Meditation: How do I know if I’m doing it right?

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One of the questions that most of us will end up asking about our meditation practice is “how do I know if I’m doing it right?” We sit there minute after minute, day after day, month after month and it is totally natural to wonder, am I really doing anything? Is there a right way to meditate? How do I know if I’m doing it?

There are several possible answers to this situation.

1. The simplest answer is this: if at any point during your practice, you notice that attention has strayed away from breath and you remember to return it, you are doing it “right.”

2. Another way to approach this question is with another question, best posed some weeks or months after having begun to practice: “Have I noticed any differences in my life since beginning a meditation practice?” Perhaps you notice that you feel a tad more cheerful or patient or equanimous. Or maybe you are becoming a bit more sensitive or easily impacted by things that happen around you. If you are noticing any qualitative changes in your daily experience, you could imagine that your meditation practice is going pretty well, even if you think you’re a “bad” meditator, i.e. find it impossible to follow two consecutive breaths. After all, the goal of meditation isn’t isn’t to become a great meditator. It’s to become a great person.

3. The final possible answer is this. Who knows? This is a spiritual practice and as such is an object of mystery. If we really understood exactly how meditation “worked,” I’d say we had failed to understand it at all.

So the best bet is to keep on practicing. Stay with it. Do the best you can. And when you look back over your life, don’t spend too much time on the question, “was I meditating right” and focus instead on “did I live right?”

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15 Comments

  1. Karen { 05.15.12 at 4:29 pm }

    Hello Susan, Thank you for today’s post, very helpful. I am a beginning meditator and am feeling thankful that I have been able to practice daily for almost two months now. My sessions with you feel so much more successful than when I practice alone. My question is, how can I make the sessions I do alone more beneficial?
    I try to do a mental ‘checklist’ when I sit to begin my practice but still do not seem to get as much from it as when I practice with you.
    Any suggestions as to how to make practicing alone a little easier?
    Or does it just become a little easier with time and more practice?

    • Susan { 05.15.12 at 6:49 pm }

      A good question, Karen. It is useful to have guidance. However, it is also useful to practice in an unguided way! It definitely becomes easier with time and more practice. Sometimes it is actually helpful to sit for longer when you sit on your own. With guidance, it can be easier to settle in. Without, it may simply take a few more minutes for your mind to settle itself. Maybe try a 15 or 20 minute sit and see what happens? xo S

  2. Sonja { 05.15.12 at 4:52 pm }

    This post said everything it should.
    So many people stop meditation because of the uncertainty that they’re doing it right. And then, of course, if you look hard enough you can find instructors who will confirm you’re doing it wrong. A shame. It wasn’t until I made peace with the possibility that I may be an imperfect meditator that I started doing it in earnest every day.
    My meditation practice has changed over the years and I wouldn’t even say it’s evolved. It’s just changed. From mantras, to simple mindful breathing, to guided meditation and back to mantras, etc… It’s all good. And you’re exactly right when you say the way to measure the “rightness” is how you interact with the world. I know that when I’m meditating every day — right or not — the world just seems like a friendlier place to live.

    • Susan { 05.15.12 at 6:49 pm }

      Sounds like your practice is going extremely well, Sonja–
      xo S

  3. John { 05.15.12 at 5:11 pm }

    Ace, Susan – arrived as usual as the day was drawing to a close – a roller-coaster of a day in which I had not managed to sit. Your timing :-)

  4. Janet { 05.15.12 at 6:35 pm }

    I really appreciate the reminders to be “please, be gentle with yourself”. I’ve been meditating fairly regularly for about 3 years and whenever I notice my focus has strayed from breath, I kind of drag myself back, by the scruff of the neck. Not always, but often. That said, I do think I’m a bit nicer to other people when I meditate :-)

    • Susan { 05.15.12 at 6:50 pm }

      Me too, Janet… xo S

  5. Kathy Willard { 05.15.12 at 7:25 pm }

    Hmm, all this penchant for doing everything perfectly takes too much of a toll me thinks. I always fall back on my mantra, “the perfection of imperfection” for this soothes me. Meditation helps me in “every” way. I’m calmer, I’m a better listener, I take better care of myself too. Sure I fall off the rails now and then but much less so, whereas years ago I was in a constant state of agitation, drama galore. This has taken years of course, but now I see meditation as a way to drop everything, just drop it all. It allows me to leave the planet for a while in a sense and remember what is important. Even the awareness that I do not have to make a decision “right away” came to me from meditating and is so freeing. If I get out of the way, things can and usually do just fix themselves without me. Now I ask you, is this not pretty darn fantastic? I mean, who knew? I didn’t and the only thing required is to sit quietly for awhile. In doing so I’ve discovered life need not be nearly as complicated as I can make it. So many rewards to this simple practice! The only catch, and its a good one, is that I need daily reminders, and so grateful to have found Susan.

    • Susan { 05.15.12 at 8:04 pm }

      This is so great… xo S

  6. Tracy { 05.16.12 at 6:24 am }

    This is such a beautiful reminder, Susan… and I especially resonate with the idea that the “goal” of meditation is to become a great person. Through meditation I feel better about myself, my body, my mind, and can extend the better gifts of myself to others. This is a profound thing, this meditation. I admire your work–thank you! :o)

    • Susan { 05.16.12 at 7:07 am }

      This is wonderful, Tracy. And I resonate with you! Thank you so much for the comment and the encouraging words. xo S

  7. Carondelet { 05.16.12 at 9:38 am }

    Good Morning Susan!

    Today is my first sit after months! My move to Austin last July was so intense, I got off track with meditation and several other nurturing things. I really got into busy habit energy. I so appreciate your support in this virtual medium and the support of the others here. I resonate with your gentle way. Thank you from my heart that is softening!

    • Susan { 05.16.12 at 10:26 am }

      It is so good to get back to practice! Glad we’re practicing together. xo S

  8. Rohit { 11.25.14 at 1:05 pm }

    Hi Susan,

    3 months back I saw some videos on mediation and attracted towards practicing it. Since last 2 months I am doing 20-60 mins of breathing mediation. Now days I feel little bit pain at back of my head when I do meditation. I am worried if it’s happening due to wrong way of doing meditation?

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