Though I’ve been meditating for over nearly two decades, I wasn’t committed to a daily meditation practice all that time. I was so caught up in the hectic pace of my life that I would forget to sit; I struggled with my mind; argued with myself; and thought at times that I must be doing the practice wrong, because I didn’t seem to be getting anything out of it. I definitely made my share of mistakes along the way by thinking my meditation practice was supposed to be a certain way.
Where were the visions? Why wasn’t I seeing colors or the lights my friends were telling me about? Where was the ecstasy & bliss I was supposed to be experiencing?
These issues are some of the things most beginners often struggle with. And so, let me start by saying that one of the worst things you can do is compare your meditation experience with those of others. Meditation is a very personal journey, because it is an inner journey. And so, your own experience may be very different than what others experience within themselves.
Let me also say that when you begin your meditation practice please let go of all expectations and you should not practice any technique yearning for experiences. If you do, this desire can actually become an obstacle to what your personal experience might be. And the desire to have a particular type of experience can be a barrier to deep meditation and not allow the practice to unfold for you in your particular way.
The truth is that meditation isn’t about getting anywhere or having some type of experience. Meditation is about learning to be where you are & with what is. And in this article, I hope to give you some advice from my own personal experience that will help you establish a strong daily meditation practice. And this is very important because the only way to obtain any of the wonderful benefits which meditation has to offer is by the cultivation of a daily practice. Meditation has to become as regular as brushing your teeth or taking a shower in order to get anything out of it.
Meditation itself is very easy to describe and not a hard thing to do. In fact, the techniques are actually often very simple. What makes it difficult is our resistance to working the practice and our habitual pattern of judging the experience and thinking that it needs to be other than it is. It’s our minds that are the difficulty.
It does take dedication and persistence though. You must be determined to sit, even when your body & mind don’t want to. If you can do that, and make the practice part of your daily routine then I can tell you from first-hand experience that you’ll find your life transformed in profoundly positive ways. But don’t just take my word for it. See for yourself.
To get you started on a solid foundation here are 5 tips which will help you cultivate that long-term daily practice:
1. Have a Regular Place to Practice.
One of the best things you can do is create a “Meditation Space”. If you can designate an entire room to your meditations — terrific. But, if you just pick a chair, part of your couch, or put a cushion on the floor in an area of a room, that is great too. The key is when you have a regular spot to meditate then this space becomes a constant reminder to work your practice.
Often our lives are very busy and it’s very easy to forget to sit for meditation. Especially, when we first get started in our practice. If you were to just meditate whenever you want, wherever you want, then the mind doesn’t associate any particular place with your practice. No seed has been planted. But, if a particular chair or a certain area of your home becomes your “meditation space”, then whenever you pass by or see the area it’s going to remind you to meditate.
You’ll walk by the cushion and your mind will say “you didn’t meditate today.” Therefore, having a “meditation space” will make it much easier to maintain consistency & increase the chances that you will sit for your daily practice.
2. Meditate at the Same Time Each Day.
When you are just starting your practice you may want to test and see what time(s) feel right to you. Take a few days and meditate in the morning when you first arise, then take a few days and try meditating in the afternoon, and finally try meditating in the evening before bed. Then whatever time feels best, choose that and then meditate at that same time everyday.
Think of this time as a meeting with your boss or an appointment with a doctor that can’t be missed. If you are spiritual you may wish to think of it as your meeting time with your True Self, Soul, Buddha-Nature, or God.
You may even want to add it to your schedule and/or set a reminder on your phone notifying you of your “meditation meeting”. If you can be consistent for about 30 days you are very likely to overcome one of your major obstacles…your resistance to sitting.
