Meditation tips for daily sits

Meditation takes time and effort, but the benefits are enormous. Anyone who manages to maintain a daily sitting practice is likely to sing its praises, the hard part is making the time and finding the motivation to keep at it day after day.

As someone about to hit 650 days in a row of meditation (find me on Insight Timer to check!), I think maybe I have some valuable advice to give, and figured I’d write up the tips I give to new people who ask me how they can get started.

So please forgive my hubris, and may all beings meditate at ease 🙏🏻

1) First thing’s first

If there was just one piece of advice I could give you, it would be to meditate as early as you possibly can in the morning. Meditate before you start working, before you talk to anyone, and most importantly, before you check Facebook!

Not only will meditating before doing anything else give you a clear mind, free from the distractions of the day, it will also give you a sense of peace and acceptance that you can bring with you to those challenges when they come up.

Do yourself a favor and schedule time for sitting before anything else in your day, and if that means getting to bed earlier, then make bedtime a priority too. 

2) It shouldn’t hurt

I’ve heard people say out loud “it’s just going to hurt, so be ready for it” and I have to say, I don’t think we should give up so easily! Yes if you’re on a retreat meditating 10 hours a day, there will be pain for the first few days, but if you’re sitting for 20-30 minutes per day, there are usually ways to get through it without major discomfort:

  • Make sure your back is straight and your ears, shoulders, and hips are aligned.
  • If sitting on a cushion, make sure your butt is elevated enough compared to your feet, so that your legs make a ramp to the ground.
  • If that doesn’t work, you can always just sit in a nice firm chair that keeps your back straight and lets your knees bend at 90°.

This “About Posture” PDF by Stephanie Nash helped me a lot in resolving my many painful problems with meditation. In it you can learn about different positions, types of cushion, and likely problems. It took me months before I was able to figure out what works for my body, but the effort was definitely worth it.

If your meditation hurts you day after day, know that you deserve better. Meditation should be physically relaxing and mentally energetic, not physically stressful!

3) Keep the lights on

Some people feel that meditating in the dark helps them clear their mind, and some schools even teach that it’s vital to the practice. I’m here to tell you the opposite, especially if you ever have problems with sleepiness during meditation.

When we close our eyes in the dark, it’s no surprise our brain thinks it’s time for bed! Yes we can train ourselves out of this eventually, but why go through that?

If it’s daytime and there’s a window, open the curtains and sit facing the daylight, I bet it will feel good and help you stay alert. If it’s nighttime, turn on the lights and point yourself towards a lamp.

In my experience great meditation is like great sex: It’s better with the lights on.

4) Nowhere else you need to be, nothing else you need to do

One of the biggest challenges of meditation is impatience. When we sit still and be quiet, our brains go into overdrive thinking of all the other things we should be doing, like chores, work, writing that novel, etc. It can feel like we’re wasting our time sitting there when we could be doing something more productive. This can lead us to spend the whole meditation thinking about other things, and ultimately avoiding the mindfulness of the present moment that was our actual goal.

When this comes up, try reminding yourself that there’s nowhere else you need to be, and nothing else you need to do. 

This reminder can completely change your relationship to the time you spend meditating, from something you wait through to something you take full advantage of.

You already made the decision to meditate, and you had good reasons! Have trust in yourself and in the value of meditation to improve your life. Let the past and the future have their time later, meditation time is dedicated to the present moment. 

5) Any sit you finish is a good sit

This is simple advice and I encourage you to take it literally. It’s very tempting to assign value to our different meditation sessions: This one was good, I had a lot of concentration, that last one was bad, I was distracted the whole time!

Resist that urge! Let each meditation be whatever it is, and approach the experience with acceptance. Judging your own practice is one of the fastest roads to getting discouraged and losing the impetus of a daily practice.

Instead, be mindful of how each meditation goes, and use that information to better understand yourself. Maybe it was hard because you’ve got a lot going on right now. If that’s the case, you probably needed that meditation more than ever!

Allow your practice to have ups and downs without judging yourself or getting discouraged. Meditation is always valuable, especially when we are facing big challenges in life and practice.

6) Be choiceless

My last piece of advice is both the simplest in theory and probably the hardest in practice. But if you can pull it off, it’s a guaranteed way to establish a daily practice that you can rely on and benefit from.

Being “choiceless” means not negotiating with yourself about a decision once it’s made, and in this case, that decision can be to have a daily practice. When you’re choiceless, you don’t let excuses, circumstances, or anything else get in the way. You just make time for meditation, and then you meditate!

Choicelessness is how we can maintain abstinence from drugs and alcohol, learn a new language, or achieve many seemingly-impossible goals. Maybe some days you don’t have time for a full 20-30 minute sit, but you still make time for meditation, even if it’s just 5-10 minutes in the morning.

Meditating whether you “want” to or not is a key skill to develop, because often the times when we need meditation the most are the same times when we are desperate to skip it. Be choiceless in your commitment to a daily meditation practice, and you’ll free yourself from the suffering of having to re-decide each day to do something you know is good for you. 

