How to Start a Meditation Practice
If you don’t have a meditation practice I highly encourage you to begin one. It need not be intimidating or all consuming. It can be as simple as sitting in chair and following your breath for five minutes. The common thread I hear from all of my teachers is that the key is consistency. I believe this is true in all spiritual endeavors. It is the same with my asana practice. I get on the mat as close to everyday as possible. Even if I am too sick for difficult postures I can do a simple forward bend or just practice breathing. Lately I have noticed how much more grounded I am when I show up for my spiritual practices on a daily basis.
When I first began meditating over a decade ago I started very simply. I set a timer for five minutes and I sat on my couch not doing anything until the timer went off. Believe it or not it was terribly difficult. I couldn’t remember any time in my past where I sat in silence like that for what seemed like no reason. I had so much energy at the time and when I felt it screaming through my body it was intriguing and terrifying. It was my first taste in just how much stuff is going on in our minds and bodies at any given time. Those early days were not necessarily the deepest in a spiritual sense but were definitely life altering.
I would love to say that since that time I have cultivated a steady meditation practice and never looked back. That hasn’t been my experience. Through most of my 20s I dabbled in meditation, a few months here, a year there, a retreat there, it wasn’t until I had completely exhausted all of my resources that I finally turned to meditation as a way to get okay living in the present moment. When I finally understood that meditation was not an escape but a vehicle for opening up to the here and now I began taking it seriously. Lots of therapy and the other spiritual work I had done up until that point served me very well. I knew though if I wanted to move deeper into the scariest and most painful parts of myself I would have to learn to sit still and be with those feelings. And that’s when shit got real.
Being with myself has not come easy to me. It continues to take effort on my part even though I am much less afraid and willing to distract myself than I once was. Today I crave the stillness that meditation creates and all the awkwardness that comes along with living in the present moment. Um, hi, it’s so not like the movies. It’s dirty and messy and painful and weird and exciting and unexpected and joyful. This is all the stuff (well minus the excitement and joy, I’ve always wanted that) I’ve tried (in so many self-destructive and unsuccessful ways) to avoid. I am one of those people hard wired to avoid pain and seek pleasure. Aren’t we all though on some level, I mean, isn’t that part of what it means to be human?
And while I am not advocating for wallowing in self-pity and obsessing over stuff that is out of our control, I am for getting real in the here and now. This is all we have. Right now. All the humiliating and selfish and kind things we have done in many ways don’t matter. What matters is if we can live moment to moment with as much integrity, honesty, and compassion as possible. Meditation has helped me live this way and is one of the many reasons I continue to practice, yes, even when I don’t want to. I can think of tons of excuses for not getting more in tune with myself but if I follow those threads further I see how unhelpful that is for me and the people in my communities.
If you are feeling lost or stuck on how to start a practice, simply begin. Pick a length of time you want to be still, set your timer, sit down and follow your breath until the timer goes off. If your mind is racing, notice it. Try your best not to ruminate or get lost in your thoughts. When you notice you are lost, come back to your breath. Always come back to the breath. The success does not come from not having any thoughts but from how quickly we notice the thoughts and come back to our breath. It is impossible to not do this right, there is no such thing as failure here. The only failure in this regard is to not take the time to get to know yourself in a very profound way. Want to get clarity on the things that hold you back in life or how you continue to self sabotage? Want to feel less isolated and more connected to people, even people you don’t always like? Start meditating.
We are lucky to live in a time when there is a great deal of information available to us on this subject. Do a little research. Read some books. Look up a meditation group in your neighborhood and check it out. I think all of this is great. I’ve read dozens of books on the subject, been to many retreats and sitting groups. The trick here is to not get overwhelmed with everything that is out there and allow that to keep you from getting started. Make a commitment that you can stick to and get going. If you are just starting out maybe 45 minutes a day is too much. You aren’t any more spiritual because you sit for longer than someone else. You aren’t more spiritual if you meditate in the lotus position. Maybe sitting isn’t your thing and you prefer walking meditation, that is cool too. Again, there is no right or wrong here. We don’t have to subscribe to someone else’s ideas of walking a spiritual path, we can make it look like whatever we choose.
These days I sit for 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes at night. That is what feels good to me at this time. In the past I have sat for shorter and longer periods of time. It’s up to you. Nobody knows better than you what it is you need. If you are struggling and want support reach out to your community. I have found it extremely beneficial to hang around folks that are walking a similar path. Above all don’t beat yourself up if you start and stop start and stop, it’s all ok. The idea here is to cultivate gentleness towards ourselves. When you are ready to start again, do so.
This post just flew out of me. It’s strange how that happens sometimes. I’ve felt so inspired around the benefits of my practice and I wanted to share some of that here. Meditation and mindfulness practices have become a corner stone in my self-care and I hope you will find a practice that works for you. Know that starting a practice like this is an act of bravery. If we want to be heroes in our own stories we have to be willing to step up each day and show others who we are. Meditation helps make this possible. If I can do this I have no doubt that you can too.