Using a Timer for Meditation

Question

I am just beginning a regular practice of daily meditation. Is it good to use a timer? It helps me "stick with it" but seems somehow artificial and can be an interruption. What do you recommend? Thank you.

—Kaydee, USA

Answer

Dear Kaydee,

I’ve used a timer from time to time (pun intended). And, yes, I agree it seems artificial. Here’s what some meditation students ask: “If I only have a certain amount of time to meditate, how will I know it’s finished unless I keep opening my eyes to check the time?” In such cases having a timer can be useful. It allows you to focus deeply without concern about time, knowing that the timer will signal when you need to finish. This is a practical and helpful use for a timer. If circumstances don’t require using a timer, then why bother? Do you see the difference? Just as using a timer for the oven allows your mind to do other things and not worry about burning the food, so too a timer can allow you to meditate more deeply without being concerned about, “What time is it?” Beyond that, however, I don’t see a value.

Let’s say you want to practice your technique for X minutes so you can then sit in the silence afterward (as we teach meditation at Ananda). A timer can signal when your allotted time for the technique is up. Again, you wouldn’t need to open your eyes to check the time.

Our lives are so driven by the clock that meditating “by-the-clock” can lull one into thinking that we’ve done “well” when all we’ve done is sit absentmindedly for X minutes. Never forget that if one strives to go deep into meditation from the very beginning and not dawdle simply because you’ve allotted X amount of time, then time won’t matter. A deep meditation can be brief in minutes and a so-so meditation can be long in hours.

So these are some of the uses of a timer, but I find that with daily practice intuition often tells you when to end the meditation or the segment of meditation. A certain amount of freedom of flow in the routine of meditation can be useful if it is intuitively guided and not just subconsciously random, without focus and clarity of intention. Okay?

Blessings to you,
Nayaswami Hriman