Keep Your Meditation Practice Going
Over the years of my practice, and over the years of teaching mindfulness meditation to others, I see that one of the toughest parts of meditation is simply getting the practice started or keeping the practice up when you’ve been away from it for a while.
Whether you’re new to meditation and can’t seem to find ways to fit it in, or your practice has fallen out of routine, there are ways to help you hook your practice into the day.
The Mind’s Objections
The mind creates many objections about practicing. Have you noticed any of these?
“I’m too busy…Later will be a better time…Now I’m sleepy, so I’ll do it tomorrow…I can’t find a quiet space now…I don’t have my cushion…Maybe I didn’t learn this well enough…I think I’ve forgotten too much of what I learned…” On and on, the mind makes its reasons. Though the desire to practice is there, and the logical mind reasons that it felt good to practice before and that it may feel good to start again, we delay.
First off, acknowledge the mind activity. There is doubt, there is apathy. There is judgment. There is reasoning, and there is rationalizing. The first thing to do is to notice and accept what the mind is saying.
If you can take steps to improve something that needs attention, do so. However, often we really just need to start again. Remember that we are not striving to be perfect meditators! Meditation isn’t perfection in action. It is dynamic. It is art. It is life. It is a cultivation of strength and wisdom. For this, we need to drum up enough willpower simply to get back into it. Often we need just to look at the objections, gently note them as objections, and sit anyway.
We can let go of having to satisfy all of the doubts and decide, instead, to start meditating.
How to Keep the Practice Going
But how can we do this in a way that optimizes the chances of keeping the practice going?
We are creatures of habit in many ways. Each day we will do things the same way, at the same time, without even thinking about them or choosing the order in which we do them. Some habits are not very mindful, but habits can become useful in terms of helping us engage our meditation practice if we know how to use them.
Here are steps to help you get meditating again or create the habit of meditation for the first time:
Briefly, assess your daily routines and identify habits of activity that already exist. For example, each and every morning what happens as you begin your day? Make a quick list of the succession of events before you begin your workday, perhaps your lunchtime habits, and also your evening post-work habits.
Choose when you feel you’d like most to engage with your daily mindfulness practice. What time of day is realistically going to serve you best? If you are tired at the end of the day, choose the beginning of the day instead. If you are simply not a morning person and meditating in the mornings will be far too tight for time or challenging mentally, then choose the evening. If the lunch hour is flexible for you and offers you time and some solitude, choose the lunch hour.
Now key in on habits that are already established. For example, if you are looking at your morning routines, perhaps your routine looks something like this: Awaken, get up, shower, dress, sit for breakfast at the kitchen table, leave for work. All of these things are firm. You don’t tend to skip any of them, nor change the order of them daily.
The trick is to schedule your meditation “attached” to something else that you already are in the habit of doing. The more natural flow here, the better. For example, if you routinely sit at the table to have a quick breakfast before heading to work, right before you begin to eat, as you are already sitting, set your timer and do a two- to five-minute meditation. No longer. Make it flow right into your routine. Make it doable. Make it easy. (For more information on introducing new ways of living via already existing habits, see tinyhabits.com.)
Two to five minutes doesn’t seem long enough, does it? A short time may not allow for everything to unfold but it is still entirely useful time and you are cultivating the habit of meditating. What’s more, you are doing so in a way that you can enjoy approaching the practice, appreciate the simplicity of it, and feel success at having done it.
Mindfulness meditation is an elegant practice. We often complicate things when really the best way to begin is to simply come into this moment and begin. Now you’ve done exactly that. You’ve carved out a time for practice and actually practiced, and you’ve added no more than five minutes to your routine.
This routine now has the chance to turn into a habit. A habit is something that generally feels easy, purposeful and satisfying, so we keep it up naturally. By taking these steps we have some very good seeds to work with in expanding our practice.
After some time, you can decide to extend the duration of your meditation where you’ve placed it or move it into another part of the day. The length of time that is right is usually a length that feels a bit challenging but is still doable. At the outset, two to five minutes, for a number of reasons, can be both inspiring and helpful, so start there.