When starting out with meditation it’s quite common that people’s preconceptions don’t match their experience.
They expect to have a still mind….and their mind remains busy.
They expect to feel bliss…and they experience boredom.
They expect to have a profound experience…and they don’t.
They expect it to be something other than they experience…and they are disappointed.
If developing a meditation practice is one of your goals for this year, I would suggest you lower your expectations before you even start.
Meditation can be very simple if we don’t put too much pressure on ourselves to have any particular experience, achieve an altered state, feel completely relaxed and blissed out.
I would encourage you to go into the practice with no expectations whatsoever around what you may experience. Instead, go into it with the simple intention to do it for an agreed upon (with yourself) time period and stick with that, even if you feel bored and want to stop.
That period can be as little as five minutes if that’s all you can spare for now. View your meditation practice as a fitness regime for your mind and spirit. Like a physical fitness regime, the benefits accumulate gradually over time. You won’t get fit from a single five minute walk. But a daily five minute walk slowly improves fitness. Increase that to a twice daily ten minute, or twenty minute walk and your fitness level will greatly improve.
And so it is with meditation. Twenty minutes twice a day will show faster results, but five minutes once a day is absolutely worth doing, if that’s all you have right now. It’s better to start with five minutes now than to wait another week, month or longer until you have the time to devote to longer sits. All those scientifically endorsed benefits meditators enjoy aren’t derived from procrastination. They evolve from taking time out of our day to practice a little self-care.
Once you’ve agreed with yourself that you are going to do it, the next important point to bear in mind is related to the busy-ness of your mind. While meditation is a process of quieting our minds, it is a normal experience to have thoughts continually interjecting throughout the process. Please don’t expect complete stillness – you will be disappointed.
The process of meditation requires us to become aware of our continually wandering minds and bring them back to a point of stillness. We use something to focus our attention. It might be our breath or a mantra. And when we become aware of our wandering thoughts, we choose to return our attention to our point of focus. And we repeat that ad nauseum until the time is up.
Speaking of which, do use a tool to time yourself. Something with a non-jarring alarm to arouse you. If using an app on your phone, remember to put notifications on silence until you have finished.
And now you’re ready to start. Begin by sitting in an upright position with your back straight, your shoulders down, and your feet planted firmly on the floor.
Lower or close your eyes to eliminate visual distractions.
Place your attention on your breath and observe its flow without changing its natural rhythm.
Notice that you’re breathing in.
Notice that you’re breathing out. (To help keep your attention on your breath, you could silently comment: “I am breathing in. I am breathing out.”)
Each time you notice that your mind has wandered off – and there will be many – simply bring it back to your breath.
When the time you’ve allocated is up release your attention from your breath and allow it to focus on sounds in the room and beyond.
Bring your attention back to your body and notice any sensations. Notice how different parts of your body connect with the chair and how your feet connect with the floor.
And when you have grounded your attention back in your physical body, you can slowly blink your eyes open.
The point of meditation is not to be a pleasant or relaxing experience, although it often is. (And equally so, it often is dull.) We meditate in order to improve our wellbeing on all levels. As already mentioned, those benefits accrue gradually and as they do so we get to enjoy them as we go about our everyday lives. So if the time we spend in the practice itself is pleasant, that’s an added bonus.
With practice, we can come to enjoy it even if it feels boring when we’re starting out.
To maintain the benefits from meditation, we need to make it a regular practice. Daily is best. Ideally, we would meditate first thing in the morning and also in the early evening. For practical reasons this doesn’t always work for everyone. However, if you’re going to make it a daily habit then you need to weave it into some part of your daily routines.
Morning really is best, if you can manage it. Most of us have some kind of morning routine – a general order in which we do things when we get up and start moving about, especially on work and school days. If we integrate our morning meditation into this daily routine, before long, it becomes habitual.
So I highly recommend you set your alarm a little earlier than usual and do it before you do anything else (after going to the toilet).
One of the many documented benefits of meditation is that we feel rested and energized afterward. Meditation gives us such a deep level of rest (even if it doesn’t feel like that because our minds continue to be busy throughout) that it more than makes up for the extra few minutes of sleep we’ve sacrificed.
So it is well worth the effort to get up just a smidge earlier and give it a go. And if you miss a day, that’s no harm. Just start over again tomorrow.