lesson
10

Establishing a Practice

1 0f 1

When you begin to tame the movement of your mind, it affects everything else. It's like renovating: Once you start, it's hard to stop.

Once you establish a regular practice, your life can feel like it's undergoing a major upheaval.

Meditating is a new way of looking at things. You have to be willing to change.

In this lesson you learn how to establish a meditation practice.

 

The best support for regular and consistent meditation practice is that you enjoy doing it.

If you prepare for meditation practice properly and make it a regular part of your life, it becomes like drinking water. So before you get to the cushion, you should look at your lifestyle and prepare for practice properly.

Apply the principles of gentleness and precision in every aspect of your practice.

  • Without precision you'll be unable to establish a strong container in which your practice can thrive. So we establish a routine, follow it with discipline, and stick to the instructions.
     
  • Without gentleness, meditation becomes just another way in which you're trying to measure up against a hopeless ideal. So provide yourself with the time and space to meditate, respect your limits, and soften up your mind and body properly. It's important not to expect perfection or get lost in the finer points of the instruction. With gentleness and precision, meditation practice will bring you joy.

Beginning a meditation practice is an excellent opportunity to contemplate how you spend your time. One of the obstacles to meditation is being pulled in too many directions.

Ask yourself: How much of what you do is important and truly necessary? What drains you? What nourishes you? Do you prioritize the nourishing activities? Are there activities you can postpone or eliminate?

Do you believe and feel that taming your mind isn't a hobby or an extracurricular activity but rather the most important thing you could be doing?

While you may need to simplify your life in order to meditate, a benefit of meditation is that it will make your life simpler.

Does this resonate with you?

Establishing a routine

Especially at the beginning, it's important to establish a basic meditation routine. Decide when you practice and where.

When
Experiment with different times until you discover the time of day that's best for you. Perhaps in the morning before you "start" your day. perhaps in the evening. Short sessions at the beginning and end of the day are wonderful for stabilizing the mind. Once you settle on a regular time, stick to it; this frees you from having to plan from day to day.

How long
Free yourself from worrying about how long you will practice by choosing a length for your sessions and then stick with it. Consistency is essential. If you decide to meditate for twenty minutes, stay on your seat for that period of time unless the house is on fire. Use a timer so that you can just relax into the practice without thinking about the minutes passing.

Begin with short sessions and stay consistent for a very long time. Ten to twenty minutes of sitting practice a couple of times daily over a lifetime is good. It's better to do consistent shorter sessions over a long period of time than to do longer sessions sporadically or not at all. Short sessions every day is ideal.

If decide you can only meditate two or three times a week, the important thing is just to stay with it.

Adapt your practice to your schedule. When you have less time, do shorter sessions.

If we meditate haphazardly, doing a big session of practice one day and not returning to the cushion for a month, we won't enjoy meditation. That approach frenzied and stressful, like digging a big hole in the garden and then forgetting about it. When we return, we have to start from scratch. Meditation in spurts is uncomfortable and painful because it can't ride on the cumulative effect of regular practice. We have to keep starting over. We need to apply ourselves consistently. Sitting for short sessions on a regular basis is a more gentle approach. One of the most common reasons that people stop meditating is that they mismanage their time.

Being ambitious about having the perfect situation for practice can also work against us. One student began with meditation practice in his twenties and was quite disciplined with a regular practice of an hour a day. Then as he became busy with his career, he couldn't keep the schedule going, and his practice dropped away. He told himself that once he got more stability in his life he would begin to sit again. But then he got married and had a family. Having a regular hour-long practice became an even more remote possibility. Instead of simply shortening his sessions and letting his life fall into place around practice, he got caught thinking that he could create a perfect lifestyle to accommodate his longer sessions. As a result, he didn't practice at all for a very long time.

Where
Choose a place to sit and sit there each time. While you don't need to spend exorbitant sums on "equipment", do select a place that's free of distractions. Create a proper environment for practice—a place that is comfortable, quiet, and clean. A corner of your room that feels uplifted, safe, spacious, and private is good enough. It is worth investing in a proper meditation cushion. If you find ritual appealing, set up a table with candles, a flower, incense, pictures—whatever inspires you—and meditate in front of that. But don't get caught up in chasing your idea of the perfect environment in which to meditate. Some people from the city will go into the mountains to meditate in peace and find that the crickets and the birds won't shut up.

The body
We're all aware of how our mind influences what we can do with our body, but we don't always consider how much influence our body has on our mind. If our body is hungry or in pain, it's hard to stabilize our mind. They have to be in harmony. Openness and flexibility of body encourages those same qualities in the mind. A supple body helps support our sitting meditation.

Yoga is a traditional and powerful way to open up the body's energy as well as develop flexibility.

Preparing
Before you begin, stop for a moment to see what your mind feels like. Since the way we feel changes all the time, your practice will need to change as well. Be compassionate and honest about your own needs and, at the same time, apply the necessary discipline. For example, if you're feeling agitated, it might be a good idea to take a slow walk outside before beginning your session. If you're drowsy, you might take a cool shower to wake up before you sit. Perhaps you'd like to read a little about meditation to remind yourself why you are practicing.

Be sensitive as well to what you're thinking as you begin your session. If you just plop down on our cushion straight from the office or right after an argument, the entire meditation period might be spent slowing our mind down enough even to remember that you're meditating. You want to let go of as much as you can before you sit down.

Here's a helpful exercise for tuning in and relaxing instead of rushing into meditation.

Stand with your arms relaxed at your sides, eyes either half-closed or shut.

Slowly guide your attention up from your feet to the crown of your head. Pause where you find tension or imbalance, and breathe into those areas, allowing the tension to dissolve. Be aware of your body in the space; feel the support of the ground beneath your feet. Breathe deeply through your nose, exhaling stress, agitation, and tension. Be aware of your body.

Here are guided instructions for the basics of sitting posture and working with the breath:

Coming back - gently

...like morning mist in the sun

                     

When you sit down to meditate, you're eliminating all other activities. You choose a time and space wisely to reduce distractions, you prepare your body to relax before we sit, and you prepare your mind to be as simple and present as we can be. While you want to do all of this with precision, as well as gentleness, remember that this is just preparation, not actual meditation.

In trying to create ideal conditions you may never get to the cushion! At some point you just have to sit down and do it.