Happy New Year! To start the year off right, here’s the first in a series of monthly articles on meditation.
Meditation is something a lot of people want to try. Whether it’s a spur-of-the-moment New Year’s resolution or something you’ve been meaning to work on for a while, meditation can be a valuable practice for your mental, emotional, and spiritual stability and growth. Here are some tips on starting to meditate regularly, with the goal of making it a habit.
Do it every day. A regular meditation practice has to be just that: regular. It usually takes about three weeks to establish a new habit. Try making it your goal to keep practicing for a month: when you achieve that, you’ll have a solid basis you can build on. After meditation is an established habit, you can expand it or vary it, but at first, just work on doing something regularly. Keep that in mind as you go through the rest of these tips. Shoot for an achievable goal. Remember, just establishing the habit over the course of the month is genuine progress.
First of all, decide what you want your meditation to be. Maybe it’s a time for you to practice grounding and centering, or to contemplate a specific subject. Maybe it’s “me time” when you can’t be interrupted over your morning tea, or time for you to focus on gratitude. Maybe it’s a specific type of practice such metta meditation or zazen. Maybe it’s a time for deep breathing and clearing the mind. If you’re just getting started, concentrate on the essentials: presence and focus. The first step to meditation is not doing something else at the same time. For that, you need to set aside time and space.
Pick a time to meditate that you can have every day. For me, meditation has to happen early in the day; if I don’t get to it right before or after breakfast, it gets swept aside, and by the time I’m getting ready for bed, I can’t focus in the same way any more. Other people use meditation right before bed as a way to wind down. Maybe you’ll find the perfect time in a short walk just before lunch. It’s often easiest to incorporate a new habit into an existing one: if you always, always, always get your coffee right after you get up, then taking time for five deep breaths and a quick prayer before your drink your coffee might be the best cue to help you make meditation a regular practice. Whatever works for you, make that time specific and regular. If you need to, let others know that this time is set aside.
Pick a place. In front of the coffee machine? At your desk? Your favorite chair? In bed? Again, what’s important when starting out is consistency. Your meditation spot doesn’t have to be a retreat, as long as you can accomplish what you want there. In fact, if your meditation spot is too far away from your usual haunts, you might not bother to go there and use it. As long as you can accomplish your goal – grounding and centering, breathing, quiet time – the space is okay for it. It matters more that you’re present and practicing than whether your spine is perfectly aligned or your eyes are open or shut.
As far as space and time go, it’s easy to set an impossible goal. If a beginner promises herself twenty minutes of uninterrupted quiet time in her perfectly-appointed meditation spot with her snazzy new cushion and carefully-chosen candle, then the first time she misses that appointment, or has to cut it short after just ten minutes, she might feel like she’s let herself down. Then when she skips a day, the place and time start to become reminders of those failures instead of her goals, and eventually she hates the very sight of her meditation cushion.
Freeing yourself from that cycle of self-enforced guilt is the biggest step you can make towards a regular meditation practice. You will miss days sometimes. Accept that now, at the start, and realize that it doesn’t mean you’ve failed. Progress is not linear. Count the successes – every day you do something towards your meditation practice is a positive step – and stay focused on increasing those.
Set a reasonable goal. Decide what you want your initial practice to be, then pick a time and a place where you can do that. Try to do it every day. If at the end of the month you’re still trying, and you’ve managed to be there in your time and space more days than not, congratulate yourself. You’ve made tremendous progress.
This series is also being published at Pagan Pages. Due to a mix-up, some additional material (my notes to myself about topics for the next few months) was published there at first. This is the correct text of the article.