I met a young woman at a LifeWork workshop and we had a good conversation about her desire to get back to a morning meditation practice. She said that she feels better when she meditates, yet was having a hard time fitting it in. She explained how little time there was and how the day is off and running as soon as she gets up. I told her that I have often experienced the exact same challenge, as have many others. It can take years to establish a regular daily practice.
I wrote this for that young woman — and anyone else who wants to find their way (back) to a meditation practice.
I came to meditation in the mid-90s through yoga and liked it immediately. I understood right away that it had the power to actually tame the circus of monkeys in my head — and I felt really good when I started off my day with it. I’ve been meditating off-and-on since then, in classes, on retreats, at home. Strictly speaking, though, it’s probably more off than on.
For months at a time, meditation becomes the cornerstone of my day — the first, and most wonderful, 5 to 25 minutes of the day (the more regularly I sit, the more time I somehow find for it). After taking care of my dog, I sit down on the two folded blankets waiting for me on a yoga mat in my bedroom, set the alarm on my phone, and start my practice. It’s just what I do.
I enjoy the routine and the soft transition from sleeping to waking. Some days are smooth, some are sleepy, and some days the monkeys are distracted and in charge.
Nevertheless, I persist.
And then something changes. I stop meditating. It seems crazy but it can take me days, even weeks sometimes, to realize that I’ve stopped. Again. During these phases, life is a smidgen more staccato, a tad more intense. There is no soft transition; I wake up and jump into my day (after getting the monkeys their coffee!) — from off to on with no dimmer switch.
It can be hard to sustain regular practices, even when they have such a powerful effect.
Over the years, the gap for me between not meditating and starting up again does get shorter and shorter. When I can, I attend a class, workshop, or retreat to re-motivate me. And when I can’t, I have a few things up my sleeve to get me back on track.
Four things I do that have worked for me:
- Reason with myself — It’s only 10 minutes. Of course I can find the time, even if it feels like a graduate-school logic equation to do so. It is not possible that I can do so many amazing things in my life and am not able to lay claim to 10 little minutes just for me. What kind of person can’t give themselves the gift of 10 minutes? Even my own argumentative mind gives up fighting back on this one.
- Make the choice — There’s a difference in my body between the desire, “I want to meditate,” and the decision, “I’m going to meditate.” Sometimes my indulgent self takes over; she believes that wanting to is good enough, that at least it shows the right intention. That’s when I’m-going-to-meditate me needs to gently take the reigns and say, “Now that we’re oriented in the right direction, let’s step it up and move forward.”
- Keep it simple — You don’t need any special clothes or cushions or chimes to meditate (although an alarm helps). All you need is your body. You can sit on the floor or in a chair or in your bed. Voila. Of course, you can use accoutrements you enjoy and you can create pre-meditation rituals and routines — I like to do some mindful stretching before and after — but don’t let these things stop you from getting down to basics: sit, breathe, notice.
- Deal with mental resistance — The mind is tricky, built from core thoughts that reflect either attachment or aversion: I want and I don’t want. My monkeys just love to indulge in teen melodrama (Why does it have to be the morning? But I need at least a cup of coffee before doing anything else. The carpet needs vacuuming, no way I’m sitting on the floor with all those dust bunnies. What about that email? Let’s have a cup of coffee, vacuum, respond to the important emails, then … Or what if we just start tomorrow?). I deal with them the way I deal with a slightly recalcitrant adolescent: Honestly. “I really do hear you. And today we meditate.”
BONUS: Fill-in-the-blank — There are as many unique challenges as there are unique solutions. When you can identify them, they are easier to dismantle; because I am forgetful, especially in the morning before my brain turns on, I put up Post-it notes in a few key places (bathroom mirror, kitchen sink, and computer monitor). Not a morning person? Meditate at night. Can’t sit on the floor? Use a chair. Don’t know how? Find a class. Uncomfortable physically? Get some advice. In fact, getting good advice is probably the best thing anyone can do — from a teacher, a friend, a trusted resource, even YouTube.
Modern humans are not the only ones to be challenged by the vagaries of distractible minds, overwhelming emotions, and physical ailments. Thousands of years ago, meditation emerged as a solution to these very same, very human, frailties. That it has continued to be taught, learned, practiced, shared across millennia and throughout the world says something about its value: it works.
For me, morning meditation is the key to a sane and healthy lifestyle (it is also one of my foundational spiritual practices). It’s how I quiet the monkeys, sync my mind and body, and connect to a spacious simplicity that my everyday mind doesn’t have time to notice. Though the more regularly I practice, the easier I find it is to step into that spaciousness throughout the day — moments of mindfulness, of pause, of slowing down to take a breath, admire a view, engage in a conversation.
A well-known meditation teacher once said, “The most important thing is to remember the most important thing.” I return to meditation as the most important thing because it makes me feel better as a person and positively impacts my experience of life. All I need to do is remember. Easy, right?
Grace Welker is a writer, editor, and publisher who lives in New York’s Hudson Valley.