I am an expert at starting my meditation practice. I have stopped so many times that I've had to start again many many times. Sometimes after a few days, sometimes after a few of months.
As a New Yorker, it’s very easy to get caught up in the ‘busyness’ of our ‘hectic lives’, and we don’t realize that we can still live like New Yorkers without having to feel ‘busy’ and ‘hectic’ by keeping a daily meditation practice.
Here are the three main things that I have found help me keep consistency in my practice:
1. Make it a (good) habit, not a priority.
When something becomes a task, one which we need to schedule and think too much about, then we will have to find ourselves choosing between one task or the other when time gets tight.
When it’s a habit, not the destructive kind, but the one that we do everyday because you enjoy it, then it becomes part of our flow in the day. We would never think: brushing my teeth is not a priority today, or no bathroom time today, I am in a rush.
How to do this: if You observe your morning routine, I bet there is something useless that could be replaced by at least a few minutes of meditation. Facebook? News? The Snooze Button?
Let’s say we can only shave 5 minutes in the morning to start. Perfect! Next week You will add one minute to that for a 6 minutes., and then one more minute the week after. If You keep at it, in a year You can be meditating an hour a day without radically changing your life!
2. Be forgiving, not punishing.
Sometimes we will not get those ideal 30 minutes in, or 15 minutes in, or even 3 minutes in. Maybe because we were lazy, or sick, or on vacation.
Don’t use "missing a day", or a few days, as an excuse to feel like you failed. Here is a great secret: there is no failing in meditation!
How to do this: Just like when our attention wanders off the breath in a shamatha meditation, and we are supposed to note it and gently bring it back to the breath, in that same way we need to note to ourselves that we missed the day or the week, and just get back on the cushion, gently, no judgement, no stories around why, be kind and compassionate to our past self who couldn’t find a way to do it.
3. Find ways to remind yourself why You do it.
This is probably the most important. We need to know why we are doing what we are doing. If the why is too small and not present, we will probably stop doing it and never get back to it. But when there is a clear why, a clear reason for why we are meditating, we are more likely to keep at it.
It could be a personal reason like being less stressed, being more focused, becoming a happier and more compassionate person. This will only happen if we do it consistently, just like physical exercise will only help you build muscle and burn fat if you do it on regular basis.
We can also make the “why” a huge “WHY”, something like: to attain enlightenment for our own liberation and the liberation of every sentient being - then, we will certainly never stop. Maybe we'll miss a few days here and there, but never stop.
How to do this: Find way to keep the reasons in your mind. I go to classes, read and listen to podcasts related to meditation and Buddhism. I debate with friends. I make a point to have at least one or two daily contacts with teachings. This can be in the form of a quote on my Facebook feed, or in the form of an actual teacher sitting in front of me, telling me what to do.
What have You found helpful to build and keep Your daily practice? I would love to know! You can email me at: email@example.com with your ideas.
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