Wednesday, February 26, 2014

7 Tips to Establish Your Meditation Practice

Okay, so you've received some basic meditation instruction and you want to establish a regular practice. That's great! Here are seven tips to help you get your practice going — and keep it going.

1. Just Do It
Meditation can seem difficult or even impossible at times. When we sit down to be still and quiet and look at our minds, we are suddenly, shockingly aware of how busy and distracted our minds really are. For many beginners, this can be disheartening. A lot of people give up before they even begin, thinking, "Other people may be able to meditate, but not me. I just can't do this." This is sort of like someone who takes piano lessons and gives up after the first few lessons because they cannot play a Beethoven piano concerto. It's called practice for a reason. Be patient with yourself and relax. Meditation is a process of taming and training the wild mind to stay present, and that training takes time.

2. Be Consistent
Consistency and regularity of practice are the keys to unlocking the benefits of meditation in your life. This has proven true in the experience of millions of meditators in every spiritual tradition for the past several thousand years. Think of it like brushing your teeth: it's better to do it every day, for short periods of time, rather than once a week for two hours. Practice whether you feel like it or not.
 If you only meditate when you feel like it, then your ego is subtly controlling your meditation practice — and that’s missing the point. If possible, try to practice at a consistent time each day. Many people find that meditating in the morning before going to work helps them establish a better frame of mind for their day. Others prefer to practice in the evening. Some like to "bookend" their days by doing both. Experiment and find what works best for you, and then stick with it for a while.

3. Don't Bite Off More Than You Can Chew
Practice in manageable, bite-size chunks. A typical recommendation for beginners is to start with 10 minutes a day, and then over time you can gradually increase it if you feel so inclined. If you are training for a marathon, you don't suddenly run 26 miles; you do a lot of shorter runs, and you gradually build up stamina and endurance. But don't leave it all to chance. Decide in advance how long you’re going to practice, and then stick to that amount of time. Don’t change your mind and bail out in the middle of the session just because it doesn't feel good. By the same token, get up when the session is over, even if it's feeling great.

"Learning to meditate is the greatest gift you can give yourself in this life. For it is only through meditation that you can undertake the journey to discover your true nature, and so find the stability and confidence you will need to live, and die, well. Meditation is the road to enlightenment." — Sogyal Rinpoche

4. Use a Timer
However long you practice, use a timer (stop watch, alarm clock, or kitchen timer) to time your sessions. The last thing you want to be doing while you're meditating — although it's tempting! — is peeking at the clock, wondering how much time is left in your session. There are also a number of free mobile apps you can download to time your sessions, or you can use your phone's built-in timer. I recommend the free Insight Meditation Timer app, which also includes access to many guided meditations.

5. Be Brave
Don’t be discouraged when meditation seems difficult, and don't get carried away with elation when it seems pleasant or easy. Experiences come and go like the weather in meditation, and it is our conceptual minds that label them "good" and "bad." Don’t cling to pleasant experiences, and don’t reject unpleasant experiences. Just keep practicing.

6. Find Your Space
Find a conducive space in which to meditate. It should be safe, quiet, and free from phones ringing and other preventable disturbances. But total silence is not necessary. Don’t meditate in total darkness or with light that’s too bright. If possible, you may find it helpful to create a space in your home devoted exclusively to your meditation practice. It could be just a corner of your room with a chair or a meditation cushion, and maybe some items that remind you of your spiritual goals. If circumstances make your home completely and totally unworkable as a meditation space, then you could go to practice in a church or a meditation center. If you have access to a meditation center in your area, you may find it inspirational and supportive to practice together with other people in group settings.

7. Find Your Support
As you continue to work with a meditation practice, questions and obstacles are bound to arise. If you can, it's helpful to talk about these issues with a meditation instructor or someone more experienced in the practice. It helps to have the guidance of someone who has encountered the same questions and obstacles in meditation and has worked through them. If you don't have access to support in person or by phone, there are many books and online resources that can help you identify obstacles in meditation and apply antidotes and solutions. If you're struggling with something in your meditation practice, rest assured that you're not the only one, and someone out there can help you work with it.

No comments: