We all have a conceptual idea of what meditation should be like. Perhaps that idea is informed by the media or images of people sitting cross-legged in serene contemplation for hours on end. Perhaps it is also informed by a previous experience—perhaps a yoga course or retreat where meditation felt natural and do-able with daily instruction and guidance.
Too often, though, when we try to adopt this practice into our daily lives it comes to an abrupt and disappointing halt when the reality of everyday life and meditation meet. Most of the time we are pressured and busy. So, how does one manage to transition from a doing-planning-talking mind into a meditative state of mind? When we close our eyes and actually attempt to be present and listen to our own minds, the experience can be terrifying, or even a bit disappointing.
Many people who attempt to start meditation find the project of starting is itself stressful. We measure ourselves against the expectation of some ‘guruji mastermind’ in lotus pose, slipping in and out of space-time, and ultimately, we fail! Thoughts of remembering to switch off the oven or feed the cat or call a colleague win out over the Zen state of mind we are seeking.
But it doesn’t have to be this way! We can succeed if we adopt a fresh approach. Here are the top tips from EYR to assist you in best integrating a meditation practice into your everyday life.
Mindfulness over meditation
Meditation and mindfulness are two separate things. Meditation is ‘to measure’ through calm concentrated thought. It implies conceptual contemplation, in a sustained way, over multiple consequent moments. As well, it can involve a mantra or focus on breathing rhythm. When we start meditation practice for the very first time it can be exceedingly hard. Our minds have a natural propensity to jump from ideas to memories to plans, and we get frustrated because we cannot maintain our concentration. It seems futile!
Mindfulness, on the other hand, is the pursuit of insight into the workings of the mind. This means to be focused on the investigation of a process rather than the examination of an object. The wandering thought process that happens in the mind is like a river of thoughts and the point of mindfulness is to observe this river, as it flows, without judgement or interference.
When we are new to the practice of meditation, mindfulness can often be an ‘in’. Pause your reading and spend 1 minute now just observing your thoughts. That’s it…you just meditated!
Start with 2 minutes
Be pragmatic. At the start of your practice, you are not going to be comfortable with sitting for hours on end. Accept that. Start with 2 minutes a day and work up from there. Increase the time you dedicate to meditation by just 1 minute every week. Depending on your schedule, stop at a length of time that is not inhibiting and is acceptable to your other commitments. Even if 10 minutes becomes your maximum time, it will be beneficial, and it becomes a practice you can actually maintain, even in busy times.
The biggest problem people have in sustaining a meditation practice is that ‘sh!t happens!’, as they say, and life gets hectic. We then get out of the routine and lose momentum. Eventually, the practice gets shelved altogether. If you keep your time commitment manageably short (as described above) to, say 10 minutes a day, and you consider it an absolute essential bodily necessity, you are more likely to keep it up. Think of meditation as part of your morning routine. You shower and clean your teeth, right? You wouldn’t not do that—so prioritize your 10 minutes of meditation alongside cleaning your teeth! This also ensures you will keep it up even when traveling.
Don’t leave it to the end of the day
Things done at the end of our day get the least amount of energy and focus, so don’t leave your meditation for bedtime. It might work for you to do this now and then, but in the long run, you will be battling to maintain it. Rather, meditate in the morning before you start your day. If you have to, wake up 10 minutes earlier in order to fit it in.
Be kind, relax and lighten up
You are not going to adopt this new habit without mistakes and mishaps. Be gentle with yourself and see the practice of kindness and self-forgiveness as part of the meditation itself. There is no point in meditating if you remain uncompromising and harsh on yourself. Allow for the learning process. Most importantly of all, be kind, relax and lighten up! When you wake in the morning, dedicate your meditation time to learning how to do those three things. To this point, consider these wise words from spiritual luminary Pema Chödrön. She writes, “Lower your standards and relax as it is.”