I’m on day 23 of the Big Sit, a meditator’s version of the 100 pushup challenge. (Here, though, you dive right in to twenty minutes of seated meditation each day.) It continues to go very well and repeatedly confirms the parallels between meditation, a physical yoga practice, and endurance sports.

Most days, I settle in about 1:45, leaving myself time to get my wits back about me before beginning the walk to pick up my daughters at the 2:30 elementary school dismissal. My iPhone timer works nicely, playing a soothing harp sound at the end of the alloted time. In three weeks’ practice, I’ve come to get a pretty good sense of how long twenty minutes lasts and of the physical cues that show it’s almost time to finish. Today, though, I realized I was feeling impatient for the session to be over. I swung between wondering if something was wrong with the timer and falling deeper into meditation (or, perhaps, toward nodding off). Eventually I decided I would count ten rounds of ten breaths, then finish sitting. By the fourth round, I heard the 2:20 timer on the computer sound a thunk and my dog begin her Pavlovian reaction to the alarm. Hmm, I thought. As I opened my eyes, I saw a message on the phone: “Timer done.” The harp had never played.
Whatever went wrong (maybe the phone abandoned its timer duties to tune in to the OS 3.0 preview), I’d been still for over thirty minutes, half again as long as I’d planned. It’s a big leap. We are capable of much more than we expect. Diligent practice sets the base, and serendipity—getting lost out on the road or trail, being persuaded by friends to keep going—can show that our limits are nowhere near where we expected.