“Meditation is not a means to an end. It is both the means and the end.” – Jiddu Krishnamurti
We’ve been asked by a number of people how to begin a contemplative practice. In looking around we’ve found lots of advice but very little that is appropriate for people trying to start on their own. So, we’ll be making several posts with ideas and suggestions for beginners. We’d appreciate hearing comments and suggestions from others. There are many paths!
To begin with take a clear and thoughtful look at what exactly you want to accomplish with meditation. Do you wish to meditate to improve mindfulness, or to improve attention, or to reduce stress, or for spiritual exploration, or to improve relationships, or to improve your health, or to better cope with emotions. There are many reasons to meditate and to be really clear as to what you hope to accomplish is useful. It can help to focus and motivate you.
Once you’ve established for yourself what you want to accomplish realize that patience is required. You will not likely accomplish this goal overnight. It takes a reliable disciplined practice with a willingness to invest time and energy to progress. Be prepared for ups and downs. Meditation practice doesn’t progress linearly. Don’t expect that every day you will get a little better. One day you might improve, the next be much worse, and the next unchanged. Know that this will be the course of development, accept it, and have faith that over time you will improve. It will just be variable day to day.
Even though you’ve clarified a goal, take an open minded attitude. The goal of meditation can change and develop over time. Let it happen. Relax and let the natural course of change occur. One of the key elements in successful progress in meditation is not to try too hard. Don’t try to control or manipulate what you experience. Don’t push yourself too hard. Progress will happen by itself if you relax and let it.
It is very important to establish a regular time each day when you can meditate comfortably without interruptions. I find that early morning is a good time before the business of the day can fill your mind with thoughts and plans and before the need to accomplish tasks becomes dominant and usurps your meditation time. Regardless of the actual time, you should establish a regular time and then defend that time against all other tasks that will vie for it. Make it your special time, a time devoted to you, a time set aside to develop, grow, and nourish yourself. I’ve found that you need to make it a very high priority otherwise other priorities in your life will replace it and before you know you’re no longer meditating consistently.
The actual amount of time you meditate or set aside is less important that the regularity of the practice. Start off with just a small amount of time, say 5 minutes. It’s relatively easy to set aside this much time and the notion of sitting quietly for only five minutes is not particularly challenging or intimidating for most people. Increasing the time you spend meditating should be an expectation, but increase it at your own pace. Increase it as you feel comfortable and feel that it would be enjoyable and beneficial. If it is difficult to complete the entire time allotted then reduce it so that you’re comfortable. It is important that you don’t make meditation a chore. Rather it should be an enjoyable refuge that refreshes and energizes you.
The preliminaries for initiating a meditation practice will be continued in another post tomorrow.