For years I tried to make myself meditate every day and I always failed miserably. Despite knowing about all the wonderful benefits of meditation, I was always too busy, too tired, or I simply didn’t know where to start. And when I did start, I quickly got bored and unmotivated; I disliked all the guided meditations I tried, and I grew impatient from sitting in silence when I could be doing something more productive.
When it all changed?
I recently managed to harness my willpower. In the past two months I managed to meditate for an average of sixty minutes every day. And I can’t even begin to tell you how this habit changed my life.
In May 2019, I attended my first Vipassana meditation camp — ten days spent in silence practicing a body-scan based meditation technique.
Even though I have over 30 years of meditation experience, nevertheless the camp had a very big impact on me. Returning home, I felt very motivated to do the daily one-hour-practice at home, though the teachers recommend two hours. Besides this, group sitting for Vipassana every Sunday. I have neither lost the excitement, nor dropped the practice.
Here, I will share with you the most impactful steps I took to steadily and sustainably build a meditation habit that I believe will last me a lifetime. Let me confess, it was difficult to tame my social-media addicted monkey-mind to sit down for one full hour every day. Based on inspiration triggered by recent camp, sharing my experiences.
Come what may – do it everyday
Therefore, one of the best ways to build a meaningful meditation practice is to start small. Don’t feel bad for not being able to meditate for long. Instead, choose an amount of time you can commit to, and then do it daily. When you’re starting to build a meditation routine, it’s more important to do it every day than finishing long sits.
Change your life to fit meditation – time and place
Very early on my meditation journey, I learned that the best time of the day to practice is in the morning. Whenever I skipped it and promised myself to do it later in the day, it never happened. Meditating in the same room and same corner every day proved to be effective, whereas meditating while traveling or after intense emotional encounters with other people proved to be troublesome.
The thing is that there will always be distractions, and ups and downs in your life, so there’s no point trying to avoid them. You will get sick. You will get tired. Emergencies will happen. The trick is not to avoid the natural flow of life, but to design your meditation practice around it.
An example: Some people don’t have a regular wake-up time, so instead of having a fixed time for meditation, create a slot in morning routine, for example say, between yoga/morning walk and breakfast. Sequencing your meditation habit after another established habit (in this case, yoga) can also serve as a good trigger to help reinforce your routine.
Impact of environment on habit
“Environment, in this case, is the place where we live, our routines, the people we hang out with, has more impact on our behaviour than factors such as willpower and motivation. Every person is sum of the 5 people with whom he/she interacts most. If you want to make meditation into a habit, create an environment that will encourage it,” says Silvia Bestos, a Vipassana practitioner from USA.
Why do you want to start meditating? What is the purpose?
John Yates, neuroscientist and world-renowned Buddhist meditation teacher, explains, “If you don’t stay connected to the purpose of your practice, you will get frustrated and bored and likely to quit the practice”.
You want to start meditation, perhaps to relieve your stress and anxiety. Maybe it’s to gain more clarity. Maybe you want to be healthier, calmer, kinder, more focused, or perhaps you feel a spiritual call to discover the mysteries of life, death, and consciousness.
Whatever is your purpose to meditate, make sure you know it and make sure you feel it on a regular basis. Before you begin meditating, repeat it in your head and notice how it makes you feel. It’s okay, if it’s different every day, and it’s okay if, at first, it sounds superficial or presumptuous. Let me admit that very often I chose “achieve enlightenment”. What matters is that it provokes a feeling of excitement and commitment.
The purpose alone may not be enough, unless you supplement them with other stronger inspiration and motivation, like:
- Attend occasional meditation camps
- Exchange insights and experiences with other meditators.
- Watch a video or read books about inspiring spiritual teachers.
- Attend group meditation sessions or classes near you.
Think about your meditation practice as a romantic relationship with your life partner. Remember, no system will work if you don’t feel the purpose of what you are doing.
What I’m saying is, just like with learning any skill, your progress in meditation will be incomparably faster if you follow proven methodologies, which will keep you motivated.
Why meditation is not working for me anymore?
After 45 days I started feeling that I had hit a plateau. It’s not working for me anymore. I realized that I had become obsessed with controlling my focus and attention, and I needed to change my perspective.
