by Dan Lawton
As knowledge of meditation has grown, more and more people have turned to this ancient spiritual practice as a way to reduce stress, increase their happiness and enhance their concentration. We now have access to a wide array of meditation guides, in formats ranging from blog posts for beginning meditators to full-length books. However, for many novice meditators, the true challenge is not getting started, but keeping their meditation practice consistent. Here are four fundamental tips that have helped me cultivate my meditation practice over the years.
1. Set Realistic Goals
When we are first developing our meditation practice, there can be a temptation to set unreasonable goals. We may be so entranced by our first few meditation sessions that we want to turbocharge our progress by meditating for extra long sessions and devouring every book on the practice. In doing so, we risk the potential for a metaphysical burnout.
Instead, consider starting with small goals, such as sitting for five minutes in the morning, and then work up incrementally. If you add an extra minute a day, you’ll be up to a half-hour within a month. Remember that meditation and mindfulness are lifelong practices, so try to refrain from life-changing expectations at the beginning.
2. Reduce the Temptation to Be Critical of Yourself
One of the things that many novice meditators, including myself, struggle with at the beginning of their practice is the temptation to become their biggest critic. Although we strive to keep a consistent, daily meditation practice, it is inevitable that we will at times fail to sit. Additionally, we will have meditation sessions where our concentration will be poor and our focus muddled. We may have to stand up, readjust our positioning our even abandon our session due to some implacable distraction of the mind.
When these situations occur, it is natural to grow frustrated and to want to castigate oneself for a lack of discipline. We may feel that we are even reverting to poor practices that we thought we had abandoned in the past. However, if we put too much weight on setbacks, if we place too much emphasis on a momentary lack of discipline, we risk damaging our practice through our own criticism.
Remember that setbacks are natural part of a meditation practice, just like they are in life. Instead of getting down on ourselves, we should use these tough moments to help strengthen our practice by watching and observing–with an detached awareness–the ebb and flow of our distractibility.
3. Look for Opportunities to Practice Mindfulness off The Cushion
Let’s face it, we’re not going to live our lives on the meditation cushion, nor do we want to. The goal of meditation is to be able to integrate the skills that we learn on the cushion into our daily lives. Some of this will come naturally, but often it is beneficial to exert extra mindfulness in certain situations that may be conducive to frustration.
Good examples are when sitting in traffic or in a line. Instead of letting our frustration and impatience get the best of us, we can take note of the fact that we’re in a potentially stressful situation and accept that reality. Hopefully, alongside that acceptance will be the realization that generating feelings of anger and stress are futile, as getting angry won’t move the line or decrease traffic. Then, we can do some breathing meditation to create a feeling of harmony where a feeling of frustration used to be triggered. In doing so, we’re slowly rewiring our brain in a positive way.
4. Find a Sangha
Sangha is a Pali word meaning “assembly or “company” and typically refers to a group of people who meet to meditate once or twice a week. I’ve found participating in a sangha to be hugely beneficial to my practice and many others feel the same. A regularly scheduled meditation session helps you carve out time for your practice. Additionally, a group of fellow meditators can be a great resource for questions that you may have about your practice.