What does it take to really, truly establish a meditation practice?

June 18, 2012   |   30 Comments  |   FavoriteLoadingAdd to favorites

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.

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  • Posted by:  Cheryl

    Dear Susan… Thank you for communicating this topic so beautifully. What really resonated for me was about not feeling bad for more than 9-12 seconds, when we don’t practice; and it’s better to practice more frequently for a shorter period than longer…less often. Oh.. and… the dharma book, which I’m guessing is a book that provides inspiration and insight and is grounded in the Shamata (spelling?) meditation? — is that correct? — I have “The Wisdom of No Escape” by Pema Chodron, so I’ll use that.

    Also, what do you suggest for keeping up our practice when we’re away from home?

    Blessings and joy to you…

    • Posted by:  susan

      Cheryl, so glad this was useful.

      By “dharma book” I mean any book that gives insight into spirituality and spiritual practice. Any Pema book certainly fits the bill!

      When you are away from home, it can be more difficult to practice. There may be others around, a busier schedule, or just a different routine. So do what you can. Airplanes, trains, and busses can be great places to practice. If you’re in a hotel room, you can sit on the bed to practice. If you just don’t have the space or time to practice, allow your mind to “flash” on the state of meditation every now and then–meaning, think about what it is like to practice.

      Hope this is useful! Warmly, S

  • Posted by:  Tracy

    This was a beautiful reminder, Susan! For a while now I’ve only been able to do 10-15 minute meditation sessions. I used to do 30 minutes, but health and life situations meant I need to change that up a bit. At first I did “beat myself up”…but after that negative self-indulgence, I came to see that something is always better than nothing. ;o) And I am really enjoying my shorter practices, each one is unique and I still learn a lot. Who knows maybe I’ll be able to get back to 30 minutes. If not, that’s OK too. Your weekly videos inspire me to keep seeing the deep beauty of the practice… no matter how long it may be. Thank you!

  • Posted by:  susan

    Tracy, I’m so happy to know we’re practicing together and, especially, that you are practicing gentleness toward yourself. This means everything. Wishing you well and sending love, Susan

  • Posted by:  Elana

    Susan, I read an article recently discussing weight loss where a highly regarded doctor said the number one reason people do not succeed in establishing a new habit or change is trying to do the undoable right from the start. EG. If you want to start running first thing in the morning, set your alarm for the time you will wake, and put your running shoes on. That’s it. No running. Just put your shoes on. Try that first, then the following week run up and down your driveway for 5 minutes. That’s it. Pick things that are absolutely doable, can’t miss, and gradually change will stick. Bite off more than we can chew, and it’s a recipe for disaster. I love this approach! I T W O R K S with everything. Sending warmth as always, Susan. Bless you.

  • Posted by:  susan

    I love this approach. I’m totally for it. It makes complete sense to me. Step by step. I’m a BIG fan of the “one step at a time” strategy. Thanks for the reminder! Love, S

    • Posted by:  Dipu

      where do i find a meditation cusore for children?i listened to radio 2 yesterday and they were saying how it can help children be calmer and less stressedi like the idea of itis it a specific type for children or can they do any typei do not know anything about meditation so any information you can give would be greatthank youxxx vici

      • Posted by:  susan

        this is a good resource.

  • Posted by:  John Fast

    I have come to view meditation as the spiritual process of re-booting my soul. The analogy I strongly relate to is that of a computer. Mine often gets jammed up when I try and make it do too much at one time. It gets confused and doesn’t process information effeciently.
    My mind is the same way and subsequently has a negative impact on my mental and physical aspects. We are mind, body, and soul. By meditating my soul is re-booted allowing all of the other aspects of my life to function more efficiently. If I do not re-boot my computer I do not spend hours berating myself for not doing so. My schedule has been insane lately and I have not been meditating on a regular basis. But once I realize that the demands I have placed on myself are perhaps greater than the system can manage and my life becomes erratic then I make a point of meditating in much the same way I would re-boot my computer when it becomes scrambled. Thanks Susan.

    • Posted by:  susan

      Thank you, John.

  • Posted by:  Matthew

    Thank you for providing such a simple, positive approach to meditation practice. I think that over thinking is a great barrier to accomplishing goals and this make it easy for someone like me who is new to meditating. I am very excited to be on your mailing list and look forward to your tips and guidance. Much peace to you.


