Meditation timers are widely misused in our practices. I make no exemption of myself; I’ve been guilty of wrong mindfulness with them. Nevertheless, as my practice has evolved, I’ve found that meditation timers can be very much like fast food joints.
Before you, every time you go to sit, there is a vast network of caves. Some of them glitter with diamonds. Others are dens of monsters that you must befriend. Sitting, you explore this aggregate of mind and body that you’ve gathered. Sitting with a timer, you decide that you will only go so deep. If every voyage is only limited to the entry caves, how will you ever become intimate with your subterranean networks?
Is meditation just an agenda item to be checked off? Is your life a business? Are consciousness and grace about productivity?
Imagine that everything you do had a time context. You’ll eat for just this amount of time, regardless of whether your body is satisfied before that or if you’re still hungry when it’s over. You’ll use the restroom and stop at a specific mark regardless of where you are in the process. You’ll call a friend and abruptly hang up after so many minutes no matter what. Ridiculous, no? Always meditating with a timer is the same thing.
Sometimes, meditation timers make sense. Have an hour lunch break? Expecting company? Well then, by all means set up the timer. But do it as part of an honorable, natural thing – as though you are helping yourself to fruit from a tree, not pulling through some burger joint. When we take a lemon from the tree, we thank the little mother who so selflessly embodied the bounty of grace for us. We savor the fruit, we consider the retrieval of the fruit as much a part of the gift as the actual eating. This is right practice.
Setting your meditation timer and then hiding your daily calendar in a minimized tab in your mind is wrong practice. The recurring thoughts note the disease: “The time’s not up, so I have to keep this up.” “I wonder how long is left until I get back to my grocery list life.” “Did I set the timer right?”
Quickly devouring junk from a fast food restaurant is harmful. Eating fruit from a tree is better, but still a lesser experience than gathering a full meal from the garden, preparing it, and eating it mindfully. Just so, your practice must contain unlimited, unbounded, full meditation.
For that is the only sort that will allow you to encounter your unlimited, unbounded, full self.