Developing a Meditation Practice You Can Do!

Hey all! Just to put this out there at the beginning, this post is about removing the perceived obstacles to developing a meditation practice. Meditation has been described by many folks, including the renowned meditation teacher Sharon Salsberg, as being "simple, but not easy!" Even in the best of times, taking a few minutes out of our busy lives to sit quietly and focus on the breath can seem challenging. Moreover, much of the imagery that we get through social media supports a notion that you have to go to a faraway, clearly not inexpensive place to do it. I have to admit that after years of maintaining my own meditation practice, I still picture myself secluded away in a serene, absurdly picturesque location, blissfully focusing on the present, with rapt attention to the ease and clarity of my thoughts as they arise and pass away. Just so you can see what I envision, here's a great representation of my own personal ideal meditation scenario:

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The reality of my meditation practice, however, is very different from this. In reality, it pretty much looks like this...

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This is in the second bedroom of my house where we pile the stuff that we don't know what to do with, and this is ok! Actually, this is fantastic because, unlike the indescribably beautiful serenity of my perceived practice, this is a practice where I am, right here, in Fairfax county. Here in Northern Virginia, this is what a successful meditation practice looks like in my daily life. This is where the magic happens!

So here's my point... a sustainable meditation practice is the one that you can do, where you are, in the life that you are living. What are the keys to success in this? Here is what I would suggest to get you started:

  1. Find a place where you frequently find yourself, be it your home, apartment, school, job, or wherever, where you feel like you can dedicate, if even temporarily, about 3 square feet of space. This can be on the floor if you're sitting on a cushion, a chair, a couch, or a bench outside in your neighborhood. The only real important part of it is that it's in a place where you are where you feel comfortable. What is going to make your meditation practice sustainable for you is that you are able to do it without surmounting a perceived obstacle, such as having to go somewhere to do it, or have a piece of fancy equipment to succeed. You can sit on a step outside your front door and have a perfectly wonderful, sustainable meditation practice which really pays off.
  2. Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths to settle in, and relax, letting go of your breath (don’t worry, it’ll keep going!) and follow it as it goes in and out. When your mind starts to wander off, THAT’S OK! GENTLY, and without judgement, tell yourself that your mind is wandering and return to following your breath. Growth in the practice doesn't come from your might not wandering, it comes from recognizing when it is and bringing yourself back to your breath. Continue on for as long as you feel comfortable—even 5 or 10 minutes is enough—and, when you’re ready, gently open your eyes and ease back into visual awareness.
  3. If you're looking to officially up your game or to get some support tools, you might consider getting a timer. Any timer will do, and there are plenty of them out there. One of the best apps out there that I and many other folks I know use is the Insight Timer. There is a free version and a paid version, but the free version will give you everything you need. It's a great timer that allows you to make preset times, it has some pretty good guided meditations if you're into that (personally, I'm not, but that's just me), and it keeps a record of your meditations so you can see and track your activity over time. Your alarm on your phone will work just fine though, so this should never be an obstacle to your practice.
  4. Repeat when you can! Maybe try to sit for a little while each day, or even 3 or 4 days per week while you're getting the hang of it. Experiment with different locations, chairs, cushions, environments, or, even better, get a friend to do it with you. Support can be a key factor in maintaining your practice, which is our motivation for the events that we organize for our community. If you haven't yet, please check out our Events page by clicking here.

Realizing that you don't have to go anywhere, or have any specific thing to meditate has significant advantages. For example, just this past weekend I was in Michigan visiting family and, therefore, staying in a hotel room. I did not have my preferred meditation cushion with me, I was in an unfamiliar place, and completely outside of any perceived routine that I had grown accustomed to. Because of this, I just didn't have the option of doing it the way I normally do, but I know that if I have a small place in which to dedicate a few minutes of sitting, that would be vastly better than not doing it at all. There was a small, moderately comfortable loveseat in the room, and I was able to get in 10 or 15 minutes each morning while we were getting ready for the day. Option 2, which I didn't even use, would have been a pillow on the floor. So even when you have your developed practice, success doesn't always look like you think it might. But, with practice and a bit of openness to novelty, you really can meditate anywhere. Good luck, be patient and kind with yourself, and, as always, let us know if you have any questions!

Paul