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 things 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!