Alright, there you go! I hope you find these tips helpful, and I wish you peace and compassion on your journey of meditation and mindfulness!

A Proposed, Tentative Logo for Recovery Dharma

Mockup of several versions of a Recovery Dharma logo as seen in a design application
Demo of my proposed logo for Recovery Dharma, showing vertical and horizontal formats, as well as a demo of the free and open-source font Lato which was used to create it. All my work on this is licensed  Creative Commons BY-SA.

TL;DR: I made a logo for Recovery Dharma because we need a visual brand ASAP and I think this one will do the trick, taking advantage of the dharma wheel icon we’ve already been using and the free font “Leto” . I hope it’s helpful to others, and encourage everyone to use it freely in promoting Recovery Dharma in any way. 

Download PNG, EPS, SVG, and more versions of the logo in a single Zip file:

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The future of Refuge Recovery: Should we rename our sanghas if Noah Levine retakes control?

Below is the full text of a post shared to the Refuge Recovery closed Facebook group on 2019-06-17. It is reproduced here for readability and in case the original is ever removed. It is an accompaniment to the STATEMENT OF INDEPENDENCE AND COMMITMENT TO THE SANGHA document, explained below and reproduced in full at the bottom of this article.

Update: If you want more evidence that Noah’s reclamation of the trademark is imminent, see his June 14, 2019 legal filing. I’m not a lawyer but this case seems air-tight to me. He’s ethically in the wrong, but legally bound to win.
Update: After receiving 188 comments in 16 hours discussion was shut down on the Facebook post (requires group membership to view). If you’d like to add comments or discuss, please use the comment form below.

Update: In case you missed it, this all came to pass and happened. RR has split into two organizations, one run by Noah called Refuge Recovery World Services, and one run by former RR board and community members called Recovery Dharma. Hundreds of meetings have already discussed it and decided to join Recovery Dharma, a truly peer-led and non-profit addiction recovery program using mindfulness meditation and community to heal addiction.

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Video: GARBAGE BAG BUDDHA: A Birthday Message

It’s my birthday and I’ll make saccharine Buddhist videos if I want to 👌🏻

May contain: My thoughts on the year that passed and what I’ve learned, unsubtle metaphors, Michoacano handicrafts, accepting and letting go, mind-bending earnestness.

Find more Buddhist and Refuge Recovery videos on my YouTube channel, like the Guided Breathing Meditation, and Oral History of the Refuge Recovery Book.
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Refuge Recovery Breathing Meditation (guided meditation video)

This is a 20 minute, guided mindfulness of breathing meditation. By watching our breath, we can cultivate concentration and a sense of peace that will help us get through the hard moments in life. The script for this meditation comes from the Refuge Recovery program.

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Refuge Recovery Lovingkindness Meditation (guided meditation video)

This is a 23 minute, guided “metta” (lovingkindness) meditation. In lovingkindness practice we cultivate a sense of friendliness, compassion and acceptance by mindfully wishing ourselves and others well. The script for this meditation comes from the Refuge Recovery program.

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Achievement Unlocked: Meditated for 365 days in a row!

screenshot of insight timer app showing 365 consecutive days of meditation
Proof from Insight Timer that I’ve kept it up for a full year 🙌🏻

If you like meditation, sobriety or Refuge Recovery, take a minute to celebrate with me: Today I hit 365 days in a row of meditation on Insight Timer! It’s possible 🤘🏻

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Refuge Recovery Forgiveness Meditation (guided meditation video)

This is a 23 minute, guided meditation that encourages you to ask for forgiveness, forgive others and finally to forgive yourself, with a brief introduction. The meditation is derived from the Refuge Recovery tradition with modifications.

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Buddhist “Intention Setting Ceremony” for New Years (and Refuge Recovery)

Several candles laid out ceremonially with meditation bells and a copy of the Refuge Recovery book
A quick photo of the candles from our New Years intention setting ceremony at the Montreal Refuge Recovery meeting.

“Intention setting” is a concept you can find in a variety of Buddhist contexts, either as a daily practice done by an individual, or a communal ceremony performed by a sangha (community) of Buddhists. Often intention setting ceremonies are performed around the new year, as a more wholesome replacement for “New Years resolutions”.

This article describes an intention setting ceremony I synthesized for my Refuge Recovery group that meets each week. I’m sharing it for the sake of any Refuge Recovery groups, other Buddhist meetings, or anyone else who wants to try a ceremony like this!

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Refuge Recovery: An oral history of the book with Gary Sanders

Gary Sanders, one of the original founders of the Refuge Recovery program, sits down with me to discuss how the Refuge Recovery book was written collectively based on the meetings that were already happening in LA.

We discuss the program itself, the early days when the program was being developed by a group at Against the Stream LA, the process of collectively assembling the book and much more!

TL:DR; The book was not written by just one person, it was assembled by a group based on the the group experience of running years worth of Buddhist Recovery meetings. Whether we consider Noah our teacher or not, the RR book is a necessary and invaluable resource for our meetings and our lives.

Read on below to find links to everything mentioned in the video and a full transcription with timecodes!

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