Meditation is becoming a go-to method of sustaining sanity in our often crazy overwhelming or sometimes even crazy boring life. Correct - meditation does not only offer stress relief but also adds an incredible amount of color if your life is not as exciting as you want it to be (this was my case!).
Whatever your reasons for wanting to get into this awesome practice, if your intentions are strong enough - it seems to always change things for the better, even if it may not look like it, at first.
The only way to learn how to meditate is through continually doing it. Practice makes better, right? Well, bad practice can actually be a complete waste of time, while good practice does make it a lot better. I feel like my path was hugely influenced by the choices I made, that truly accelerated my meditation results.
So where do you start? My advice may differ from many others you may find on the web, but it's mostly based on my personal experiences and struggles with this practice.
The first and most important part of beginners meditation is establishing a regular practice. Without daily routine, all your efforts will be wasted. Only regular meditation will yield significant enough results for you to have enough motivation to continue. This takes me to the second most important part.
Expectations. Do not expect any results from your practice. Why? The more you expect, the slower your progress. If you keep expecting to experience any desired change, it might take you from six months to a year to get those results, sometimes even longer.
This differs from clear intent. Having a clear intent for your practice can be extremely useful. Intent helps you stay motivated and thus increases your focus on continuing quality training routine.
Removing expectations out of the equation completely is tough unless you're already very advanced in this field. The reason it's so difficult is because us, humans, are used to doing everything for results. If there are no results or a reasonable expectation of some results within a set period of time, we tend to lose motivation in what we're trying to achieve. This is why having a clear intent is important.
I told myself, that no matter what I will continue meditating indefinitely, even if it doesn't fulfill my expectations of some significant change in my life. To make it easier, I expected results in 18 months to two years. This way, I removed any reasonable expectations for the near future, which in turn let me concentrate on the practice. Set your expectations far enough away to let you do the same, and you will see results way sooner. How much sooner? It's different for everyone. I don't want to ruin your further set expectations with a set timetable :)
What helped me most is not requiring too much time out of myself. I decided to meditate for a minimum of one minute every day. That's right, one single minute. It's also a good practice to set a regular meditation time for yourself. I wanted my meditation practice to be on average 20 minutes, but I couldn't make any excuse to not sit on a cushion for a single minute.
I had tried meditation several times before and miserably failed to make it a routine. I made it for a week, or two and then somehow I got distracted, and my practice was broken. It all changed once I set my meditation time for a minimum of one minute.
I was also very clear from the start that the only days I am not going to do even a one-minute meditation were the days when I consumed alcohol. Having an alcoholic drink is not something I do very often, so within the first couple of months I may have skipped my meditation once. After a few months, this changed to days when I had enough alcohol to affect me. A glass of wine in the afternoon never really warranted skipping a session.
If you have more than occasional drink, I highly recommend you do the same thing, as meditating under the influence is not beneficial in the slightest, and might even be harmful.
The result of one minute rule was not only that it got me to meditate every single day (not counting a few alcohol days) for a long period of time. Once you're past your first two or three months, it becomes ingrained into your system.
How many times did I actually do it for only one minute? Probably none. Once you force yourself to sit down and do it, it's a lot easier to go on for another five, ten, twenty, or even thirty minutes if you so desire. I had very few days when I achieved less than five.
It's always good to have a clear intent for starting your meditation. Mine wasn't particularly clear; I just wanted a definite change in my life - I got more than I could ever wish for a measly average of 20 minutes a day, and a lot faster than I anticipated. If you desire something in particular, make it clear before your meditation. Ask for it.
A word of caution though - meditation is about self-improvement, not about acquiring physical stuff or specific happenings. I am not saying it can not be used for such things, but it works a lot better through more abstract concepts. You can achieve acquisition of physical things by improving your focus, memory, motivation and determination. And as always, the fewer expectations you have, the better it works.
Intent is also critical for each individual meditation practice. Without a clear intent to focus your mind on silence or a mantra or whatever meditation method you happen to prefer, quality of your practice suffers significantly, thus postponing your results. A clear intent for a good quality practice, also helps you to get to the stage where you start looking forward to your next meditation practice, as you begin to appreciate the sense which only the silence of your mind creates.
Formulate a clear intent before the start of every meditation session, and firmly focus on it for half a minute or so, even just fifteen seconds will help. This simple little habit will make a huge difference to the quality of your meditation practice.
If your purpose is to meditate to enlightenment, your meditation intent will have to change accordingly. Suggested meditations will include life, death, giving, and especially love. But this post is aimed at people who just intend to do meditation or ones who have recently started their practice and are looking for improvement tips. Enlightenment might be your goal, but learning to meditate is still your first step.
I did not want to practice gratitude. Yah yah, I thought, I know I'm supposed to appreciate everything I have. I truly thought I did - more or less. I thought the actual naming of things you might be grateful for was a complete waste of time. How wrong was I.
I started to practice gratitude as my pre-meditation mood booster. Meditation is the kind of practice you want to start when your mood equals to or goes above neutral. Meditating whilst you're in a bad mood doesn't work well. Gratitude is truly a good way to get rid of any nuisances that may be clogging your mind for no good reason. But it goes beyond that.
Gratitude is a relatively easy practice to incorporate throughout your entire day. Sure, it does require some effort to sustain it, but the outcome is worth it. Gratitude seems to rewire your brain in a way that you start making better decisions. Decisions might be relationship or even business related - sustaining yourself in an appreciation mood can be extremely beneficial, even if it looks like completely the opposite at first! I don't know how this works, but it was certainly my experience. And even now, whenever my gratitude feelings vanish - which unfortunately still happens quite often, my decision-making abilities suffer. It's not easy to notice this pattern, but once you do, it's as clear as daylight.
