I’m sure you know, either from experience or research, that meditation practice is very, very good for you. It helps maintain physical health. It creates stability in your mind. It opens your heart. It’s actually kind of amazing. Nonetheless, most of us (myself included) struggle with maintaining the discipline of a regular practice.
Whether you’ve been practicing for one year or one day, these suggestions can help you plant your practice:
Start slow. Don’t say to yourself: “I am going to meditate every single day for the rest of my life.” This is a big mistake—first, because you’re not and second, because it’s just too much pressure. That is like beginning a running practice by starting with a half-marathon. Instead, establish a routine that is very, very doable. For example, you could decide to meditate Monday through Friday for 10 minutes per day. That would be great. Or you could simply begin with the Open Heart Project, which comes to you twice a week with meditation instruction and just sit on those days. Then, when you’re ready, you could add on to that.
Take the short view. Whatever you decide about the frequency of your practice, establish parameters besides “for the rest of my life.” If you plan to practice for 10 minutes per day, five days a week, do so for, say, one month. At the end of that month, reassess. Maybe you’ll decide to try this for another month or six months. Then, reassess again. Take it very slowly.
Establish your seat. You don’t have to create anything fancy or spend a lot of money, but choose one place for your practice—either a corner of your bedroom or home office, a particular chair in your living room, or, if you live in a mansion, an entire room. Choose a spot that you enjoy being in. Keep it clean and tidy. If you like, you could have a small offering table with flowers or a picture of someone or something that inspires you.
Choose your time. Try to practice at the same time every day. Most people find that the morning works out best, but some of you may have a dozen kids to get off to school or a job that requires your presence at 6AM. Or, you may simply be a night owl and find it better to practice when you get home from work or just before bed. You can experiment with times of day, but whatever seems best, stick with it. There is nothing magical about this, it just seems that habits thrive on routine.
Consistency over duration. It is better to practice for 10 minutes per day, 5 days a week than 50 minutes, 1 day a week.
Declare your intention. As you sit down to practice, say to yourself something like this: Now is my time to practice. Everything else can wait. Commit yourself at the outset.
Follow the 12-second rule. This rule states that when you screw up (i.e. miss a day or a week or a month on the cushion), you must feel awful, guilty, and ashamed—but only for 12 seconds!! Then you have just got to CUT THAT BS OUT!! It’s thoroughly NOT useful. The only thing worse than slacking off in your practice is feeling like crap for slacking off in your practice.
Optional: Have a dharma book near your meditation space and read a paragraph, page, or chapter before or after your practice. When we marry even the slightest bit of study to our practice, our practice deepens.
Good luck and let me know how it goes!
To receive ongoing support for your meditation practice via instructional videos sent out 2x a week, please sign up for The Open Heart Project.