Meditation is simple, uncomplicated and relatively easy to do.
Maintaining a practice however, can be quite a challenge.
Indeed, most people I know admit to having an on-again off-again relationship with meditation. And that, I’d like to suggest, is perfectly fine.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with aspiring to meditate every single day. But perhaps it’s equally fine just to pick up meditation when the need or mood strikes you.
In either case, a little inspiration usually helps. Hence these ten tips.
Note: You don’t have to try them all. Just find one or two that seem relevant to you, and explore them next time you meditate.
1. Celebrate ‘mind-wandering’
Many people feel like they are somehow failing if their minds wander during meditation. And because they believe that their minds should — or need — to be quiet, they end up treating their thoughts like flies at a Christmas BBQ.
If you have a tendency to do this, even just a little bit, STOP! Trying to swat your thoughts away turns your mind into a battleground and meditation into a frustrating chore.
Instead, commit to treating your thoughts as though they were Christmas gifts — and you were a three-year-old — eager to open them.
Accepting your thoughts in this fashion (as natural and useful parts of your meditation practice, or gifts worth celebrating) is the quickest and most effective way to begin benefiting from — and enjoying meditation — more.
2. Keep it short
You may have heard something like this:
“If you’re new to meditation, take your practice slowly and build it up over time. Start with 2 minute meditations. Once that feels comfortable, increase your sessions to 5 minutes. Then 10 minutes. Keep building until you reach…”
Such advice is useful. However, it infers that you should be aiming to meditate for longer, and that short meditations are somehow inferior; just a stepping-stone on the path to mastery.
Short meditations, however, can be the path to mastery. There are certainly a lot more opportunities each day for a twenty second spot-meditation than there are for a 20-minute formal practice.
3. Don’t worry about the how (or the now).
There’s a right way to meditate, right? And when you get it ‘right’, you remain mindful, present, relaxed and peaceful?
Well, that’s a nice theory. In practice, it’s a recipe for disappointment. No one can remain perfectly mindful, nor perfectly follow even the simplest of meditation instructions — and nor do we need to.
Ironically, you’re likely to remain more mindful, and more peaceful, if you don’t try to be.
So, instead of setting yourself impossible goals, treat meditation like an experiment. Let it be an opportunity to rest. Make no demands of your practice. And instead of trying to meditate according to the textbook, bring along your best punk attitude.
Sometimes when you sit down to meditate it might feel as though everything gets stirred up. Instead of peace and quiet, you find discomfort and irritation.
This is a prime time to put your meditation skills to the test.
However, sometimes that’s a tough ask, and if meditation often feels this way, it might be useful to do what you can to relax the body before you meditate.
A roll of the shoulders, a few gentle stretches, a quick shake of the limbs. Often this is all that’s needed to feel a little more comfy in your skin. A deliberate stretch, yawn or postural adjustment can also made during a meditation. These are all good ways to help you transition into a better headspace.
5. Sit, Stay
“Sit… stay,” my first meditation teacher said. Then he walked off. He came back 30 minutes later.
You might think he was some kind of joker or charlatan. But there was a kind of wisdom in his pithiness. And there’s certainly value in staying with whatever arises in meditation.
To “sit and stay” means to surrender. It’s an invitation to cease struggling against the way things are. Instead of wrestling with your mind, trying to keep it still, or calm, you simply watch it babble and bubble.
And instead of trying to banish your frustration, sadness, anger or anxiety, you just allow it to wash over and through you.
Ironically, and somewhat surprisingly, this deliberate “do nothing” attitude can lead to the kind of contenment which otherwise remains elusive.
6. Keep a Meditation Journal
Meditation is simple. But what’s going on inside your head (when you meditate) may not be. You’re probably making dozens of decisions (largely unconsciously) every minute; choosing where to place your attention and judging things good or bad.
It’s the quality of these decisions that determine how well your meditation goes.
Unfortunately it can be very difficult to be fully aware of these decisions in real time. However, by reflecting on your experiences after the meditation you can begin to see what you’re doing that’s helpful, and what’s not.
7. Meditate For The Hell of It
Why do you meditate? Do you have a clear intention?
Are you seeking peace of mind? Better health? Relaxation? Answers?
Your reasons for meditating, whether conscious or not, influence how you meditate and what you experience.
And sometimes you might find yourself meditating for reasons that you’ve outgrown.
It might be interesting to see what happens when you sit with different intentions. For example:
- to reflect on the choices you make
- to connect with your emotions
- to exercise your imagination
- to better tolerate pain
- to examine your beliefs
- to develop mental strength
- just for the hell of it
8. Be Adventurous
You’ve probably heard the advice to meditate at the same time and place every day. That certainly has its benefits, but I’d have to say that my most memorable meditations were all done away from home. Favourites include:
- sitting on a pier, early on a cold morning
- on a park bench adjacent to a busy playground
- at lunchtime, in the food court of a shopping centre
- by a creek, in the middle of a hot summer day
- whilst waiting at the local medical centre
- in the car, having arrived early for an appointment
It can also be fun to experiment with non-standard postures; like lying on the floor with your feet up the wall, or whilst getting a massage.
9. Mix It Up
Do you meditate in the same way every time you sit?
Even if you use different techniques (or listen to guided meditations), you probably bring many of the same unconscious habits and attitudes to the practice.
Now and then, try bringing a completely fresh attitude to your practice. You could imagine you’re meditating for the first time ever, do the opposite of what you think you should, or a adopt a new or counter-intuitive mindset.
What would it be like to meditate with a great deal of impatience, with a pedantic attitude, as though you were a guru, or as though you were impervious to pain or worry?
10. Lighten Up
Meditation can get a bit dour. Sitting alone in silence. Taming the mind. Struggling to stay still.
But it doesn’t have to be like this.
Why not seek out techniques that bring you joy, put a smile on your face, or give you a buzz?
At the very least, ask yourself how you could bring a sense of satisfaction to the practice.