1. Getting in the Mood for Meditation as we Awake
Our first thoughts of the day can have a huge influence over our mood for the day. So, we want to arise from the meditative side of the bed.
Therefore, as soon as we wake up, even before we jump out of bed, we can reflect on the good qualities of a regular meditation practice. Visualize or imagine our first meditation session of the day, when and where it will be. This is called “getting in the mood for meditation”.
2. Creating the Habit, Build up Slowly
One of the biggest challenges is establishing a regular daily practice. People often start with best of intentions but life seems to somehow intervene and suddenly we may realize that a week or two has gone by and our enthusiasm and diligence have completely evaporated. We just aren’t meditating all that much, again! Arrrrrgh.
This used to happen to me a lot, I would make all kinds of promises to myself that I would meditate every day for a really long time. It would work for a while and then slowly I would meditate for shorter amounts of time or skip a day here and there until finally my practice was no longer daily and, when I did find the time to meditate, I was pretty restless the entire time.
Recognizing there was a difference between how much meditation I would like to do and how much I was able to do was an important step. I was behaving like I was in a sprint but in fact I was running in a marathon so long that it could last my entire life. This lifelong marathon clearly needed a different approach.
Then, I began by making a commitment to myself (again) that I would meditate every day but instead of promising to do it for the rest of my life I would vow to do it for a certain number of days. I also committed to a certain number of minutes that I was sure I could do each day no matter what. If I had more time or was inspired, I might do more, but I never dropped below my minimum.
What was my minimum? Two minutes. How many days did I promise to do my measly two minutes for? Three days.
Two minutes a day for three days. There isn’t anyone who couldn’t do that. Yup, even I could do that much. At the end of three days I made a new commitment, another two minutes for three days. Slowly I built it up. Soon I was committing to three minutes every day for four days. Then five minutes a day. And so on. I increased the amount slowly. After a while I didn’t need to commit to a certain number of days. It had been many months and I was meditating every day. This habit continued to grow even after I had a stressful, huge number of hours per day, Silicon Valley job. Now, I don’t have to think that much about it. It took years but I never miss a day anymore and I don’t feel completely satisfied until I have done my minimum each day.
So, we start with an achievable number of minutes of meditation that we promise to do no matter what. Although the time of day can vary, most of the greatest meditators through the centuries have recommended meditating first thing in the morning. So, for example, we could commit to three minutes a day for three days and then, to make sure we have time, set the alarm to wake up 5 minutes early. We won’t miss the five minutes of sleep and we can use the extra time to do our three minutes.
Now, we have a commitment to meditation and some extra time in our day to do it! Gradually we can increase both the number of minutes we commit to meditate and how many days that commitment will last.
If we find the length of time we have committed to is a bit of a stretch, at the end of our committed number of days we can adjust the number of minutes down. That’s why it is good, especially in the beginning, to only commit to our daily practice for a short number of days (3-5) at a time. Then at the end of the period we can renew our pledge. Strengthening the habit of making a promise to ourselves that we can actually keep builds positive momentum towards a lifelong meditation practice.
3. Create a Cosy Space
It is important to create an environment that we like to sit in, something that inspires our practice. It could just be a corner of our room with a simple candle or an inspiring photograph of nature. We should have a really comfortable meditation cushion or a chair that comfortably supports us when we meditate. Best is that we make is a special spot reserving this space only for our meditation. But even if we don’t have that much room in our home, we can have a nice foldaway table or tray that we arrange inspiringly for our practice. The idea is to make a place we want to hang out in and, just by sitting there, makes us naturally arrive in the state of meditation.
4. Listen to an Inspiring Teaching
This is one piece of advice that Sogyal Rinpoche repeats over and over. Nowadays, there are so more amazing talks on meditation recorded than we can reasonably listen to in one lifetime. Surely, each of us has one or two favorites, that just be listening to brings us into the state of non-distraction or at least puts us in the mood to meditate. These are the talks we should listen to over and over again. We should listen to an inspiring teaching as often as we can. Maybe you have space in your life to do this already, for example it could be on the bus, in the subway or during the morning commute in the car, or while doing daily household chores. This is especially helpful when we are down in the dumps or finding it hard to motivate ourselves to meditate.
I have a personal list of favorites and it works like a charm to fire up my desire to meditate. Unfortunately I get bored listening to even the most amazing teaching over and over again so I have a huge library of hundreds of hours of teachings that I have acquired over the years to choose from. Slowly I cycle through them. By the time I return to an old favorite, there is always something new I didn’t get the last time around.
5. At the End of the Day Celebrate & Appreciate
Too often we belittle the progress we are making in meditation, rather than appreciating it. We immediately go for the dissatisfaction, focusing on all the ways we come up short, rather than appreciating what we were able to accomplish. No wonder we can so easily lose interest in meditation!
Instead, we can build a positive energy buzz around our meditation practice. If we have the time, we can do another meditation session, even if it is only for a minute or two. But no matter what, it can even be just as put our head on the pillow for the night, we should:
Take a few moments at the end of the day. Reflect on how, despite a lifetime spent mostly chasing distraction, we spent a bit of time meditating. Celebrate and appreciate the time we meditated. Then imagine doing it again tomorrow, renew our promise if it is time and have fun!