Eight Tips For Establishing A Daily Meditation Practice
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Eight Tips For Establishing A Daily Meditation PracticeIncorporate Meditation Into Your Life With These Tips From Matteo Pistono
I sometimes ask people, “What is meditation?”
I receive an amazing range of responses. Those who have experience of meditating will often describe an activity that they do, a method, or a technique. They relate a way of concentrating on their breath, or reciting a mantra (a sacred sound, word, or phrase), or visualizing energy and esoteric shapes and colours within their body, or contemplating love or a saint’s life. For some people, meditation means simply sitting still for days and weeks on end. Others place their body in yoga postures, or move while controlling their breath. Others will say meditation comes from cutting themselves off from distractions altogether, perhaps by holding their breath for long durations. Others have told me they meditate while running, or preparing tea, or resting their awareness in the gap between wakeful and sleep states.
The vast array of meditation techniques found among spiritual and contemplative traditions can sometimes seem daunting, especially if we want to begin our own meditation practice.
But is meditation just a technique or method? I suggest meditation is what arises from within us upon applying a method or technique.
It is often supposed that meditation is a particular mental state—peaceful, relaxed, saintly, or empty. Let’s let go of that idea right at the outset. Let’s also dispense with the notion that we’re trying to stop our thoughts when we meditate, or that we must sit in full lotus position to do so. In fact, it’s useful to free ourselves from any such concept or labeling about meditation at all.
Meditation is not a singular, steady experience. Rather, it is a dynamic and continual process, an unfolding of our awareness. Through it, we come to know the entirety of our reality—from sensory stimulation to our thoughts and emotions.
Going deeper, meditation is a familiarity with the working of our mind and our perception that is never static but always flowing. And what flows before our lucid awareness in meditation is the ever-changing reality that we call the present.
I think of meditation as a vehicle, or what supports us on a journey inward. Our journey may traverse the dark valleys and scary ridgelines of our scattered, distracted, and confused being. But as we persevere, we discover our inherent qualities of pristine wisdom, abiding intelligence, and unbound compassion.
I suggest a working definition for meditation as: coming to know the mind.
There are many reasons for meditating. It seems to me that one of the main ones is to enjoy contentment. When we look at our life, contentment is usually fleeting. Instead, we often live day to day with a sense of lack, of dissatisfaction, of dis-ease.
We all, regardless of nationality, religion, or beliefs, want to experience contentment in our life. We want something beyond feeling happy, because deep down we know that our feelings come and go like the clouds in the sky.
Contentment comes from within—from deep within our being. But the circumstances of our life and the actions of our body, speech and mind often prevent this contentment from rising up to express itself. Instead, we are caught up in looking for contentment in things—in food, in relationships, in money, in situations, and in fleeting experiences that, while they might be temporarily enjoyable, eventually dissolve, and then we are left with that familiar sense of lack.
Meditation can be a skillful means of discovering contentment. It takes us within ourselves, and points us in the direction of where contentment is found. As the Dalai Lama has explained, “Granted, external circumstances can contribute to one’s happiness and well-being, but ultimately happiness and suffering depend upon the mind, and how it perceives.”
Eight tips for establishing a daily meditation practice
Now you know a little more about meditation, here are some tips for establishing a daily meditation practice.
1.Remind yourself of your motivation
Look back at the motivation for meditating that you wrote down in your journal. Remind yourself of it before each meditation session. Perhaps write a new motivation from time to time.
2. Short sessions, many times
Keep the length of your meditation sessions on the shorter side, especially at the beginning. I suggest meditating daily for 10–20 minutes. The point is to practice with relaxed alertness. It is more beneficial to have a short session of alert attentiveness than it is to sit sleepily for 45 minutes. Try to conclude your session when you are still fresh and wouldn’t mind continuing. Slowly increase the length and frequency of formal sessions, but not past the point of freshness. As for how to keep track of how long you meditate, I recommend having a clock in the room that is not on your smartphone (leave your phone outside your meditation space). You can also find sand-timers easily—these are a wonderful option.
3. Keep your practice close to your heart
My first Tibetan Buddhist meditation teacher told me, “Don’t tell anyone you meditate.” I didn’t understand immediately what he meant, but today I do. In the beginning, sometimes our enthusiasm can take over and we can talk a lot about meditation but meditate very little. Consider redirecting that enthusiastic energy inward to fuel your meditation practice. That said, it’s good to let your partners or close friends know what you’re doing so they can lend support as you establish a daily meditation practice.
4. Establish a routine
We form habits very quickly—both positive and negative habits. We can use this tendency to our advantage in our daily meditation practice by establishing a routine. Perhaps you sit and meditate immediately after your coffee or tea is made. Or right after your yoga practice— each time. One of my friends waits in her church pew at the end of the service and meditates. Perhaps your days are so full that you need to schedule your meditation time in your daily planner— if so, schedule it. Initially it will take some effort and discipline, but soon your interest will increase and you will establish the habit. Strive on, with ease, because, as the Buddha said in the Fundamentals of the Path (Dhammapada), “A disciplined mind brings happiness.”
Make a commitment to a formal meditation session each day for a certain period. You can write it down in your journal, for example: “I will meditate for 10 minutes every day for the next month.” Go easy on yourself, though—remember, short sessions, many times. It is better to meditate for 10 minutes every day for a month than for one hour on a random weekend. One of my teachers says that establishing a daily meditation practice “is like brushing your teeth—we do it a few times each day, rather than waiting until Sunday and brushing for an hour. If you do that, it will be painful, not very useful, and probably you’ll see some blood! Every day you brush—every day you meditate.”
6. Practice when you practice
When you sit down to meditate, just meditate. There’s no need to check your email on your smartphone one last time. Or to stretch your body extensively. When it’s time to practice, just practice. Body still. Speech silent. Mind spacious and alert. No need to waste time arranging this and that. Also, know what method you’re going to practice and just practice that method. You may have many methods in your meditation toolbox, but use one for each session, and maybe stick with that for a week, or a month, or longer. Like an infant grabbing one colorful toy and then tossing it to grab another, the mind sometimes wants to switch between meditation methods during the session. But it’s better for it to become agile at one method through repeated practice than to move between many.
7. Keep a book of insights
Note down in your journal any insights that arise during your formal meditation session, or perhaps afterwards as you go about your day. Every so often, re-read your insights as a reminder to yourself.
At the conclusion of your daily meditation practice, before jumping off your cushion and rushing into your day, savor the moment. In this solitary time, rejoice and give thanks for the fortunate circumstances that allow you to cultivate a path of introspection and meditation. Remember that you are blessed to have this opportunity. Rejoicing in our own, and others’ good fortune is a way of energizing our practice. Even after meditation sessions that we have found frustrating, boring, or even painful, we can be glad that we have made a sustained effort to cultivate clarity of mind and softness of heart.
Go deeper into meditation with this free video masterclass from the author of this article, Matteo Pistono: