Playing a musical instrument, texting your partner when you get off work, or eating oatmeal for breakfast. Daily habits drive a significant portion of our day, as they show where our priorities lie. If you’re considering making mindfulness meditation one of your daily habits, then you might already be aware that to truly reap its benefits, a daily(ish) practice of sitting meditation cannot be overstated.
Below are suggestions I received from my teachers which have worked for me in maintaining a daily practice. Grounding all of them is the concept of building meditation INTO one’s day, versus trying to fit it in when it is convenient. When we try to squeeze meditation into our days, other things squeeze it out. And just as we don’t brush our teeth only when they begin to ache, we shouldn’t wait for pain and suffering to tell us when to meditate. As you read, consider how these suggestions (in no particular order) might inform and support your own practice, and ultimately your life.
Find a time of day that works for you and stick to it. First thing in the morning works well for many, before the speediness of the day takes over. Evenings before bed can also work well, but really, no one time is inherently better than another. Jerry Seinfeld claims that he meditated everyday during his lunch break while making his hit ‘90s sitcom: “Those 20 minutes in the middle of the day saved me.” So, whether you’re entertaining millions or
just searching for a little peace, being consistent with a time of day builds momentum and strengthens your practice. At the least, try your best to choose a time of day that you are likely to not be interrupted, and a time you are not too sleepy.
When you are starting out, choose a manageable length of time to meditate. 10-20 minutes is reasonable for most, while I know some that literally begin with 1 minute a day. Whichever you choose, it can be helpful to decide prior to meditating how long you’d like to sit and stick to that number. After 10 days – or whatever feels comfortable for you – begin increasing the time by increments of 5-10 minutes. This limits the chance to negotiate the length of time relative to the rest of your schedule. The fewer decisions you have to make prior to meditating, the fewer chances you have to convince yourself NOT to meditate.
As best you can, try to meditate in the same place every day. Very soon you will associate that area as your meditation space and it may create a calming resonance for you when you see it. Just as our bedrooms should only be for sleep (and making love), your allotted space becomes synonymous with slowing down and self-care through mindfulness. Also, as you are able it’s helpful to find a spot that doesn’t have a lot “traffic” or distractions. For example, try to avoid meditating in the living room in front of the television.
It’s likely not difficult to initially state our reason for meditating when we first begin. Still, consistently reminding ourselves of our intention can serve as oxygen to the embers of our practice lest our inspiration to meditate cools. I have found it very beneficial to take 1-2 minutes at the beginning and end of each meditation session to remind myself why I am practicing. Whether this is done daily or weekly, it can serve to give our practice meaningful purpose and energy.
My first meditation teacher would often say that practice and study go hand-in-hand as though they were two wheels on a bicycle. By simultaneously learning how mindfulness can improve our well-being, along with learning personal accounts of those further along this path, we gain a more complete knowledge and understanding of our own meditation practice. It creates a sturdier foundation of practice, and strengthens our trust in it. There are great number of books on mindfulness out there; Wherever You Go, There You Are, is a personal favorite!
6. JUST DO IT!
Drop the figuring out; drop the planning and negotiating and examining. Just sit! One of my favorite teachers is eccentric, Soto Zen Priest, Brad Warner. He has a good video on this topic of daily practice where his main instruction is pretty much “Just do it!” (Thanks, Nike)
Meditation is difficult, but it’s even more difficult to do it alone. Thankfully, accessibility to meditation teachers and communities are more common than ever. Sitting with a group once a week can be a great way to help maintain one’s practice. The experience of sitting with others is also inspiring, as it reminds us that we are not alone on this journey. If you are hard-pressed to find a meditation group near you, online groups are also an option. Regularly meditating with others via Google Hangout when I lived overseas was particularly enriching for me.
8. PERSONAL TEACHER
Finding the right teacher can be invaluable. Not only are we given proper guidance along this path of self-discovery, but we have someone to hold us accountable. A teacher can be a cheerleader and an insightful mentor. They also provide a crucial learning tool: a “feedback loop.” The student shares their experience and is given timely feedback on how best to adjust their practice accordingly.
With all the “to-do’s” that a consistent mindfulness practice can seem to pile one, it’s helpful to remember that this is a practice…so it’s okay to make mistakes! Experiment with different approaches to learn what works best for you. And if you miss a day, a week, a month, or even years, as soon as you remember, start again! Oh, missed another day? That’s okay! Just start again. Contemplate what conditions your practice needs most, and start again.