my interest in it many years ago. He is truly an amazing man.

      And yes, Bhante G’s book is amazing. This guy has a great, somewhat dry, sense of humor when speaking about meditation and I really enjoy it. He cuts straight to the point, no BS, no guru talk…I love that.

      You have peaked my interest in this Toni woman. I have thought recently about trying to find a teacher, but don’t know if I am quite “ready” for that. I think I need to become more diligent and let meditation and mindfulness become more fully engrained in my everyday life before I go that route, though I would be interested in hearing more about what made you pursue the guidance of a teacher and where you were at when that journey began.

      In the interest of not hijacking JC’s thread (sorry, JC, hope this is ok!), I would love to connect via email and here more about your story. I can be reached at:

      I look forward to hearing from you.

      And JC, thanks for sparking such a great conversation 🙂


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