So, I went back to my Vipassana (assistant) teacher Vijay Singh Rajawat, and learnt that I had missed on Metta (loving-kindness) meditation. As soon as I included this in my routine, my whole practice became radically easier and more joyful.
Rajawat says, “Even though you have effective systems in place, you’re still human. This means that your mood, your needs, and your life experiences will vary. Hence don’t get perturbed if on certain days you are not able focus.”
Which meditation technique to adopt?
Don’t worry too much about what kind of meditation you start with in the beginning, you’ll never know what’s best for you until you try it. The mediation techniques you may practice is:
- Anapana (breath observation): It is also Mindfulness of breathing. It makes the mind happy, calm and concentrated.
- Vipassana (body scan): It helps develop calm and liberation from negative energies (miseries) and it’s been proven to help with chronic pain.
- Metta (loving-kindness): it increases love, joy, contentment, gratitude, pride, hope, interest and lessen impulsive emotional reactions.
To learn these techniques, one must attend 10 days Vipassana camp. To find out more visit: https://www.dhamma.org/en/schedules/schpattana
Metta (loving-kindness) meditation
- After Vipassana meditation, continue to sit in a comfortable position. Spend a few minutes getting into a relaxed state.
- Direct loving-kindness towards yourself. Silently repeat, “May I be well. May I be happy. May I be peaceful. May I be loved” several times.
- Recall someone you love. Direct loving-kindness towards them, saying “May you be well. May you be happy. May you be peaceful. May you be loved” several times.
- Direct loving-kindness towards someone you feel neutral toward. Intend Metta by saying, “May you be well. May you be happy. May you be peaceful. May you be loved.” Do this for several rounds.
- Recall someone with whom you’re having difficulties and repeat the affirmation. “May you be well. May you be happy. May you be peaceful. May you be loved.”
- Direct loving-kindness to every being in the world. Say, “May all beings be well. May all beings be happy. May all beings be peaceful. May all beings be loved” several times.
- Remain in loving-kindness. Focus on being consumed in the intention of Metta, and let it take you over.
- After a few minutes, gently take yourself out of the meditation.
Rajawat adds, “You can practice loving-kindness meditation at any time, wherever you are. I’ve practiced it on breaks at work, in waiting rooms, while walking, in flight and many other places”. So long you’re not driving a car or otherwise engaged. Every time and any place are suitable for a few minutes of practice.
The principle teacher and founder of Vipassana in India, Guruji Shri SN Goenka, in one of his discourse, says, “There is no correct speed in which to do this but try not to rush it. The number of times you recite these words also isn’t very important. Spend some time intending loving-kindness towards yourself, and don’t stress the specifics. I’ve noticed that most guided Metta meditations recite the affirmation four or five times and that’s a good number at which to aim”.
A loving-kindness practice can serve as the perfect antidote for resistance. How our intentions can radically change circumstances is a key benefit of practicing Metta. Loving-kindness helps us accept the world. When we do this, we grow in wisdom, and when we grow in wisdom, the quality of our lives greatly improves. We learn to be joyous and change more than just ourselves.
How do I cultivate joy?
Now, how does one cultivate joy? There isn’t really any trick to it: you just look for it, and you feel it.
For example, when you’re sitting on your meditation cushion, begin your practice by looking for pleasant feelings in the present moment, such as the peacefulness of the room or the warmth of your blanket.
Something else I do to adopt a positive meditation-mindset is to frequently express gratitude for the benefits that this practice brings to my life: feeling calmer, more connected, more equanimous, impermanence, more loving, etc.
“When we associate habits with pleasant feelings, they become much easier to maintain. When it comes to meditation, the more you enjoy your practice, the easier it becomes to stick to it”, says Joseph Sanchez, a Vipassana practitioner from Spain.
You don’t have to be a Buddha; all you need to do is create the right mechanisms and use the best tools at your disposal.
I can assure it will change your life. You might not see it at first, but if you stick with it, there is no other tool that can bring bigger transformation for your mental health, your productivity, your relationships, your purpose in life, and your contribution to the world.
Give it a try. Take it easy, enjoy the ride, and the results are bound to happen.
My sincere gratitude to Guruji, Vijay Singh Rajawat, Silvia Bestos and Joseph Sanchez for valuable inputs.