Just like having a dedicated and consistent meditation space, having a consistent meditation time will be a constant reminder for you to do your practice. And what you’ll discover is that after some time you will want to sit more often and for longer sessions. So if you were just sitting every morning you will soon naturally expand your practice to maybe every morning & afternoon or morning & evening; etc…
3. Start Slow
Ideally, you will eventually want to work your way up to the point where you are sitting twice a day for 20-30 minutes. However, meditation is not a marathon. So, you don’t need to force yourself or rush to sitting that long too fast. In fact, if you are like most people you don’t like feeling forced to do something. Nor do you like to do something that you feel is uncomfortable. And if you are a beginning meditator, trying to sit in silence can feel very uncomfortable at times. Very often you may feel restless, tired, bored, etc… and it may seem as though you are fighting with yourself to sit still or stay awake.
Therefore, thinking you must force yourself to sit for 20-30 minutes, especially in the beginning, will most likely have a negative effect on building a consistent, long-term practice. So start at your own pace.
Right now, consistency is more important than quantity. What I mean by that is: 5 minutes everyday is better than 40 minutes today & 40 minutes next week.
There is nothing wrong with baby-steps. They will still get you to your destination. So, you may want to try beginning with just one or two minutes & slowly working your way up from there.
Giving your body & mind time to get accustomed to sitting with yourself can be a very important step. And therefore, I always encourage students to start slow. With time, what will naturally happen is that your 2 minute meditations will turn into 5 minutes then on their own your 5-minute sessions will grow to 10 minutes, then to 15 minutes & before you know it you’re sitting for 20-30 minutes with no problem at all.
4. Don’t Look For Overnight Results
In this age of “instant gratification” most people want everything now! And so, we have overnight shipping, instant messaging, immediate access to all types of information through the internet, etc… Well I am sorry to say that there are NO SHORTCUTS IN MEDITATION. It takes time to change old patterns and create new habits. And that’s why meditation is called “a practice” – you must work at meditating and just… practice, practice, practice.
After a few weeks, you might not feel any different, you might not think anything is happening, but the truth is there is now scientific proof that changes are DEFINITELY occurring within you.
I point you to the work of Harvard Neuroscientist, Sara Lazar, who through MRI studies of meditator’s brains has shown that after just 8 weeks (that’s only 2 months or 60 days) of approximately 30 minutes of practice – your brain starts to physically change in amazingly profound ways.
Links to some of Dr. Lazars’s research & info on how the brain changes & what areas are affected by meditation:
So, don’t think or worry about any results. Things are happening within which you can’t see. Also, although you might not see a change in yourself right away, don’t be surprised if other people notice a change in you & start to say something. I’ll leave it up to you to decide if you want tell them what you are doing or not!
5. Stay Persistent & Dedicated
Many people talk about starting a practice like, meditation, yoga, exercise. etc…, but so few actually take the step to get started. And if they do, they are good for a week or two, & then sadly it fizzles out.
There’s a saying in Buddhism::
“There are only 2 mistakes you can make along the road; not going all the way, and not starting.”
And in Zen Buddhism there is a saying:
“The only obstacle to the path…is the path.”
In this second quote your path is your meditation practice & the only obstacle you have to overcome is not wanting to meditate. You just have to start & then commit to what you have begun. If you cultivate persistence & stay dedicated, eventually, your meditation session will become a habit.
Now although I listed perseverance as #5, it is perhaps the most important ingredient to building a long-term practice. You can read all the books you want about meditation, you can go hear lectures from the greatest meditation teachers and masters, but until you actually get started & do the work you won’t acquire any of the benefits. The benefits can only come from your effort.
So, there you have it – 5 simple tips to help you cultivate a long-term meditation practice.
The easiest thing is to make excuses for not practicing. I’ve done it myself… “I’m too busy.”; “I’m too tired.”; “There isn’t enough time today.”; etc… But, I guarantee no matter how busy your life is that you can find 5-10 extra minutes somewhere. If not, then you are probably one of the persons who would benefit from this practice the most. LOL!!
Also, if you do miss a day or two here and there — no shame in that. Don’t judge yourself or beat yourself us. Just get back on the path — and above all — DON’T GIVE UP!
With time your sessions will become part of your daily routine & if you follow the tips in this article it will be much sooner than later.
I wish you luck on your journey!
May every day be filled with an abundance of love, happiness, & peace!