Typically malas, or prayer beads, have 108 beads on them plus the start/end bead which has a tassel attached to it. Normally one assigns a mantra to each bead. Sometimes I do run a mantra while passing a mala’s beads through my fingers.
Mostly I just use it to count breaths. One breath in, one breath out, then move to the next bead.
Three times around is just slightly more than 20 minutes. Four times around is not quite thirty-five minutes. Ten times around is usually about an hour.
Twenty to thirty minutes of meditation a day has all kinds of health benefits, both physical and mental. I know this from personal experience and also from all sorts of scientific research. But let’s unpack that claim. What does it mean to meditate for thirty minutes a day for eight weeks?
Well, 30 multiplied by 7 days is 210 minutes, or three and a half hours. Multiply that times eight weeks, and you’ve meditated for 28 hours: somewhat more than a half-time American job which is usually 20 hours a week.
Eight weeks is two months. That’s fifty-six days, or 1344 hours. Twenty-eight hours is 2% (2.08%, being precise) of the total number of hours in eight weeks.
Twenty-eight hours of practice, slightly more than a day, is sort of the bare-bones, apprentice-level introduction to meditation that’s supposed to yield or open up most of the vast range of meditation’s potential. Add just another few days, make it another week (9 weeks total) and you’ll surpass thirty hours of practice.
Thirty hours, made up of twenty-minute segments, spread over a little less than three months. What do you think you’d learn from that level of study?
What makes you think you’re learning anything at all?
Well, then, why do it? Why do something if you’re not learning anything from it? You’re not getting any younger, why give up thirty hours to something that doesn’t teach me anything, especially while I’m trying to learn magic?
Let me assure you that you are learning nothing. You are unlearning some things that you should not have learned in the first place. You are untangling knots in your thought process. You are improving your body’s ability to regulate itself without your mind feeling like it must remain in panicked control all the time, and you are allowing your intellect a chance to purge itself of poisons — both popular delusions and the madness of crowds. There are a lot of these, I promise, and untangling them will take more than thirty hours — but you will sense the madness lifting.
You are taking a huge rock and throwing it into the pond of your mind, and waiting for the pattern of ripples to subside to stillness again. You are allowing the natural, as opposed to the socialized, to reassert itself.
You are permitting your mind the time necessary to remember what happiness feels like. You are allowing your brain to let go of the demands of other people’s urgency.
In the words of one of the great wizards, “A wizard is never late, nor early. He arrives exactly when he means to.”
If there is any learning to be done in meditation, then it is this: meditation is the means by which the wizard learns to arrive on schedule.
For my own part, I shifted over to counting my breath with a mala during meditation because I found that I became anxious about a mechanical timekeeper that ticked; and a digital timekeeper that I grew eager to look at, to see how much time was left. The mala beads slipped through my fingers, as I meditated — marking time, marking breath, without urgency.
I tend to meditate discursively — that is, I let my mind wander through the grounds of a garden devoted to a fixed subject: a Tarot card drawn each morning, a geomantic character or chart, a short text from a book or an article. When I drift off-topic, and often I do, I try to notice and draw my thoughts back to the topic at hand. I let my body be as still as it wants to be, which sometimes is not as still as I would like it to be. I assume that my body knows what it’s doing, now, though. A certain amount of quietude has settled in, though it took a while.
The counting of breath goes on. Actually, I don’t even really count. My attention isn’t really on the beads all that much, other than to feel them and think, “breathe in, breathe out, next bead.” It’s not much of a mantra, really.
Digestion improved. Was that meditation? Maybe.
Happiness improved. Was that meditation? Maybe.
Muscle aches and pains went away. Was that meditation? Maybe.
My perceptions opened up. Was that meditation? Maybe.
A lot more things happened. Was that meditation? Maybe.
Was it worth the first thirty hours? Definitely.