One of the many foundations of my program #AwakenedLeadership for individuals and organizations... Along my journeys, and for many years now, I have often struggled to keep my meditation practice alive. At home I used the excuse of being too busy with work and life in New York City. While traveling, I often delay the practice, thinking, “I don’t have time to practice today; I have to do this or visit that place." Basically, I am procrastinating and my Ego mind is fighting this healthy practice that threatens him!
The practice of meditation has a lot of benefits. Better health, better sleep, increased concentration and focus, increased energy, lower anxiety, and an overall increase in general feelings of happiness. With such a list, it should be easy to sit, but that's not always true.
There is an old Zen saying: You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day, unless you're too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.
So after years of trying and failing, starting and stopping, I wanted to share with you ten steps that can help you, even if you have never meditated before, to get the practice going and to KEEP IT going.
As a bonus, I have added photos of the incredible white marble temple of Ranakpur, a Jain Temple in Rajasthan, that invites you to meditate as you contemplate its 1,440 engraved stone columns (all different!). Enjoy!
1. Start with little time
We have a tendency to think, “I need to meditate 15 or 20 minutes,” in order to obtain the benefits mentioned above. But this is not true, and it’s very hard to maintain a practice if you start with such a high goal. Try meditating for only 5 minutes to start. It is not really the length of time which is important but the regularity of the practice (I will talk about this below).
“Now I meditate twice a day for half an hour. In meditation, I can let go of everything. I'm not Hugh Jackman. I'm not a dad. I'm not a husband. I'm just dipping into that powerful source that creates everything. I take a little bath in it.” - Hugh Jackman
2. Set a fixed time
If you keep changing the time – meditating in the morning, then in the evening, then at lunch time – there's a good chance that you are going to forget to meditate some days, and that the practice will die out. So pick a specific time (the best being early in the morning). Personally, I like to wake up, take a shower, and then go meditate. It’s a good way to keep from falling back asleep. But choose what works best for YOU.
“Morning time is the foundation of the rest of your day. Rise with a hopeful and loving attitude, seek compassion and kindness, pray, meditate, exercise.” - Martin Suarez
3. Find a unique place
Ideally you want a place that is “reserved” for this practice, a "sanctuary" place; you do not want to spend your time thinking where to meditate. It can be a small pillow in the corner of a room, a chair in your bedroom or on your bed . Ideally the place should be quiet, clean and dedicated to the practice. Energy will build in this place as you practice.
4. Have a ritual to prepare your mind
If you eat at regular hours, your stomach automatically secretes gastric enzymes 15-20 minutes before the meal time, knowing that food is coming. In the same way, if you meditate at regular hours, and keep the same ritual before going to meditate, your brain will know meditation time is coming. So prepare your sitting place, light a candle, burn some incense, etc. These gestures are not mandatory but they will help you to settle more rapidly when you sit.
“This is what rituals are for. We do spiritual ceremonies as human beings in order to create a safe resting place for our most complicated feelings of joy or trauma, so that we don't have to haul those feelings around with us forever, weighing us down. We all need such places of ritual safekeeping.” Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love
5. Make sure you have a timer
Once you sit and close your eyes, you do not want any distractions (so make sure your phone is in airplane mode!), but you should use a timer so you neither have to guess how long you've meditated meditate nor be worried about being late for work! You will be surprised that sometimes 5 minutes seems like 10 minutes and sometimes seems like 1 minute. You can use your phone timer (while in airplane mode) or a meditation app which will give you a nice gong at the beginning and end of your set time.
6. Sit cross-legged or not and have a comfortable position
We often have this image that we need to be seated in lotus to meditate well. Meditation is not a torture practice! You need to be in a position you feel comfortable with. So cross-legged is not necessary, especially when you start the practice. You can use a chair if you prefer. What is important is to 1. Keep your back straight (so if you use a chair do not place your back to rest on the chair but consciously elongate your spine), 2. Put your feet on the ground (if sitting on a chair or bed side) and 3. Put your hands on your legs, palms up (receiving position).
7. Start meditating
Once you feel comfortable, close your eyes, and focus your attention on your breath. You can feel the breath coming in and going out. You will feel a slight cold sensation on your nostrils when you inhale and a warmer sensation when you exhale. Keep your breathing natural and unforced. And just focus on the physical sensation. It’s the most simple technique to start.
“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.”― Thich Nhat Hanh
8. Do not fight your thoughts
You will have a lot of thoughts bubbling up; this is normal! Monks calls our brain the “monkey brain” to describe how it behaves when we try to tame it – it’s jumping all around! So watch your thoughts like a cloud passing in the sky. Don’t “identify” with your thoughts, do not push them away (as they will get stronger and fight back), do not get upset with your own mind if it is not quiet (once again, it’s normal), just watch the thoughts rising and going, rising and going, watch the impermanence. Once you realize you have been caught in a thought for a few seconds (or a few minutes!) just gently bring your focus back to your breath's physical sensation on your nostrils.
“Some people have a mistaken idea that all thoughts disappear through meditation and we enter a state of blankness. There certainly are times of great tranquility when concentration is strong and we have few, if any, thoughts. But other times, we can be flooded with memories, plans or random thinking. It's important not to blame yourself.” - Sharon Salzberg
9. You can use music too
There are many meditation techniques and the one I mentioned above is the original technique used by the Buddha, also called Vipassana meditation. Its aim is to always bring us back to the physical sensation. But you can also use meditation music or mantras; many apps or YouTube videos are available. One of the issues with music is that you can get lost in the pleasure of listening and forget to focus on our own silence. That, though, is my personal view and you will find many meditators with different opinions. Just remember to follow what works FOR YOU. No need to fight for months with a method you do not like.
10. Be gentle
This is the most important step. You want a practice that will be regular (daily) and constant. It’s like brushing your teeth: It doesn't make sense to do it once a week for one hour, it won’t work. Same for meditation. Just a few minutes daily is much better than an hour per week. So start slow (five minutes max), and add a few minutes every two weeks, slowly. And remember, even monks have random thoughts rising. The difference is that regular practice will help you not to be a SLAVE to those thoughts, to instead just watch them come and go, and to realize that your real consciousness is OBSERVING these thoughts, not the thoughts themselves.
As your practice settles into a regular schedule, you will very quickly see its benefits: improved energy, better sleep, and a reduction in anxiety and stress.
You want to learn more? Watch this amazing video of Tenzin Palmo talking very simply about Meditation. Her credentials? She meditated for 12 years alone in a cave in the Himalayas...
I can also help you and teach you meditation, help break through barriers, and allow you to better bring this practice into your life. I do individual and group classes. On-site, in your home, and also Online! Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Much cheaper than any medicine, meditation is accessible to all of us, here and now!
See the FULL ALBUM of the incredible Jain Temple of Ranakpur HERE.
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