In the beginning, meditate for just 3 to 5 minutes, then if that goes well, 10 minutes. Get used to that for a few months. Then go longer, perhaps 20 minutes, no more. Decide in advance how long to meditate, otherwise you will want to quit just when things are getting interesting, when you are starting to let go of tension and are facing the obstacles to relaxation.
Always give yourself leisure time at the end of a meditation session. This “getting out” time is as important as the meditation itself, it is your segue into action. And the whole point of meditation is to carry the relaxed attentiveness into action.
1. You become aware that you are going to end the meditation soon. You could call it an intention—you are just aware for a split second that you are going to get up soon. The body will immediately shift gears from healing mode into a kind of neutral gear.
2. You do nothing, you just coast. Thoughts can come and go, sensations come and go, you are not intending anything. Three minutes of this may seem like a really long time, a whole world of experience. You need a watch at hand to make sure you stay there.
3. Toward the end of the getting out time, make little movements. Sigh. Then wait a few seconds. Then make a movement again. You will feel your metabolism begin to speed up.
4. Open the eyes a little, then close them again and notice your inner feelings. You will probably sigh again. Again open the eyes, a little more. Perhaps look downwards and in front of yourself for a few seconds, because that means the eyelids do not have to open all the way.
5. Open the eyes and simply sit there for half a minute, savoring your body sensations.
I recommend people make up their own closing rituals, using hand and arm gestures. For example, slowly open the arms wide, then bring them in so the hands are over the heart. Then again open the arms, and bring the hands in to rest on the belly. Learn to appreciate a very slow movement here, slower than you ever make. Move at the speed you can feel. This slow movement helps the body integrate inner and outer.
For a one-minute meditation, there is no need to do any rituals for getting out. But for a ten or twenty minute meditation, make it a rule to spend about a minute re-orienting for every five minutes you were meditating. This is something you have to impose on yourself because spending two minutes at the end of a ten-minute meditation seems like forever. You may find yourself sitting there going vroom, vroom, revving your engines, eager to leap into action. If you have deadlines or are anxious about your performance at something, this vroom time is actually more important than the other parts of meditation. Your body is practicing staying as relaxed as possible while feeling the urgency to act and perhaps rehearsing specific actions.
If you have a limited amount of time for your whole meditation -- say you have twenty minutes in all, then you work backwards to see how much time you can spend with your eyes closed. A minute or two at the beginning, and three at the end, plus throw in a couple minutes buffer, leaves you about fourteen minutes for eyes closed meditation. It is much better to have these interlude moments for the transition.
I once had a student who was an ER doctor, an emergency room specialist. He would work long shifts, and often nothing was happening, so he could rest in a room near the ER. On occasion, however, he would have to get up from meditation at a dead run and go deal with a patient. He said that after doing this once, and being a bit shocked, his body invented an “intermediate” meditation state for when he was at the hospital, in which it kept guard with one part, and let him mostly rest. He said he felt like a dog, “sleeping with one eye open,” meditating with one eye open. When he was at home meditating, he would go much deeper because he knew he wasn’t going to be interrupted.
So, know that you can get up out of meditation at a dead run if you should ever have to, but don’t do it unless you have to.