It's not hard to realize now, that gratitude was remarkably absent from my life before and is a subject that warrants the whole big article on its own. I'm not going there yet, but when I do, I'll try to make sure I post a link to this article :)
Remembering things you feel grateful for before every meditation is most definitely a bonus for your practice. If you have never done this before, trust me when I say, it's a lot easier than it sounds. Think of something you're grateful for. It can be anything; it's easiest to start from basic things like food, clean water, fresh air, sunshine, rain... after that your mind will naturally take you where it needs to be - you'll remember your family or friends, your pet, a stranger you met in town, whatever! Name those things in your head, and really try to feel that feeling of gratitude as much as you can.
If you are like me, and appreciation was close to absent from your life before, the first few times it might get overwhelming: stuff just starts flooding your head, and it seems like you may never stop! It feels great, but it's not permanent. After some time it settles, and while it still feels good, it's not so overwhelming anymore.
Best time to meditate varies for everyone. For most people, it's the first thing in the morning. For some, it's before sleep. Up until very recently, there was no way I could meditate in the morning. I'm often way too sleepy, and focus just doesn't happen... failed practice used to put me in a terrible mood for the entire morning!
For others, the opposite might be true and sustained focus before bedtime can prove to be a challenge. So pick the time that is right for you. This may depend on your daily schedule, and you may not be able to use certain times for your practice. I suggest to avoid mid-day as your only meditation time and try to find time in either morning or evening. Mid-day meditation can be a helpful booster, but for a beginner, it may prove to be harder to concentrate at this time of your day.
It's an incredibly good practice to incorporate "mini-meditations" throughout your day. Simple tasks that don't require a lot of thinking, like loading your washing machine or emptying your bin, are perfect for clearing you mind for a minute or two. While working on your computer, it's incredibly useful to regularly have a little one minute break to clear your thoughts. Using this method not only helps to improve your regular practice but also boosts performance while working.
It's the place where your meditation goes most fluently. To find it, try various available spots in your house. It's a good practice to give every place a chance - you can try each spot for a week if you are not sure.
Most people are not particularly sensitive their house vibrations (I know I'm not!) but some seem to have more understanding on how different places in their house make them feel.
Some places may immediately feel bad. Leave those alone, and don't look back. If you ever have a bad meditation experience (that happens too!) make sure you change your meditation place to somewhere else. I shall once again stress the importance of never meditating while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, as these may also cause negative experiences. There is a lengthy explanation for that, as well as bad meditation spots, but I shall leave it for another article.
Nevertheless, a place where you feel safe is important, if you can't find such place, you can always try to shuffle some things around in your house and make other places. Even if your home is small, you may be able to find a cozy little spot just right for your purpose. Some people are fortunate enough to have their own dedicated meditation room - this is also an excellent option, as eventually, it will fill with just your own meditation vibes.
Avoid meditating in stressful places where you're opening yourself up to other people's emotions. In theory, there is nothing wrong with meditating where a good vibe is present, and if you feel like you benefit from it - go ahead. However, I tend to advise to avoid meditation in any busy place. You may not notice someone's grief or anger, they may have a happy face on - when you meditate you become extremely likely to merge with all vibes around you, and strong negative emotions will drain your energy like crazy!
Meditation is best practiced in relatively, but not completely quiet environments. Traffic noise and downstairs TV sounds shouldn't be a problem. If you feel like it is - work through it. Continue your meditation practice with strong, clear intent, and eventually, those noises will completely fade away through the entire duration of your practice.
I live in between two noisy pubs, and although some weekends can still be a challenge - I work through it.
It's also a good practice to turn your phone off, or leave it in another room while you meditate, to avoid any unnecessary urges - like replying to a text message or checking out a new post. The worst one for me is a sudden urge to google something that just went through your mind. Best ideas are more likely to attack your head when you're in a meditative state. I found that the best thing to do for me, is to have a piece of paper and a pen within easy reach, so I can quickly jot down my "realizations." I have tried to ignore them, but it seems to disrupt the entire practice, as I don't want to forget, and so I keep thinking about it! When I write them down, I know I can always come back to them later, and I can safely forget for the duration of my practice.
This just about covers everything you need to know to successfully start your regular meditation practice. I didn't have a problem picking the type of practice I wanted. All I wanted is to stop my internal dialogue, to listen to the silence. This is Zen, or Zazen, which literally translates to seated meditation. I started by focusing all my attention on the breath - breathing in and out. Feeling the air filling my lungs, and then exhaling. Notice all thoughts that may creep in on you and push them away, with no emotions, no judgment. Start listening to my breath again. As I progressed through this practice, listening to my breath became only the first stage of my meditation. My mind lets go of the breath and becomes silent.
Although I found it to be extremely challenging at first, with strong intent at the beginning of every practice, I worked through it, and I'm very happy with my current results, and continuous progress.
Your practice will always have ups and downs. Some days might be better than others. Sometimes, entire months may go by with no progress and constant distractions throughout your meditations. Be patient, continue and keep that intent going - it will get you where you want to be.
You can also check out my article on good meditation posture - good posture is a sure way to accelerate your practice results!
There are many different types of meditation. If you haven't already picked what kind of practice you'd like to start with, here is a link to some options.
One thing to keep in mind: you are the best judge of what works or doesn't work in your practice. Try different things, experiment! What worked for me might not work for you as well. Most importantly, always remember your intent!
I wish you all the patience and strength, whether you have just started or only planning to start on a journey of meditation. If you have something to share or have more questions about your practice, I'd love to hear from you!
Your feedback, questions, and comments are always appreciated! You can reach me through my contact form.
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