It's the season for New Year's resolutions, and lots of folks are saying that this is the year they will take up a regular meditation practice. Unfortunately, most of them won't make it past mid-January. So what's the trick? Here are some tips, based on my work with many students who have managed to commit to meditation, and even enjoy it!
1. Regularity is more important than the amount of time. At first, try just five minutes of meditation per day. (If you need basic instruction, look here). Anyone can do five minutes, but starting with 20 or 30 minutes is too daunting at first. But try to do it every day. You may find you want to move up to ten minutes in a week or two--go for it!
2. When you miss a day, don't get discouraged or beat yourself up. Just start over, and do it today. Meditation is all about starting fresh, with this breath, this moment.
3. Get clear on your intention. Why is this important to you? Write it down, and be specific. Don't just say "I should meditate more." Say "I intend to practice for five minutes in the morning before work because it keeps me grounded and present for myself and the people in my life."
4. Establish a time and place. Set up a meditation nook in your home or at your office with a cushion or chair, and perhaps a candle, figure, or anything else that's meaningful to you. Most people find it's best to establish a regular time for practice. For many people, first thing in the morning is an excellent time. Some people sit in the evenings, And some practice in their offices between appointments. It's not essential that your meditation always be at the same time; if you miss your morning practice, do it in the evening. But establishing a habit is the best way to make meditation a regular part of your life.
5. Join a group. You will be much more likely to have a thriving practice if you practice with a community. Meditation groups provide sangha (spiritual community), inspiration, support, and tradition. Many groups also offer the chance to work with a teacher. Meditation teachers can help when you encounter obstacles, guide you to deeper levels of practice, and offer a connection to an authentic lineage of Buddhist practitioners. If you really want to dive deeply into practice, community and a teacher are essential.
6. Mix it up. While basic meditation practice will take you far, it's good to know about other techniques. If you are very restless, walking meditation might be just the ticket. If you are feeling very upset, metta practice could be just what you need. And if you are looking to develop creativity and spiritual insight, try koan practice.
7. Try a class. We are offering a four-week introductory class on establishing and deepening a meditation practice starting this January. This is a way to gain skills, have support, and develop community for your practice. For more information, and to register, go here.
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Megan Rundel is the resident teacher at the Crimson Gate Meditation Community in Oakland, CA..