I have been noticing some extra impatience and disappointment lately, which are sure signs I’ve let my meditation practice slide a little. I have been doing other practices, like yoga, but there is something about getting my butt on the cushion that movement practice doesn’t address. So, I’ve re-committed to my sitting. In fact, my favorite combination is to do a little bit of yoga first and then sit. My body is relaxed and my energy is flowing. Then, I sit and watch my thoughts, emotions, sounds, and body sensations arise exist and pass away. When I get up to face the day, I am much more prepared for anything that might arise and much less reactive. Whew! It is a wonderful way to live.
If you want to develop a daily meditation practice or need to jumpstart a meditation practice before you move into the holidays when things get really busy, here are a few things I’ve learned along the way that might make it easier.
- Intention. The very first thing that will help you meditate regularly is to set an intention to practice. I decided many years ago that the benefits of meditation are worth the effort it takes to do it. But, you can’t just set your intention once. As my story indicates, you need to reset your intention from time to time. Once you start noticing the benefits of practice (or noticing the benefits fade), this makes setting your intention easier to do.
- Don’t listen to your mind. Even though you set an intention, your mind will NOT usually tell you to sit and meditate. In fact, your mind will probably come up with all kinds of reasons why you shouldn’t. “I don’t have time right now.” “I will do it later.” “I’m too tired.” “I’m in a hurry and have a lot to do.” I’ve heard it all! But, don’t be fooled by these voices. They are not responding to your highest good.
- Have a mantra. I learned the mantra, “Just Do It!” from Jon Kabat-Zinn. (Yes, I know it is also the Nike ad and, regardless of whether or not you like Nike, it’s a great motto.) He went on to say, “You don’t have to like it, you just have to do it.” Many times when I’ve awoke in the morning wanting to just sleep a little longer, I’ve also heard myself say “Just Do It!” This emphatic statement comes from a deeper place than the complaining voices. In my experience, the wise voice rises from deeper inside my body than the discouraging ones. Learn to listen for your deeper wisdom and follow it.
- Place and time. It’s can be helpful to designate a place in your home where you will meditate. If you do most of your meditation in one place it will softly call to you when you have ignored it. In addition, a regular time to meditate can also be helpful. You can play around with a time that works best for you. However, with that said, don’t be rigid about it. Anytime (rather than no time) is the best time to meditate. Even stopping and taking one conscious breath in line at the grocery store or in the waiting room can keep your intention to meditate alive.
- Length of Time. If you are taking a meditation class with instruction from a teacher, follow her suggestions. If you’re starting on your own, you could begin with five minutes and workyour way up. The more you do, the more benefit you will achieve. My own practice varies some but, in general, I typically do yoga for 15 minutes and then sit for 15-20 minutes. Of course, even five mindful breaths might be all you can do one day. Let that be okay.
- Give up expectations. Particularly if you are new to meditation, what happens when you sit and meditate might take you by surprise. It won’t necessarily be a blissful experience. In fact, at least half the time it probably won’t be. “So why do it?” you might ask. Because when we learn how to be with ourselves through the bliss and the sorrow on the cushion, we will be able to more skillfully navigate the twists and turns of life off the cushion. That takes me to my next, and final point.
- Check your attitude. Setting our intention and teaching our minds to be in the present moment is hard enough. But, the most important part for me is the attitude that I bring to practice, to myself, and to my life. When we sit, we pay attention to the present moment with certain attitudes. The attitudes that I find most helpful are kindness, compassion, non-judgment, acceptance, non-striving, patience, trust, beginner’s mind, and letting go. I would suggest picking one attitude that resonates with you or that you know you could use some work on and use it in your daily practice for a while. Currently I’m working on patience and kindness (I know, that’s two. But, I’m an overachiever!).
To help you in your daily commitment to practice, I have a number of meditations on this website that you can use.
Good luck with setting your intention and making it happen. Meditation matters! You won’t ever regret it!