    • Posted by:  susan

      And to you, Matthew! I am happy to be practicing together.

  • Posted by:  Binky

    Hi Susan! Just signed up and feeling happy to be here. Thanks for this article. I wonder if you could say a little more about “When we marry even the slightest bit of study to our practice, our practice deepens.” This has always worked for me but could never seem to adequately articulate the connection between the two. Often I think the value of study is under-appreciated as there seems to be much more emphasis on just doing it. Of course there is the danger of over-thinking and staying stuck on an intellectual level, but then I feel we tend to fall into the trap of disposing of study altogether. Would love to hear your thoughts. Thank you!

    • Posted by:  susan

      Welcome! People often say that practice and study are like two wheels of a cart. With just one wheel, the cart goes around in circles. With two wheels, it can actually go somewhere.

      Most of us have a natural preference for one or the other but both are essential, critical. Practice without study can become self-indulgent. Study without practice lacks genuine insight and hearet. It’s up to each of us to figure out where we are along these spectrums, realizing too that both practice and study could become places where we hide out because we are comfortable there.

      Hope this helps!

      • Posted by:  Robert

        That must be why angels have two wings…so they don’t fly in circles.

        • Posted by:  susan


    • Posted by:  susan

      PS Great question

  • Posted by:  Binky

    Oh, very helpful, Susan. Thank you. I also appreciate that you took it further and brought up the importance of knowing of where we are along these spectrums as well as the potential pitfalls, both of which have just highlighted for me the value of cultivating a capacity for discernment.

    And, I know this probably sounds funny but – how wonderful to get a reply! Thanks, Susan.

    Sending warmest wishes to you and the Open Heart Project community this holiday season.


    • Posted by:  susan

      And all best wishes to you!

  • Posted by:  Monica Schefski

    Hi Susan-

    I just did my first meditation with you this morning and found it relaxing. This is the first time I have done it with my eyes open. Usually any meditations or relaxation tapes I have used tell you to close your eyes. Is there a reason for keeping the eyes open? Is it so you are “relaxing with all the things that stress you out”, as you pointed out, instead of closing your eyes and thus avoiding your stresses?

    Also, should we concentrate on doing diaphragmatic breathing or not?

    Thank you!

    Monica Schefski

    • Posted by:  susan

      Monica, I’m so glad you found the meditation enjoyable. There is indeed a reason for keeping eyes open and it is exactly as you suggest, to help with relaxing with all the things that stress us out. Here is a video that explains further.

      About the breathing, no technique is required. Breathe naturally. Hope this helps. Let me know!

  • Posted by:  Shruti

    Hi Susan ! I’ve just signed up and I’m hoping that this journey of meditation with you will definitely help me overcome my weaknesses with my assets.Hope you will be with me through the whole journey of meditation.
    i will love to hear your thoughts……….
    Thank you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Posted by:  susan

      So glad you signed up and I hope meditation will serve you in exactly the ways you need! Susan

  • Posted by:  Barb

    Hi, Susan,
    Thanks for visiting RRUC today. I loved your session so much here I am! I am also writing on behalf of a good friend who couldn’t make it tonight. Her husband just left her for another woman after 40 years of marriage. She thought he was her soul mate and that they would grow old together. What wisdom do you have for her to mend her broken heart?

    • Posted by:  susan

      Hi Barb. I also enjoyed the time at RRUC. What a lovely community.

      I wish I could offer your friend something, anything that would be helpful. It is such a painful, complicated, devastating situation. In fact, I wrote a whole book about it: The Wisdom of a Broken Heart. Perhaps there would be something in there for her?

      Warmly, S

  • Posted by:  Stephen

    What a lovely generous concept. Thank you for reaching out internationally with this project. I look forward to becoming a part of this community. 🙂

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver


  • Posted by:  Warren Burrows

    Dear Susan,
    Thanks for setting this site up. I have a daily practice already but it is still a bit of a chore and need some daily on-line sanga. My live sanga is the Shambhala Meditation Center in Providence, RI. Going for the freebee right now……Thanks again…..Warren

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver


  • Posted by:  Elaine Kochar

    I heard your talk in the beyond mindfulness series, I logged into Open Heart, and will try and follow your instructions. I have been sitting and have learnt greatly from you. Namaste Guru!

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